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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Keres and Reshevsky Scuffle in Moscow

     The 1948 World Championship was a quintuple round-robin to determine the World Champion following the death of Alekhine in 1946. The tournament was played in The Hague from March 2–25 and then moved to Moscow April 11 to May 17. It marked the passing of control of the championship title to FIDE and the beginning of an era of Soviet domination.
     Before the tournament, Botvinnik was considered the favorite because of his victory at Groningen 1946 and his pre-war results. Keres and Reshevsky were veterans of international competition. Although Euwe was the former world champion, he had played poorly since Groningen. Smyslov was not well known in the West, as he had only appeared in two international competitions: a third-place finish at Groningen and shared second at Warsaw 1947.
     The event was not without controversy. Keres lost his first four games against Botvinnik and suspicions were raised that Keres was forced to throw games to Botvinnik. Some historians have concluded that Soviet officials gave Keres strong hints that he should not hinder Botvinnik's chances and that as a result, Keres threw his games. But, the argument goes both ways. Yuri Averbakh said Keres was less tough mentally than his rivals. Also, I seem to remember reading an interview with Reshevsky in which he commented that Keres simply was not strong enough to defeat Botvinnik. Keres reportedly told Bent Larsen in private that he lost fair and square to Botvinnik. How to pronounce Keres.
     The Soviets brought a large contingent of about twenty-one including the players Botvinnik, Keres, and Smyslov; their seconds Viacheslav Ragozin, Alexander Tolush, and Vladimir Alatortsev respectively; correspondents Igor Bondarevsky, Salo Flohr, and Andor Lilienthal; member of the adjudication committee Alexander Kotov; leader of the group Postnikov; a private doctor from Moscow; and Botvinnik's wife and young daughter. Reshevsky came by himself and Lodewijk Prins was obtained at the last moment to be his second. Theo van Scheltinga served as Euwe's second.
     There was no such thing as a rating list in those days, but Chessmetrics lists the top ten active players on January 31, 1948 as being Botvinnik (2831), Najdorf (2795), Keres (2760), Stahlberg (2760), Boleslavaky (2739), Smyslov (2732), Euwe (2730), Bronstein (2721), Kotov (2715) and Eliskases (2713). Where was Reshevsky? He was number 11 at 2696.

1) Mikhail Botvinnik 14.0-6.0
2) Vasily Smyslov 11.0-9.0
3-4) Paul Keres and Samuel Reshevsky 10.5-9.5
5) Dr. Max Euwe 4.0-16.0

     The following game was played in the fourth lap when Botvinnik had a whopping 2.5 point lead and about the only way he was not going to win the tournament was if he collapsed which was unlikely. Neither Keres nor Reshevsky were able to improve their chances and, in fact, Keres went into a tailspin when he scored only one win and four losses. Reshevsky had a plus score, but it didn't mean much since he lost a crucial game to Botvinnik.
     The final (5th) lap was anti-climactic and in his final game Botvinnik only needed a draw to clinch first place so he played 14 moves against Euwe and then split the point.

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