Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Chess Reviews: 153

Botvinnik - Petrosian

The 1963 World Chess Championship Match

By GM Mikhail Botvinnik

144 pages

New in Chess

It may seem strange to be enthusiastic about a book covering a match played almost 50 years ago. Yet Mikhail Botvinnik's final match for the World Championship title has been somewhat overlooked in chess literature. His titanic matches with Bronstein, Smyslov and Tal all seem to be better known bouts.

Ending Botvinnik's disjointed reign at the top of the chess world was not an easy task, despite the big age gap between the participants. The challenger had to possess special qualities.

It's possible that the 1963 match suffers in the popularity stakes due to common perceptions regarding Tigran Petrosian's curious style of play. We know all about his supernaturally acute sense of danger and his habitual short draws, but there must be more to his story than that. Nobody can become a World Champion purely through negativity, so it's refreshing to be able to read this new, English-language version of 'Botvinnik - Petrosian' to try and find out how 'Iron Tigran' captured the title.

Former World Champion Anatoly Karpov provides a short Foreword, in which he mentions that he saw some of the match with his own eyes.

'How quickly time flies! Forty years ago, I, then a twelve-year old boy, was lucky enough to be a spectator at the world championship match between Botvinnik and Petrosian'

Igor Botvinnik, Mikhail Botvinnik's nephew, is next up with an essay titled Without Right of Revenge. He provides various observations, mainly from the outgoing champion's point of view.

'In my view, one of the reasons for Botvinnik's defeat was his poor realization of advantages - in a number of games in the first half of the match, having obtained a sizeable advantage in the opening, he could not ''put his opponent away''. This drains one's strength, undermines one's self-confidence, and generally shows inadequate sporting form'.

From the Match Regulations comes an important piece of information, which effectively ended Botvinnik's lengthy relationship with the World Championship.

'The main difference from the rules for previous contests was that, in the event of defeat, the World Champion would not have the right to a return match.'

This is important, as Botvinnik had made the most of his return match privilege against both Smyslov and Tal. A defeat this time would have meant a choice between World Championship retirement and a gruelling trip through the Candidates' matches.

The bulk of the material quite naturally concerns the actual Games of the match. All are presented with good annotations by a variety of players, including Botvinnik and Petrosian themselves.

The match was quite dramatic. Botvinnik won the first game - with Black - but Petrosian took the lead with wins in games four and seven. Botvinnik equalised in game 14, only to lose the very next game. Further wins in games 18 and 19 essentially earned Petrosian the title. The final three games were short draws. Tigran Petrosian was the new champion of the world!

Game 5 is probably my favourite Petrosian game of all.

Petrosian - Botvinnik
Game 5

The position comes after 11 ...f7xe6. Petrosian comments:

'It is said that some of the more impatient members of the press corps were already starting to pack up, ready to go home. After all, those magical figures, the queens, have disappeared from the board, and how can there be any interesting play after that...?'

Petrosian went on to give a bewitching masterclass in patient endgame skill.

At this important moment, he played: 23 b4!

'Undoubtedly the best move, sharpening up a position which appears totally calm. I decided on the move only after considerable thought.'

This is the final position, after 48 Kg8. Petrosian has crushed Botvinnik in typical boa constrictor style and key pawns are about to drop off the board.

Botvinnik definitely missed some good chances in the match. For example, in game 16, after 38 ....Kg8xg7...

Botvinnik - Petrosian
Game 16

....he played 39 e6. He says:

'It is hard to explain why I refrained from the natural continuation 39 Rxd4! Rc8 40 Kh2 Rcc2 41 Kg1 with an extra pawn and good chances. It appears that in time-trouble, the advance of he passed pawn looked like a reliable answer to the threat of Re8-c8-c2, but in reality, Black is merely presented with an extra tempo to carry out this manoeuvre.'

Following the games, we are treated to ten pages of Petrosian's View of the Match. This tells mainly of the challenger's thoughts and preparation before the match began.

'Whether I was listening to music, reading a book, walking around Moscow, surrounded by friends and colleagues in Armenia, watching a football match - the whole time, I was thinking about the match with Botvinnik.'

It concludes as the first game starts.

'Well, I said to myself before the first game. I will play as quietly as possible, not objecting to a draw. It is a long match, a lot of blood will be spilled, and even the most bloodthirsty of spectators will be satisfied.'

The book concludes with several smaller articles. There's A Symbolic Game, which shows Botvinnik using some of 1963 match preparation to defeat Taimanov at the 1963 Spartakiad.

Botvinnik's musing son Why Did I LoseThe Match? are next, consisting of snippets such as these:

'So, perhaps it is true that Petrosian's rather unusual way of playing had its effect on me, and deprived me of my usual ''creative harmony''. On the other hand, maybe the answer does not lie in this, but, whatever the case, I played the match with a great deal of tension and constraint, which had gone from me when I next sat down at the board, three months later.'

'Yes, sometimes that happens to a chess master. He appears to fight for victory, but he himself does not really know beforehand whether he really wants it.'

There are still more games to come, starting with all other games between Botvinnik and Petrosian, before moving on to eight games from a Training Match Botvinnik - Furman January - February 1963. These were all new to me.

Botvinnik's Final Notebook contains some analytical snippets. There's an added twist of interest here. Botvinnik had been preparing for a match with Fischer (which, needless to say, never went ahead).

Botvinnik retired from the World Championship scene after the defeat. Petrosian went on to defend his title against Spassky in 1966, before losing to the same player in 1969. His 1966 match victory was, remarkably, the first time a reigning champion had won a World Championship match since Alekhine's victory over Bogoljubow in 1934, and the last time until Karpov beat Korchnoy in 1978.

This book fills a significant gap in chess literature. Petrosian wasn't just in the right place at the right time to take the title from an ageing champion; this was a very tough match with plenty of hard fought games and missed chances. It's high time that this intriguing match enjoyed it's fair share of scrutiny and appreciation. Reading this fine volume is a great place to start.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great book. Petrosian loses game one with White. Goes on to defeat the champ.