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Friday, March 30, 2018

Classic Botvinnik...Watch and Learn

     In the two Botvinnik – Tal matches we expected to see Botvinnik playing classical positional chess and Tal playing his brand of tactical chess and while there were games that followed the pattern, we also saw them bashing away at each other by all means...at times Botvinnik played tactical chess and Tal payed endings. 
     In 1960, Tal breathed new life into the game, but his reign was short. He overran everybody until he met Botvinnik in their return match. In that match Botvinnik was true to form as he sought closed positions and endgames and scored a +10 -5 =6 rout.  Botvinnik was a different player in the return match. He made a careful study of Tal's games and opening repertoire and succeeded in steering the games into favorable positions for himself and only entered Tal's territory if he was positive the results were favorable. 
     Tal's health, exacerbated no doubt by his life style, was considered one reason for his defeat, but Tal himself made no excuses. He wrote, "I think that I lost to him, because he beat me! He was very well-prepared for the second match. Botvinnik knew my play better than I knew his." 
     The following game has been published many times with excellent notes, but I am especially attracted to it because of Botvinnik's superb endgame play. The late National Master Jim Schroeder used to advise that one never quit studying the endgame. 
     In this game Tal fell victim to a mistake we all make...he wrote, “It is difficult to explain by anything but demoralization my decision to play the Slav Defense, for almost the first time in my life, almost imploring my opponent to exchange on d5 and, with a lead of three points, let me off with a draw.” As is often the case, playing for a draw can land one in trouble. In this case soon after the opening the game transposed into an ending highly favorable for Botvinnik. 
     Another mistake related to this is Tal chose a symmetrical defense which can lead to boring draws, but it can also be deadly, especially for black. And, that's what happened here; the dangers of symmetrical play lured Tal into a bad position.

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