Botvinnik – Smyslov, World Championship Match 1957

After Botvinnik defended his title against Smyslov in 1954, another qualifying cycle was once again held in three stages. After seven Zonal tournaments, a total of 21 players assembled in Gothenburg in 1955 to play in the Interzonal tournament.

All participants of the Gothenburg Interzonal Tournament (source: Chessbase)

The first nine prize winners: Bronstein, Keres, Panno, Petrosian, Geller, Szabo, Filip, Spassky and Pilnik, together with Smyslov, qualified for the next year’s Candidates tournament, that was to be held in Amsterdam.

In Amsterdam, the rivalry between Smyslov and Keres, started in the previous cycle, continued. This time, it was a much tighter race. By Smyslov’s own admission:

“The battle became especially fierce in the second cycle, when three rounds from the finish Keres was level with me, with Geller and Bronstein half a point behind, and Spassky and Petrosian trailing by a further half point. In this sharp situation, I won a very tense game against Bronstein, then drew with Spassky, and success in the final game with Pilnik gave me victory in the tournament.”

Once again Smyslov proved he had better nerves. Before the penultimate round,  he was half a point ahead of Keres. While he made the aforementioned draw with Spassky, Keres lost a completely won game against Filip with the White pieces (analyzed in the post dedicated to great Paul) and the tournament was essentially over.

Thus, the stage was set for another Botvinnik – Smyslov match, held in Moscow, in March 1957. From the very start of the match, Smyslov held the initiative, as he won the very first game. True, Botvinnik retaliated in the fourth and fifth game, but from the sixth game onwards, the match was dominated by Smyslov.  After 17 games he was two points ahead and after Botvinnik missed practical chances in an opposite-colored bishop endgame in the 18th game, the match was virtually over. Smyslov merely confirmed his victory with a win in the 20th game, and after 22 games he won the match ahead of schedule with the convincing 12.5-9.5 result.

Two factors contributed to Smyslov’s victory. First of all, he was much better prepared theoretically than during the previous encounter. Ever suspicious Botvinnik even accused his seconds of information leaking. Smyslov employed the number of opening variations, including his patent variation in the Grünfeld defence, with tremendous effect.

Secondly, Symslov benefited greatly from the previous match. By his own admission:

„ The experience of my previous match with Botvinnik proved useful, and I had gained a clear impression of the difficulty of the […] encounter.“

All in all, Smyslov proved to be the stronger player at the moment, and rightfully became the seventh World Champion.


Chessgames: Botvinnik – Symslov, 1957

Chessgames: Gothenburg Interzonal 1955

Chessgames: Amsterdam Candidates, 1956

Garry Kasparov On My Great Predecessors: Part Two

Mark Weeks: Chess Zonals

Vassily Smyslov: Smyslov’s 125 selected games

Weekly chess study#27 – Afek/Avni study solution

Weekly chess studies #27 – Yochanan Afek / Amatzia Avni study:

Yochanan Afek is famous study composer you can read about in the book by Karoly and Alpin, Genius in the Background.

Amatzia Avni is chess author and psychologist.

White to play and draw.

Continue reading “Weekly chess study#27 – Afek/Avni study solution”

Weekly chess study # 27 – Afek/Avni study

Weekly chess studies #27 – Yochanan Afek / Amatzia Avni study:


White to play and draw.



Botvinnik – Smyslov World Championship Match 1954

At FIDE’s 26th General Assembly, held in Copenhagen in 1950, the chief chess organization confirmed the regulations regarding the upcoming World Championship Cycle. As in the previous cycle, the qualification process consisted of three stages.  In 1951, Zonal Tournament was to be held, in 1952 Interzonal Tournament and finally in 1953 – Candidates tournament, the winner of which would gain the right to challenge Mikhail Botvinnik.

Compared to the previous cycle, there were certain alterations. The division of the world into Zones was changed and the regulations regarding the qualification to the Interzonal tournaments were established (in the 1947 method of advancing was not yet existent).

In any case, 20 qualifiers from the eight Zonal tournaments gathered in Stockholm in 1952 to determine the players who will play in the Candidates tournament the following year. Initially, first five prize winners were supposed to gain that right, but immediately after the tournament, FIDE decided top eight players will travel to Zürich instead.

Incidentally, the Interzonal tournament in Stockholm was the first in which the „Russian pact“ happened – tournament winner Kotov, who was in tremendous form, made quick „grandmaster“ draws in games against fellow Russian colleagues. In the subsequent years, the Russian pact would become a source of many conspiracy theories, especially when Robert James Fischer would appear on the scene.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

The Candidates tournament in Zürich, 1953, would later become one of the most celebrated Candidates tournament in history, mainly due to the famous tournament book written by David Bronstein, in which the previous challenger annotated every single game played in the Candidates tournament.

The key moment in the tournament happened in the 24th round. Before the round, Samuel Reshevsky and Vassily Smyslov shared the lead with 13.5 points, while Paul Keres and David Bronstein were just a half a point behind. In the crucial encounter of the leaders, Symslov defeated Keres with the Black pieces in spectacular style, refusing opponent’s rook sacrifice (this crucial game is analyzed in a post dedicated to Paul Keres). After that, he also defeated Reshevsky, Bronstein also fell behind and in the end, Smyslov won the tournaments with a two-point margin.

The Smyslov-Botvinnik World Championship match was played in Moscow in 1954, in the same Tchaikovsky Hall where Botvinnik drew his previous match against Bronstein. Initially, the match started terribly for Smyslov – three defeats in the first four games. Then, however, he found his form and played the middle part of the match much more strongly than Botvinnik – after the 11th game he even took the lead – 6-5.

Still, in this match, Smyslov didn’t have the strength to maintain the pressure. By Botvinnik’s own admission:

„ Whereas Smyslov had played very cautiously in the first 11 games of the match (with the exceeption, perhaps, of the fourth), after my successive defeats he apparently decided that the time had come to change his match tactics and to launch a determined offensive. This great psychological mistake made things easier for me: in the double-edged 12th game, Smyslov aimed for the initiative right to the end, and it was because of this that I was able to gain an important win.“

The second phase of the match was dominated by Botvinnik and after 19 games, he was leading 10.5-8.5. However, suddenly he became tired and Smyslov leveled the score after his wins in the 20th and 23rd game. Thus, just as in the match against Bronstein, everything was to be decided in the final, 24th game. And once again the outcome of the game was rather controversial; in a sharp King’s Indian, Smyslov, playing the Black pieces, offered a draw after only 22 moves.

Thus, with the score standing at 12-12, Botvinnik once again retained his title in a drawn match and remained the World Champion.


Chessgames: Stockholm Interzonal 1952

Chessgames: Zürich Candidates 1953

Chessgames: Botvinnik – Smyslov, 1954

Chesspedia: Botvinnik – Smyslov, 1954

Garry Kasparov On My Great Predecessors, Part Two

Zürich International Chess Tournament 1953

Botvinnik – Bronstein World Championship Match 1951

Starting with the FIDE World Championship Tournament 1948, the jurisdiction over the World Chess Championship title had fallen completely into FIDE’s hands. At the 1947 FIDE Congress, the qualifying system for the subsequent World Championships was introduced. The qualification process consisted of three stages:


First of all, the chess world was divided into „zones“. A zone consisted of one or more national federations, depending on its size. Every zone would held a Zonal to determine the players that are allowed to qualify in the next stage – the Interzonal. Players allowed to participate in the Zonal tournament were determined by the National Championships of every FIDE member.

Continue reading “Botvinnik – Bronstein World Championship Match 1951”