When the 12th Soviet Championship was finished on October 1940, Botvinnik found himself tied for 5th place with Isaac Boleslavsky, two full points behind the joint winners Andor Lilienthal and Igor Bondarevsky. Vasily Smyslov and Paul Keres finished 3rd and 4th, respectively. What's more, Botvinnik had lost both of his games against the joint winners.
For Botvinnik it was a disaster that left him fearful of losing his position as the Soviet player with the best claim to challenge Alekhine. Something had to be done!
Lilienthal and Bondarevsky were scheduled to have a playoff to determine the champion, but Botvinnik was able to persuade the chess authorities that neither of those two were worthy of representing the Soviet Union. So, he pulled strings to arrange a quadruple round tournament between the top 6 finishers in the 12th Championship in place of a playoff. The tournament would be for a new title thought up by Botvinnik: Absolute Championship of the USSR, a title separate from the regular Soviet Championship to be decided only once and to determine who had priority in challenging Alekhine.
Botvinnik convinced authorities that reforming the title was a matter of urgency and stressed that fact to Vladimir Snegiryov, a Botvinnik supporter, whom he described as “ugly” and “slovenly dressed.” Snegiryov had taken the place of the purged Nikolai Krylenko.
It was Snegiryov who persuaded the authorities that a match-tournament was a better idea than a playoff and so it happened. The first ten rounds were held in the Tauride Palace in Leningrad and last ten rounds in the Hall Of Columns in Moscow. It started on the 23rd of March and ran until the 29th of April.
Two months after this tournament in Operation Barbarossa, Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union, a number of players were lost in the ensuing fighting and Soviet chess activity receded into the background until after the War.
The antagonists in this game are Bondarevsky and Lilienthal. The latter is famous for eing the world's oldest living Grandmaster. Lilienthal (May 5, 1911 – May 8, 2010) was born in Moscow and moved to Hungary at the age of two, returned to the Soviet Union in 1935 and then went back to Hungary in 1976.
Writing in The Soviet School of Chess, a book loaded with propaganda about the superiority of the Soviet system, authors Kotov and Yudovich made the observation that Lilienthal was uneven in his results because he had not fully mastered the training methods worked out in the Soviet Union.
Another reason they gave was that he paid insufficient attention to physical fitness and as a result he was unable to stand the strain in competition. I was reminded of the time I met an elderly gentleman in his nineties. The old guy looked sixty and every morning enjoyed a hearty breakfast of beer poured over a big bowl of Wheaties. For more on beer over cereal see HERE! He told me of the time when as a young man he had tried to buy life insurance but was turned down because he was too skinny. In those days life insurance companies equated being skinny with being sickly.
When Lilienthal played at the high level at which he was capable, his games were examples of subtle positional maneuvering, smashing attacks and ingenious exploitation of endgame advantages.
Lilienthal's opponent was Igor Bondarevsky (May 12, 1913 – June 14, 1979). Like Tartakower, Bondarevsky was born in Rostov-on--Don and was a GM in both OTB and postal play, an International Arbiter, trainer, and author. He later was Spassky's coach.
Bondarevsky made comparatively few appearances in international tournaments, but in his first, Stockholm 1948, he tied for sixth with Najdorf, Stahberg and Flohr which earned him a spot in the challengers tournament in Budapest 1950. Unfortunately, illness prevented him from playing.
Initially, he was known for complicated tactical chess, but when he realized that more was required to reach the upper echelons, he began studying, and mastered, strategy. At that time he more or less abandoned tactics and began relying purely on technique. With that there was a decline in his results.