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Thursday, March 17, 2016

Botvinnik and Missed Two Move Variations

     After WWII in 1945 a US team played the Soviet team in a radio match and while the US team expected stiff competition, they believed they would win. But, they were destroyed by a score of 15.5-4.5. Then in 1954 a team of Soviet players came to New York City for a week-long match which they again won by an overwhelming score of 20-12. 
     A rematch was planed for 1953, but the Soviets had problems with visas, so the match was postponed and was eventually played in Moscow in 1955. The Soviets won again by a score of 25-7. But the highlight of the match was on board 1 where Reshevsky defeated Botvinnik by a score of 2.5-1.5. Reshevsky's victory made him a hero in the Soviet Union and he was mobbed by autograph seekers in Moscow and was even introduced to Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. 
     After his defeat in the following game Botvinnik made the comment that his loss showed that he needed to perfect his play in two move variations. That's an amazing statement! A world champion of Botvinnik's caliber saying his lacks proficiency in seeing two-movers! It makes you think...if he had trouble spotting them, what hope is there for the rest of us? This game with its head-whirling complications shows why Botvinnik felt he had to improve in that area. 
     In his book The Inner Game of Chess Andrew Soltis says Botvinnik overlooked four two-movers and that's why he lost. I have never seen any annotations on this game by Botvinnik, but I assume Soltis was able to consult some. Anyway, the missed two-movers supposedly were 28...Rbc8, 31...Nc7 and 33...f6 plus Botvinnik missed Reshevsky's 35.Ra3 when he played 33...f6. 
     With the help of Stockfish 6 and Komodo 8 which were not available to Soltis who wrote the book back in 1994, it seems that Botvinnik actually let the win slip into a draw with 29...R8c6 which Soltis did not comment on. Both engines found a stunning win with 29...e5!! And, they both found the draw that Botvinnik could have had with 34...Kc5!! 
     We have seen a phenomenal rise in engine strength not only in the area of tactics, but in their “strategy” and endgame play, but does that mean they have also destroyed our respect for famous players of the past? Nowadays we armchair Grandmasters can go over a game like this one with Stockfish and Komodo and learn the greats of yesteryear were not perfect, but that's about all. I will never forget watching a garden variety GM, Miguel Quinteros, playing a local master for $20 stakes. The master had 5 minutes on his clock and Quinteros had one. Quinteros mopped the floor with the guy! 
     Or take the time a local master was analyzing a game in progress at an international tournament for a group spectators and he was claiming that white was helpless. A participant in the tournament, GM Jim Tarjan, passed by on the way to the coffee machine, glanced at the board and bashed out a few moves that left the master and the rest of us stunned because the master's assessment was completely wrong! Tarjan saw in a couple of seconds a resource everybody else missed. 
     Sometimes a Grandmaster's understanding and vision defies imagination. So, no, their play still commands respect even if an engine finds something better than they did. Seriously, who among us would not want to play like these two giants?! Or, for that matter, Andy Soltis or Miguel Quinteros or Jim Tarjan?

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