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Wednesday, June 5, 2019

The Secretive Botvinnik

     Botvinnik was famous for his opening preparation that was in a large part the result of his life style...he was a strict and serious man who believed in meticulous planning and thorough preparation. To that end he played many training games. 
     The first mention of these matches appeared in his book about the 1941 USSR Absolute Championship, a match-tournament in which six players played each other four times.   Review   Alternate Review 
     In the introduction to the tournament book, Botvinnik described how his friend Ragozin was of great help in his preparations when they played training games under tournament conditions. Botvinnik, a non-smoker, had suffered a little tobacco smoke in other tournaments, during their games Ragozin smoked “...so when my opponents in the tournament sent streams of tobacco smoke in my direction, (accidentally, of course!), it had no effect on me.” 
     Over the course of the years Botvinnik played training games against a number of players. The first known opponent was Sergey Mikhailovich Kaminer. He was a Soviet study composer, born in 1908 in Nizhny Novgorod. He studied in Moscow and qualified as an engineer and chemist, later he lived in Leningrad and Moscow. 
     He died at the age of 30 on November 2, 1938. Actually, died is the wrong word...Kaminer was shot during Stalin’s Great Purge, also known as the Great Terror. It was a brutal political campaign to eliminate dissenting members of the Communist Party and anyone else he considered a threat. Most experts believe at least 750,000 people were executed during the Great Purge, which took place between about 1936 and 1938. More than a million other people were sent to forced labor camps, known as Gulags. Stalin’s ruthless and bloody operation caused rampant terror throughout the USSR. 
     About a year before he was murdered, Kaminer gave Botvinnik a notebook containing all his work on his studies. Botvinnik wrote, "His presentiment turned out to be correct", and only revealed the existence of the notebook after Stalin died in 1953. 
     In late 1951 and early 1952, Botvinnik also played training games against...Smyslov! Botvinnik would meet Smyslov in world championship matches, losing to him in 1957 and then winning the title back in 1958. In 1955,
     Yuri Averbakh published 15 of his training games against Botvinnik in ans article that appeared in Chess in Russia. Aside from an odd training game here and there against Salo Flohr and either Abram, or most likely, Ilya Rabinovich and Yuri Balashov, Botvinnik played the most training games against Semyon Furman (11 games), Ilya Kan (27 games) and Vyacheslav Ragozin (24 games).
     Although Ilya Kan, who was most active in the 1930s, was not well known outside of Russia, he participated in ten USSR championships, his best result being in 1929 when he finished in third place. 
     Ragozin was active from the beginning of the 1930s through the 1950s and continued his association with Botvinnik for many years, acting as his second both in the world championship tournament at The Hague/Moscow, 1948 and in the 1951 world championship match against Bronstein. Ragozin was also a correspondence GM and won the 2nd World Correspondence Championship (1956-59). 
     The annotator of the following game was Dutch GM Jan Timman (born 14 December 1951). For those not familiar with him, he was one of the world's leading players from the late 1970s to the early 1990s. At the peak of his career he was considered to be the best non-Soviet player in the world. He won the Dutch Championship nine times and was a candidate for the World Championship several times, losing the title match of the 1993 FIDE World Championship against Anatoly Karpov. 
     Timman's fearless style caused him to lose a lot of games, but also made him a feared competitor. He was also a superb analyst. I have Timman’s Art of Chess Analysis and can recommend it, but only if you are into really deep study. In the reviews of the book a few people (whiners) complained the title was deceptive and they didn’t learn how to analyze a position. The truth is, in order to appreciate the book you have to be fairly strong player and/or appreciate serious analysis, not fluff. As one reviewer pointed out, “...by offering up his exemplary analyses, Timman might rightfully be regarded an artist and his skill at analysis is art...If so, then this is an art book whose title seems appropriate.”
     I point this out to say that in analyzing the following game Timman missed some really good moves. I am not sure when he annotated the game, but I suspect it was probably about 20 years ago and it seems unlikely he used an engine. I checked some of the moves with the old Fritz 5.32 which was available at the time and even it found improvements in his analysis. 
    When annotating the games for the books of his best games Arthur Bisguier made a few references to Fritz’ analysis, but he seemed to take Fritz’ abilities rather lightly, disagreeing with it on occasion. Perhaps Timman did the same thing. 
    In any case, it points to the necessity of using an engine when playing over old games. GM comments are pretty reliable when it comes to discussing strategy, but they often miss a lot of tactics and it’s tactics that can cause games to turn on a dime. 

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