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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Moscow 1935

Mikhail Botvinnik and Salo Flohr tied for 1st place in the Second Moscow International. The tournament was held at the National Hotel overlooking the Red Square from February 15th - March 15th, 1935. The field included Jose Capablanca, Emanuel Lasker and Rudolf Spielmann and rising Russian players.

Although Lasker at age 67 was getting older and Capablanca was regaining his form after losing the championship to Alekhine this tournament still signaled the emerging power of Soviet chess with Botvinnik as its leading player.  Also included in the field was future grandmaster and world correspondence champion Vyacheslav Ragozin and reigning womens champion Vera Menchik
There was a controversy when Flohr (a Czech but later to become a Russian) was tied with Botvinnik going into the final round.  This was considered unacceptable to Nikolai Krylenko, head of the Russian chess machine.
It was suggested to Botvinnik that Ilya Rabinovich would throw his last round to Botvinnik.  Supposedly Botvinnik replied that if he realized that was happening, he would blunder away a piece and "resign on the spot".  As it turned out, Botvinnik, fearing that Rabinovich would somehow manage to lose anyway and thereby force Botvinnik to carry out his threat, offered a premature draw which was readily accepted.  Flohr did the same in his match with Vladimir Alatortsev and the result was Botvinnik and Flohr shared first place.

Although it is unlikely this tournament would make the list of one of the most important tournaments ever played, it was significant in that it 1935 heralded the arrival of the Soviet School of Chess in general, and Mikhail Botvinnik in particular.

The Great Depression's consequences were still being felt worldwide. America and Western Europe were trying to cope and in Germany, the Nazis had assumed power. In the Soviet Union, the civil war had ended and Stalin had ruthlessly come into power.

Chess has always been regarded in Russia as a paradigm of culture and “proof” of the superiority of the Soviet system.  Also, world champion Alexander Alekhine had been born in 1892 in Czarist Russia so he posed a problem for the Soviets. He had fled Russia during the civil strife and the new regime would have loved to hold him out to the world as a prime example of Soviet supremacy, but this was impossible - Alekhine had never returned and had been careful to distance himself from the Communists. So any political or cultural triumphs had to be achieved by the current group of Soviet players.  By the late 1920s an engineering student from Leningrad named Mikhail Botvinnik had emerged as the USSR's best player and in 1931 and 1933 he had won the USSR Championship.   In the tightly controlled Soviet society contact with foreigners was discouraged so there was no way to measure Botvinnik's talent until he played the top non-Soviet players of the day. In 1933, he had drawn a match with the Czech Grandmaster Salo Flohr, who, at the time was among the top eight or ten players in the world.  The first major international tournament for Botvinnik had been Hastings 1934.35 and it had been disappointing because he had only finished fifth (out of 10).

Check out Spielmann’s sudden attack in this game! Perhaps the most impressive was his 22nd.

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