Botvinnik – Tal World Championship Match 1960

While Botvinnik and Smyslov battled in the 1957 match and in the 1958 return match, the remainder of the chess world was struck by a flash of genius like never before. In 1957, a bright young star from Riga, Latvia, Mikhail Tal, won the USSR Championship and qualified for the Interzonal tournament in 1958, at the age of only 20.

Tal’s style of play immediately won hearts of chess fans worldwide. Tal evoked the memories of the long forgotten romantic school with his dazzling sacrifices and mind-boggling complications, which threw his opponents completely off their balance. In contrast to the strict positional teachings of the Soviet school of chess, Tal’s philosophy was completely different – pose as many problems as possible to your opponents. Even when his sacrifices weren’t fully correct (which was often the case), his opponents weren’t able to punish them and to navigate their way through the forest of the possible variations.

Although Tal was severely criticized for this manner of play and often compared to a gambler (Vassily Smyslov called Tal’s play „nothing but tricks“), in the late 1950s it worked perfectly. A year later in Portoroz, Tal scored yet another victory and, together with the 5 players who finished behind him, qualified for the Candidates tournament. Portoroz tournament, incidentally, was the first in which the number of the players from the same country allowed in the Candidates was restricted. Also, another future World Champion made its appearance in the International Arena – the 15-year-old (!!) Robert James Fischer qualified for the Candidates as well.

The six players – Tal, Gligoric, Petrosian, Benko, Olafsson and Fischer, together with Smyslov and Keres, formed the line-up of the 1959 Candidates tournament. The tournament was played in three cities in Yugoslavia and the players met each other four times. Before the tournament, Smyslov  and Keres were regarded as the main favourites, although Petrosian did mention that: „the length of such tournament may give some advance to a young competitor.”

The course of the tournament confirmed both predictions to an extent. The tournament developed into a fierce race between Tal and Keres. Smyslov, the winner of the two previous Candidates tournaments, was playing below his usual level and was even „tricked“ in spectacular fashion by Mikhail Nekhmenevich in their round 8 encounter.

In the end, the crucial role was played by the young Fischer. He had lost all four games against Tal, while he drew his mini-match against Keres (+2-2=0). Beating Tal in their individual encounter (+3-1=0) didn’t help Keres; in the end, he finished one and a half point behind Tal and won the second place in the Candidates for the third time in the row.

Therefore, Tal managed to qualify for the title match and the stage was set for the Tal-Botvinnik 1960 match. In his book on the match, Mikhail Tal himself wrote extensively about his match preparations and difficulties he encountered. His insight is very intriguing:

„ Nevertheless, there exists a huge difference between tournament and match play. First of all, to express it coarsely, there is the bookkeeping. While in a tournament a  participant is not bound by his point showing – at least in the first part of the tournament – and can venture the luxury of „staying up late“ at the start, each match game is equally important. You see, in a match, there are no other competitors, no outsiders and a chessplayer cannot plan in advance from whom he will win without fail, with whom a draw will be sufficient and (as often happens!) to whom it will not be shameful to lose. The cost of each point in a match in comparison with a tournament grows twofold: if one chessplayer wins, then his rival automatically loses, and therefore match games always evoke a greater feeling of responsibility.

Matches have their own psychological character. If in the Candidates tournament, I became weary meeting one and the same opponent four times (and this was after an interval of seven rounds!), then what is to be said about a match, where I would meet the same chessplayer day in and day out? This is even more taxing.

Finally, the problem of preparing for a match is also significantly more difficult. I have not yet mentioned that my opponent was an unsurpassed master of home preparation. If I often employed risky variations, it may have worked out in a tournament; if I put my hopes on some risky opening adventure in a match, my bluff was certain to be called. „

Tal also states the main problem before was Botvinnik’s relative inactivity – there wasn’t a great number of games for him and his second Koblents to analyze before the match. He also mentioned Botvinnik’s main weakness:

„[…] in those cases when he was caught in a combinational „storm“, he was less sure of himself […]“

The initial course of the match confirmed the validity of this assessment. In the very first game, Tal beat Botvinnik’s Winawer French in a very energetic, irrational struggle. Then, after a series of draws, Tal won again in the sixth game with the help of the famous and thunderous knight sacrifice on f4. He immediately built upon his success in the 7th game and it seemed like the match is virtually decided.

However, in the 8th game, Tal once again completely outplayed the Botvinnik only to commit a series of blunders and even lose in the end. This clearly heartened Botvinnik; the 9th game was his best creative achievement in the match. Tal had sacrificed a piece for two pawns and Botvinnik sacrificed another pawn just to activate his pieces and diffuse the opponent’s onslaught. Suddenly, the gap was reduced to only one point and everybody thought the match was starting anew. By Tal’s own admission, the games 10-12 were the most intense and most hard-fought in the match.

From this point onward, it would appear that Tal altered his approach slightly – in the second part of the match, he played much more restrained and positional chess, without wild sacrifices. Such an approach proved to be successful as well – Tal won the 11th game in a great positional manner and after it also the 17th and 19th games and became the eight world chess champion ahead of schedule, after only 21 games, with the convincing 12.5-8.5 result.


Chessgames: Tal – Botvinnik, 1960

Chessgames: Portoroz Interzonal 1958

Chessgames: Bled – Zagreb – Belgrade Candidates 1959

Chesspedia: Tal – Botvinnik, 1960

Garry Kasparov: On My Great Predecessors, Part Two

Mikhail Tal: Tal – Botvinnik, 1960

Steinitz Chigorin World Championship Rematch 1892

In 1889, Wilhelm Steinitz published his famous opening guide, The Modern Chess Instructor. In this book, he published what he considered to be the best defence against the Evans Gambit. He also published a variation in the Two Knights Defence which featured the famous 9 Nh3!? retreat, later played successfully against Fischer.

Mikhail Chigorin, former Steinitz’s challenger in their 1889 World Championship match and one of the strongest players on the planet, didn’t agree with Steinitz’s assertions. He invited him to play a two game telegraph match with these opening variations. The time control was three days per move and it lasted for quite some time; during his World Championship Match against Gunsberg in 1891 (!) Steinitz even had to break from this match.

The games attracted immense public interest. Both games were won by Chigorin in spectacular fashion. The impact of these games on the broad chess public was immense. Two chess clubs, the St. Petersburg Chess Society and Havana Chess Club simulatenously made offers to organise another Steinitz-Chigorin match. Steinitz, never refusing a battle, accepted the challenged and once again chose Havana as the match venue.

The match began on 1st January in 1892. The winner was the first to win 10 games. This time, there was no „drawn match“ clause in the case of a 9-9 tie; the first player to win further three games would be proclaimed as a champion in that case.

Chigorin stick to his beloved Evans Gambit throughout the match, while Steinitz, believeing in his principles, upheld his Nh3 Two Knights variation.

Although the match was somewhat less bloodthirsty than their previous match, it was far more dramatic. After 19 games, Chigorin held the 8-7 lead. Then he somehow ran out of steam (some historians suggest he was less resilient to tropical Cuban heat than his opponent). By losing the 20th and 22nd game, he found himself in a desperate situation. The last, 23rd game of the match, to this day remains one of the most tragic games in the history of the World Chess Championship.

After the King’s Gambit has gone awfully wrong for Chigorin, Steinitz reached a much better queenless middlegame position. However, suddenly, he decided to give up his piece in order to install his rooks on the 2nd rank. However, Chigorin’s bishop held the position and it seemed that he has every chance of converting his extra piece. Suddenly, he decided to attack one rook and removed the defender of his h2 pawn, allowing Steinitz to checkmate his king in two moves.

The Cuban press described the final moments of the dramatic 23rd game:

„It is unlikely that we will ever forget that decisive moment. At the 23rd game more than a thousand people were present, and all were discussing Chigorin’s brilliant play. At any minute, Steinitz’s resignation was expected. Suddenly there was an extraordinary commotion: the spectators stood up, and they all saw how the Russian master, nervy, with a changed face, was holding his head in his hands: he had moved away the bishop that was defending him against mate. „What a pity!“ repeated hundreds of voices. What a vexatious and terrible ending to a wonderful match for the world championship! Chigorin can feel proud: never was Steinitz so close to defeat as now.“

(Source: Garry Kasparov on My Great Predecessors, Part One, Page 88)

Thus, Steinitz defended his title once again.

Max Euwe best games

The Man Who Beat Alekhine

In 1935, the chess World was struck with a shock of epic proportions. Alexander Alekhine, celebrated World Champion, has been defeated in a World Championship Match by relatively lesser known Dutch master, Max Euwe.

Although Euwe is known as the ‘Man Who beat Alekhine’, it seems to me that even today he doesn’t get the recognition he deserves for accomplishing that feat. Many people try to diminish that feat. Most often, people say that Alekhine was already getting quite old, that his peak has already passed, that he had a drinking problem during this match and that in 1937 in the return match, he showed who is the boss.

I think that by doing so, people don’t give enough credit to Euwe, who has been really playing some good chess and scored a deserving victory.

Also, many people criticize Euwe because he was unable to assert any sort of dominance in tournaments of those era. And I have to admit, this criticism has some ground; he wasn’t able to dominate tournaments like Alekhine in the early 30s, or Botvinnik in the post-war era.

However, his tournament results were not lacklustre either. Kasparov himself wrote that Euwe was “A Worthy Champion”; I think that this is the best description of Euwe’s tournament career.

Some of his notable results are:

  • Hastings 1930/1931 – Clear 1st, ahead of Capablanca
  • Zürich 1934, – Shared 2nd, 1 point behind Alekhine
  • Bad Neuheim 1937 – Clear 1st, ahead of Alekhine
  • Maastricht 1946, Clear 1st, 2 points ahead of competition
  • Gröningen 1946, Clear 2nd, half a point behind Botvinnik

Finally, most people who don’t know much about Euwe in general claim that he played boring, positional chess. That he was primarly a strategist. However, it couldn’t be further from truth. Euwe was described by Alekhine as “primarly a tactician”. His games are wonderful, they are fighting, they are complicated, they are intriguing and there are tactical complications going on.  While annotating the games (with the help of Kasparov’s My Great Predecessors, part two), I was struck by the fact that Euwe’s play often had some sort of ‘Tal element’ .

All in all, I think that Euwe is the most underrated champion of them all.

Take a look at the games and judge for yourself. I hope that this list of Euwe’s best games will change a couple of minds.

Slikovni rezultat za max euwe YOUNG

1. Geller – Euwe, Zürich Candidates, 1953

Zürich 1953 was sort of a swan song for Euwe on the international level. He scored a number of fascinating victories and the game against Geller is one of them. It features a fascinating attacking – defensive shot, 22 Rh8!!?.

2. Euwe – Alekhine, 26th game, World Championship Match, 1935

A game from the match against Alekhine and Euwe’s most creative achievement. He gives up a piece for three pawns and outwitts Alekhine in a grand struggle. This game would later be known as the ‘Pearl of Zandvoort’, named after the Dutch town in which it was played.

3. Euwe – Fischer, New York, 1957

A miniature against young Fischer, definitely worth a closer look.

4. Euwe – Maroczy, Zandvoort, 1936

The second ‘Pearl of Zandvoort’, although much less clear one.

5. Euwe – Najdorf, Zürich Candidates, 1953

Another gem from the Zürich candidates. A sacrifice of the ful rook, a dashing attack on the kingside. One of my favourite Euwe games.

6. Euwe – Loman, Rotterdam, 1923

A miniature from Euwe’s early years, notable for the concluding sacrifice. But I also like the way he extracted advantage in the opening.

7. Euwe – Landau, Amsterdam, 1939

8. Keres – Euwe, Match, 1940

Another wonderful creative achievement by Euwe. The bishop sacrifice on f3 is one of the most beautiful moves I have ever seen. Make sure to check it out.

9. Szabo – Euwe, Groningen, 1946

Another game in the same variation of the QGA, and another victory for Euwe.

10. Tartakower – Euwe, Venice, 1948

Last, but not the least, a Tal like sacrifice followed by a king chase. One of the more famous Euwe games, but beautiful nevertheless.

Alexander Alekhine best games

Alexander Alekhine – Alexander the Great

The fourth World Champion, Alexander Alekhine is widely regarded, together with Mikhail Tal and Garry Kasparov, as the World Champion with the most combative, tactical and attacking style.

Although he was a sort of late bloomer, after his surprising victory over Jose Raul Capablanca, he dominated world chess for decades, won a number of tournaments and left a very rich chess heritage.

His games are full of rich tactical ideas, beautiful combinations and flights of imaginations. But his combinations didn’t arise from the thin air; his strategical understanding and his endgame skills were also superior then those of his contemporaries.

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Jose Raul Capablanca best games

Jose Raul Capablanca – The Cuban Genius

Jose Raul Capablanca, the third world champion, is widely regarded as the greatest natural talent that ever played our ancient game.

Already from his early days his gift for the game was apparent. He learnt the rules of chess by watching his father play. At the age of five he already beat all the player in the Havana Chess Club and at the age of thirteen he was already the Cuban Champion, after beating the previous champion Corzo in a one sided match.

During his peak, he didn’t lose a single game between 1916 and 1924 (and  astounding 8 years without defeat).

His style reflected his talent perfectly. He was known for tendencies toward clarity and simplicity; he would often make his victories seem effortless. Moreover, his mastery of the endgame was unmatched during those times; instead of calculating variations he would simply “see” through the position and immediately “feel” where his pieces belong.

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