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Monday, November 10, 2014

An Instructive Tahl vs. Botvinnik Game

     Right after Botvinnik regained his title by defeating Smyslov in their 1958 rematch the charismatic young Tahl was making a name for himself. He won the 1958 Interzonal at Portoroz then helped the Soviet Union win first place at the Chess Olympiad. Then he won the 1959 Candidates Tournament with 20 out of 28 points and earned the right for a world championship match against Botvinnik.
     Tahl was always willing to sacrifice material for the initiative and as a result often created vast complications and many players found it impossible to find their way through the problems they were presented with. Ex-World Champion Vasily Smyslov scorned Tahls’ play as nothing more than tricks, but Tal continued to beat everybody.
     His first match with Botvinnik played in Moscow in the spring of 1960 was won of the most exciting ever played, and in my mind rivals the Fischer – Spassky match. He challenged Botvinnik in every game and the match, like the return match, featured both players hammering away at each other with every weapon at their command. The deep strategist Botinnik played sacrifices and the tactician Tahl played positional chess and exhibited excellent endgame technique. The same with their rematch that was won by Botvinnik.
     In the following game, the seventh from their first match in 1960, we see an interesting ending with a R vs. 2N’s. It’s always a question, how and when should you trade a B and N for a Rook and a pawn, or what is the value of 2N’s or 2 B’s compared to a R? The elementary rule is two minor pieces are worth about 6 pawns and so are a Rook and a pawn. But like all rules of thumb, there are other factors involved. Experience shows that in endgames, especially if a passed P exists, the player who has a Rook has the advantage.  In the middle game things are different; it is easier to create an attack with the two minor pieces.
     Botvinnik committed an oversight on move 25 that allowed Tahl to win 2N’s for his R which resulted in an exception to the general rule; the two pieces had the better ending. The moral: if you have two minor pieces the essential elements are 1) coordination of forces against the R and 2) pay great attention to the general security of you position. The R is handy for picking up stray P’s but in their absence, it may become inactive. The same can be said of assorted material imbalances, say R+B+P against a Q. The side with the pieces has to be careful not to lose any material.

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