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Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Botvinnik Variation

      The QGD, Semi-Slav, Botvinnik Variation is characterized by the moves 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 c6 5.Bg5 dxc4 6.e4 b5 7.e5 h6 8.Bh4 g5 9.Nxg5 hxg5 10.Bxg5. It became a favorite of players like Tahl, Bagirov, Polugayevsky, Shabalov, Shirov and Kamsky. In his book, Fire On Board, Shirov devotes an entire chapter to the defense and said, “To find the truth in this opening one needs to analyze certain lines very deeply and always make very cool assessments because many of the positions go against standard chess principles.”

One of the first chess books I owned was Botvinnik’s One Hundred Selected Games. It was one of the few books that I wore the cover off of (the other was Reshevsky's Best Games), and I remember the ease in which Botvinnik defeated Denker made quite an impression on me. Even today I can recommend Botvinnik’s book as being one of the best game collections available.

The USA vs. USSR radio chess match 1945 (download my pdf booklet on this match) was conducted September 1-4, 1945. The ten leading masters of the United States played the ten leading masters of the Soviet Union (except for Paul Keres) for chess supremacy. It was a two-game match between the teams. The time control was 40 moves in 2½ hours and 16 moves per hour after that. Moves were transmitted via radio and It took an average of 5 minutes to transmit a move.
      This result was met with astonishment around the chess world since the USA had won four straight Chess Olympiads from 1931 to 1937; however, the Soviet Union had not competed in those tournaments. The Soviet program for producing a new generation of masters, originated and supervised by Nikolai Krylenko from the early 1930s, clearly was paying dividends, and from 1945 onwards, Soviet players would dominate international chess for most of the rest of the 20th century. The radio match proved a watershed and a changing of the guard in the chess world
      The American team was comprised of players many of whom had been part of the pre-war, American-dominated Chess Olympiads. The Soviet team consisted of one of the strongest line-up of players one could imagine and  the new-comer, David Bronstein, played the lowly last board.
      Most important, the match introduced the powerful USSR chess machine to the world. The USSR won by a score of 15-1/2 to 4-1/2.

      The following players were reservists in the U.S. team, to be called on, in order: Alexander Kevitz, Robert Willman, Jacob Levin, George Shainswit, Weaver W. Adams, Edward Lasker, Fred Reinfeld, Edward S. Jackson, Jr., Samuel Factor, and Martin C. Stark. The Soviet reserves were: Alexander Konstantinopolsky, Vitaly Chekhover, Iosif Rudakovsky, and Peter Romanovsky.
      Botvinnik had recent experience in this line having won games against Lilienthal and Mikenas at the 1944 USSR Championship. Both had played 11 g3. It is not clear what Denker's idea was with 12 Be2? A summarization of the advantages of 12 g3 from Wells book The Complete Semi-Slav: The h-pawn is covered down the diagonal, the f4 square is guarded, the Bishop is not vulnerable to ..Ne5 at any stage, the g-file is neutralized and the Queen has access to h5." Kasparov recommended 14 Bf3 as an improvement over 14 a4?!..b4 15 Ne4..c5 which gave Black a tempo attacking the Knight. If 21 Be3 the 23..d2 wins.
      But, it must be remembered chess information traveled slowly in those days. It is likely that Denker was not familiar with those games. All other games played in this line before 1945 involved White playing Be2 and/or Qf3 so Denker, unaware that he was doing so, was playing outdated theory
      Subsequently this whole opening variation became known as the Botvinnik System, thanks to his success in this and other games. It must have all come as a great surprise to Denker, though Botvinnik had already played it in a training game with his sparring partner Ragozin and in another Moscow championship game. In his annotations to the present game, Botvinnik wrote: "You get the feeling that my opponent is a very long way from Moscow and that nobody in New York has warned Denker that you don't play this variation against Botvinnik."

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