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.