Botvinnik: 100 Selected Games

Botvinnik: 100 Selected Games

by Mikhail Botvinnik

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Learn chess from a World Champion! These 100 games were selected and annotated by Botvinnik himself as the best games he played before becoming World Champion in 1948. Includes contests against Alekhine, Capablanca, Euwe, Keres, Reshevsky, Smyslov, and others. Author explains his theories, the development of Russian chess, and six end game studies.  See more details below


Learn chess from a World Champion! These 100 games were selected and annotated by Botvinnik himself as the best games he played before becoming World Champion in 1948. Includes contests against Alekhine, Capablanca, Euwe, Keres, Reshevsky, Smyslov, and others. Author explains his theories, the development of Russian chess, and six end game studies.

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ISBN: 978-0-486-14549-5



THE school of chess which is peculiar to the Soviet Union is deserving of thorough and serious study. Only after many articles have been written, lectures given, and discussions held shall we be in a position to formulate a scientific definition of the creative features of that school. At present we can go so far as to say that such a school does exist, and that during the past fifteen years it has defeated the foreign school.

Chess forms a small yet significant part of our culture, for to-day the people generally are taking a tremendous interest in the game. So we may well be proud that our socialist culture has conquered on this small sector.

What are the inherent qualities of our native school; what differentiates it in principle from the foreign school? In my opinion, it is the social status of the game in our country.

In the old days the general attitude to chess was that it was a "pastime," a "table-game." Even then there must have been many who recognized that chess, with its many centuries' history and culture, was rather more than a mere "table-game," but the general attitude was "amateurish" (in the worst sense of the word). Emanuel Lasker, for instance, gave up playing chess simply because he thought it more profitable to engage in business transactions. For the sake of such transactions he, the world champion, gave up chess! That may seem difficult to understand, but it is a fact. Lasker treated chess as a craft, not because he had no respect for the game, but because he was conscious of the patronizing, philanthropic attitude to chess which existed in his bourgeois milieu, and he succumbed to that attitude.

Take another outstanding player, Capablanca. In the conditions of the world he lived in he was reluctant to reveal his love of chess, he always emphasized that his main occupation was diplomacy or commerce, that he hardly ever occupied himself with chess, and only "played" when he sat down at the board.

If there was anyone among western players who took a different attitude to chess and devoted all his powers to it, it was probably Paul Morphy (1837-1884), if we are to accept his contemporaries' testimony. But we must not forget that Morphy played in competitions only during a short period of two years.

In Russia the first player to devote all his life to the game, the man who initiated the habit of adopting a profound approach to chess, was Mikhail Ivanovich Tchigorin, and we can only speak of the existence of a Russian chess school from his time onward. A. D. Pctroff (1799-1867) was a strong player, but compared with Tchigorin he did not do much to create a Russian school of chess.

Tchigorin approached chess in the same manner as our modern Soviet players. He served the art disinterestedly and self-sacrificially. He had brilliant gifts and enjoyed exceptional popularity, and so in the difficult circumstances of life in Tsarist Russia he managed to persuade the Russian players of his time and after to take an advanced view of chess.

However, it would not be strictly true to say that the Soviet masters have done no more than adopt Tchigorin's attitude to the game. Their attitude is strengthened by recognition of the fact that chess is a valuable social activity. When Tchigorin was alive only individual amateurs were attracted to it. The Chess-Sheet which he published had to go out of existence simply because in all Russia it was impossible to collect the 250 subscribers necessary to ensure that it should not be published at a loss.

In the Soviet Union thousands of people play chess, and the large printing of our chess periodical is sold out quickly. But even more important is that when we Soviet masters take part in tournaments and study the game we know we are performing a socially valuable, a cultural activity, that we are bringing benefit to the Soviet State. And when we take part in international contests we defend the honour of our country. So there is, of course, a difference of principle between our attitude to chess and that of Tchigorin's time.

The second great Russian master, A. Alekhine, was a disciple of Tchigorin in his supreme fidelity to chess, and so, too, were Nimzovitch and Rubinstein, who both grew up in Russia. True, in Nimzovitch there was also some straining after "originality," after "tricks" but he had Tchigorin's attitude to chess. Rubinstein also had certain characteristics of his own, for instance, his exceptional sangfroid, one might almost say fatalism, his submission to "chess fate." This, of course, had nothing in common with the active, optimistic attitude to chess displayed by the Soviet masters, and which was shared by Tchigorin and Alekhine to a large extent.


Mikhail Ivanovich Tchigorin (1850-1908) was unusually gifted. We must not forget that he did not learn to play chess until he was sixteen, and that for seven years after he did not play at all. In the short period from 1873 onward he covered a remarkable creative road; he first became the finest player in Russia, and then one of the strongest players, if not the second best in the world.

Tchigorin came from the people. His grandfather was a soldier, and his father a skilled workman in the Okhtensk gunpowder works. He was orphaned when still a lad, and studied at the Gatchinsk orphans' institute, afterwards being compelled to work as a petty official in Petersburg.

He grew up in difficult conditions. He played his first game in 1873, in the Petersburg Café Dominic, a chess rendezvous. Here, playing sometimes for stakes, he took his first steps. (Certain foreign chess-players still experience this unenviable lot!)

In those days there were many professional chess-players abroad, but Tchigorin was the first Russian to decide to devote all his life to chess. He did so in order to bring fame to Russian chess, to make it a national game, to persuade his contemporaries to regard it differently and to treat it as it deserved.

At the very beginning of his career Tchigorin broke with old ideas and set out to realize very great aims, aims that Soviet players especially should value. They were, to ensure the world primacy of Russian chess, and to make it a national game; and, though he did not fully achieve either, he did a very great deal in both directions.

In order to make progress in the game, and in order to bring fame on Russian chess, he had to travel abroad and take part in international tournaments. He achieved outstanding successes. Among those successes must be reckoned his two matches with Steinitz; though he lost them both, it was not because he was lacking in talent, but because he did not possess the requisite sporting qualities, the qualities of a chess fighter. At the decisive moments of the struggle he lost the will to win, and so he went down. Yet his style of play, and the creative elements he brought to the games were so remarkable that one must consider these two matches as among the treasures of chess art.

Next one must mention his duel with Tarrasch in 1892. This match ended in a draw, but Tchigorin's achievement must be measured by the fact that at this date Tarrasch had won seven firsts in seven international tournaments. In the Hastings tournament of 1895 Tchigorin achieved a remarkable success: he took second place, being surpassed only by the young player Pillsbury, and surpassing all the other outstanding masters of the time.

Russian players always hoped that he would become the world champion. Even after he lost his two matches to Steinitz they did not lose faith in him. But when, some months later, a four-round match-tournament took place in Petersburg, Tchigorin suffered several serious defeats in the first half, and it was obvious that he could never become world champion. He was greatly disappointed.

Tchigorin played a foremost part in developing the chess movement in Russia. To him chiefly belongs the honour of organizing the first All-Russian tournament. He was always agitating for the organization of tournaments and the opening of chess clubs; he wrote a great deal on the subject, he travelled all over the country to help in the organization of clubs; and in the difficult conditions of Tsarist Russia that was an ungrateful task. Before a club could be opened great obstacles raised by the police had to be overcome, for the government was highly suspicious of all clubs of a cultural and educational nature.

The first All-Russian chess tournament took place in Russia in 1899, and of course Tchigorin was the winner. He also won the second and third All-Russian tournaments; but by then he was coming up against stronger opposition—the players of the next generation, his pupils, were coming along.

What was Tchigorin's specific contribution to theory, to chess technique?

He took his work on the Chess Sheet with exceptional seriousness. He published many articles and theoretical analyses; he closely followed the work of Steinitz, subjected it to a thorough check, not infrequently found mistakes, and criticized those mistakes in the pages of his periodical. He was the first chess-player in Russia to occupy himself with analytical work. Yanisch had done so before him, but his analyses were concerned only with the opening game, and not with the game as a whole.

Tchigorin was a considerable innovator in the opening game; he discovered much that was new in the Evans Gambit, the Italian Game, and the Two Knights' Defence; against the French Defence he produced his own continuation (2 Q–K2) after which one gets not the usual French Defence, but rather the King's Indian Defence with colours reversed. It was Tchigorin who first began to play the King's Indian Defence and worked out an opening scheme for it; he brought many new ideas into the King's Gambit and Ruy Lopez.

To get any idea of Tchigorin's creative style we must realize that he frequently looked not for the rules but the exceptions. When analysing he usually tried to refute the established lines, and to introduce something of his own—an exceptionally valuable quality. Criticism of oneself and others is absolutely necessary in chess, for only the player who is critical of himself and his potential opponents can hope to achieve deep analysis and success. However, in Tchigorin this habit sometimes carried him into extremes. Thorough criticism is essential when preparing for tournaments or making analyses, but objective conclusions are vital when sitting at the board in the tournament hall.

Tchigorin's great weakness was that he did not always take his opponents' psychology into account, he was not sufficiently interested in the psychological factor in chess contests. When pursuing the strategic plans he had thought out he often went straight ahead quite unconscious of his opponent's mood, taking no account of possible danger. This explains why at decisive moments he sometimes had creative disasters, such as we have referred to in his matches against Steinitz.

Sometimes, too, Tchigorin was subjective in his attitude to analytical work. Not infrequently he did not so much attempt to establish the truth and to convey that truth to his readers as to win a battle of polemics against his opponents.

If we study his favourite openings we find that his choice is to be explained partly by his style, and partly by a spirit of contradiction, by an endeavour at all costs to violate the established canons. For instance, it had always been considered that in the Queen's Gambit the Black Knight is well posted at B3 when P–B4 has already been played. But Tchigorin revolted against such a dogma, and his defence in the Queen's Gambit violates this "rule."

This continual endeavour to introduce something new into chess and not simply to apply the well-known dogmas, this creative search for the new, the original, is characteristic of Tchigorin. It is a very difficult task, and he did not succeed, in the Queen's Gambit for instance, in completely solving the problems he himself had raised. The idea of the Tchigorin Defence in the Queen's Gambit is essentially that Black should fight with his pieces. This problem was tackled more successfully later by Nimzovitch, Réti, Ragozin, Grünfeld, and other masters.

Tchigorin's creative work in the middle and endgames was of no less importance.

When I first saw the following position (it occurs in a game between Tchigorin and Tarrasch played at Budapest in 1896) it made a tremendous impression on me. In this Rook endgame the two opponents are equal in material; on the K side White has three pawns against two, but on the Q side Black has a passed pawn. However, Black's defence is complicated by the circumstance that his King is cut off on the first rank. Looking at the position, one would find it difficult to maintain that White could get the win, but Tchigorin set out to prove that he could. We must take into account the circumstance that he had soundly estimated the latent possibilities of this position even during the middlegame, and had deliberately played for this ending.

He won the game by a subtle manœuvre. Not only that, but in the final stage, when the Rook ending had left each opponent with a passed pawn, he succeeded in setting up a further interesting situation, demonstrating the strength of his passed pawn. Whenever I play a Rook ending I always remember this ending of Tchigorin's, and I would not like to find myself in the tragic situation of Tarrasch. It is highly discomfiting to lose the game when you have an equal number of pawns with your opponent, as discomfiting as it is to fail to win when playing White in a similar position.

Tchigorin was a great master of attack. He possessed superlative combinational sense, and exceptional intuition in sharp, complex positions. When he made a sacrifice he chose that variation not only because he had estimated the position exactly, but also, guided by chess intuition.

In his later years, when he was seriously ill, naturally enough he was not very successful in tournament play. But if he happened to be playing in a thematic gambit tournament, in which gambit openings are obligatory, and everything is decided by sacrifice, by attack, by counter-attack, he remained invincible to the end.

Here is a position which will be familiar to everyone. (We cannot illustrate the characteristic features and peculiarities of our native school better than by quoting well-known examples.)

In this position, taken from the first game of a Steinitz-Tchigorin match, the striking 19 Kt×BP! sacrificed a piece; but after 19 ... K×Kt; 20 PK6 ch, K×P; 21 Kt–K5! the Black King found itself in the middle of the board. By sacrificing a Knight without compensation and forcing the Black King to move into the centre Tchigorin laid it bare to attack. Since then it has been proved that Tchigorin's combination was thoroughly sound. Of course, strictly speaking this is not to be called a combination, as the sacrifice is not based on exact calculation, but arises from an appreciation of general principles. But undoubtedly it was a beautiful sacrifice; and you will find many such in Tchigorin.

Later, Lasker proved that this position could lead to a win by a different, quieter road; but the imaginative method Tchigorin chose was characteristic of him. It was a style which won him great popularity among chess players all over the world.

The next position is of great interest; it witnesses to Tchigorin's outstanding ability in counter-attack. It is interesting, too, because of the fact that no one had previously obtained such a position for Black from the Queen's Gambit. If we did not know that the position arose in one of Tchigorin's games we might well conclude that Black had been played by some modern master, by Ragozin, say; and I certainly would not mind playing Black in such a position. It arose in a game between Tchigorin and Teichman at Cambridge-Springs, in 1904.

With the move 15 ... P–Kt4! Black had his central Knight entrenched at Q4. It is to be noted that some twenty-five years later Grand Master Nimzovitch also entrenched his Knight in the centre in analogous positions (with the aid of the two pawns at QKt4 and KB4). The position appears to be double-edged, as after 16 KR–Kt1 there is a threat of 17 P–Kt4, opening the Kt file and launching an attack on the Black King. The basic weakness of White's position is the "strong" posting of his Bishop at K5, even though it is evident that White pinned all his hopes to it! For at K5 the Bishop is badly placed, as it cannot share in the defence of its King when Black begins an energetic counter-attack. Only four moves were necessary:

16 ... Q-K2; 17 QR–B1, Q-R6 ch; 18 K–Q2, P–Kt5!; 19 P–QB4, B–R5; and Black's attack was now irresistible.

I like this position even better than the previous one. It is a position of our own day. Although chess technique has made great strides, modern masters would not be ashamed to play such a game; on the contrary, they would be proud. Yet Tchigorin played it forty-five years ago!


Excerpted from ONE HUNDRED SELECTED GAMES by M. M BOTVINNIK, STEPHEN GARY. Copyright © 2014 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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