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Missed Opportunities

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Difficult problem

(This problem composed by Ed. Lasker  was labelled as very difficult. Perhaps you would like to solve it.)


On some webpages I have tried to find what other people think of  the following game. (Many years ago I got a book with Botvinnik notes to his games, a translation from the Russian original.) To my surprise not many people seemed interested and those I found showing some sort of interest did not know the real story or did not remember it … as Botvinnik left in writing.

W.: M. Botvinnik (1)

B.: B. Larsen (0)

Palma de Mallorca (1967)

In his notes to the game, Botvinnik said the game was published in the whole world. Most people liked the game, also said Botvinnik-, but the ex-World Champion wrote “it was a comedy of errors”. Botvinnik admitted to having foreseen winning lines on six clear occasions (!). We must remember that in those years Larsen had become one of the best players in the world. Let’s first have a look at the moves :

1.c4 , Nf6 /2. Nf3, e6 /3. g3, d5/ 4. Bg2, Be7/ 5. 0-0, 0-0 /6. b3, c5 /7. Bb2, Nc6/ 8. e3, b6/ 9. Nc3, Bb7/ 10. d3, Rc8/ 11. Rc1, Rc7/ 12. Qe2, Rd7/ 13. Rfd1, Re8/ 14. cxd5, Nxd5 / 15. Nxd5, Rxd5/ 16. d4, Qa8/ 17. dxc5, Rxd1/ 19. Ng5, h6 20. Ne4, Bf8/  (Diagram)  21. Rd7 *, f5/ 22. Nd6 **, Bxd6/ 23 ***. Rxd6, Nd4/ 24. Rxd4, Bxg2/ 25. Rd7, Bh3/ 26. f3, Rd8/ 27 ****. Rxg7, Kf8/ 28. Rh7, Qd5/ 29. Kf2, Qd1/ 30 *****. Rh8, Kf7/ 31. Rxd8, Qxd8/ 32. Qc2, Qd5/ 33. Qc7, Ke8/34. Qb8, Kd7/ 35. Qxa7, Kc8/ 36. Qa6, Kc7/ 37. Qc4, Qxc4/ 38. bxc4, Kc6/ 39. Bd4, h5/ 40. a4, Kc7/ 41. c5, bxc5/ 42. Bxc5, Kc6/ 43. Bb4, Kb6/ 44. g4, hxg4/ 45. Kg3, e5 46. e4, fxe4/ 47. fxg4, Black resigned.

The key position will be the following: After Black’s 20. …, Bf8)


From now on, Botvinnik admitted to having missed at least six opportunities to finish off the game in a combinative (tactical) way. These missed opportunities were found by himself, Kotov, ,Gligoric and Flhor. (Remember: no computers involved and I am going only to write what Botvinnik said)

 * Botvinnik said that in the diagrammed position Flohr pointed out that White would have won with 21. Nf6, gf6/ 22.Qg4, Kh7/ 23 Rd7!

**  The second missed opportunity appeared on the 22nd move: instead of 22. Nd6, Kotov pointed out 22. Nf6!! and Botvinnik added  (3rd missed opportunity) that even 22. Qh5 would have led to a winning position after: 22 … Re7/ 23. Rxe7, Nxe7/ 24. Nd6!, Bxg2/ 25. Qf7, Kh7/ 26. Bxg7!!

*** The fourth was pointed out by  Shamkovich  : 23. Rxg7!! (… Kf8/ 24. Rh7)

**** The fifth was noticed by Gligoric who said 27. Qd1! was winning.

***** And the sixth was pointed out by Botvinnik again : 30. Bc3  followed by 31. Rxh6. If 30…, Qh1/ 31. Rh8, Ke7/32 Bb4 and 33. Qd3.  

Botvinnik wondered how many more could  still be found…


Written by QChess

October 11, 2013 at 7:09 am

Chess Training with Keres et alii .

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One of the books I have in my Chess library is a little-known gem written by Paul Keres. The title translated into  English  is   “The Art of Analysis” and has 67 pages. It is devoted to help to develop the players’ skills in the art of analysing adjourned positions. Yes, you may say there are no adjourned games these days… But please remember Chess can be seen as a whole in which the sum of the parts are bigger than the whole itself, and that the great Chess trainer “guru” Dvoretsky devoted nearly an entire book to teach tactics by using the analysis of adjourned positions. So it is not today’s practical use but the benefits we can obtain in the development of our tactical and analytical skills. Nearly every  Soviet trainer has strongly recommended the analysis of adjourned games as one of the best way to develop those analytical skills.

Keres presents the reader with 5 positions from his practice, and proceed to tell us the history around that position and how he tried to discover the hidden secrets they contain. At the end of the book, Keres explains his aim is not composing a systematic guide but to show the reader the problems every Chess Master has to deal with when he goes back home with an adjourned game to be played. Some of the positions are beautiful and invite the reader to try to analyse them and then compare the findings with the great GM’s ideas. For instance:

(I will give the moves played in the games at the end of the post in case you want to work on them on your own.)

W.: Rejfir (0)

B.: Keres (1)

Moscow  (Ol) 1956

W.: Rejfir

rejf Black : Keres

The position  (I have put it from the Black side of the board so Black plays upwards) was adjourned here and White sealed his 41st move. Although Keres has a Pawn about to reach the queening square, the position still has to be analysed. Remember that we are in top-level Chess, with players ready to fight and find very hidden resources.

Another of the examples is:

W.: M.Tal

tal B.: P. Keres

Again the position is shown from the Black side. The game was played in Beograd in 1959.Keres sealed his 41st move, which was 41. …, Nd3/

Another Soviet Chess  “heavyweight”  , the late A. Suetin, also devote chapters in his books to recommend these types of exercises. He said they were excellent training grounds because they imply two types of Chess thinking: one using abstract thinking  (without calculation of variations)  to determine which pieces to change, which to preserve, how to place ones pieces, etc. , and another tactical one  because most of the positions are full of tactical variations with hidden possibilities and tricks.

This is the way they worked in the “golden age”  of the Soviet Chess . These were the methods they use in their Chess schools, Pioneers’ Palaces, Chess training camps. Remember that in those days, even World, ex-World Champions had to devote time to training sessions with the young promises.

The last example is mentioned by Suetin. After the game, Botvinnik acknowledged that  this game helped him to improve his analytical skills:

W.: Ragozin

  BotvB.: Botvinnik

(Position from the Black side again)

This game was played in Leningrad in 1930. Botvinnik managed to win after his opponent missed a drawish line on move 50th. But this was pure Chess!: a tug-of-war between two outstanding minds. In those years, Ragozin was Botvinnik’s trainer and they played scores of secret games which helped Botvinnik to become one of the best chessplayers in the history of the game.

The game proceeded  38 …, Rxf3  39. b6, cb6  40. cb6   Rd8! 41. Kc4, Re3  42. Nc6, Re4 43. Nd4, f3  44. Ra2, Rc8  45. Kb4!, Re1 46. c4, Re4  47. Kc3, Re3  48. Kb4, Re4  49. Kc3, Rd8!  50. Nc6? , Re3  51. Kb4 , Re2  52. Ra1, f2 53. Nxd8 Re1 54. Ra8, f1=Q  55. Nc6, Kg7 and Black finally won the game.

Rejfir- Keres continued:

41. Qd3 (sealed),  Rxg6/ 42. hg6, Qd4! 43. Qe2, Kh7  44. Qd1, Qd3!  45. b3, f6! 46. gf6 , Kxh6  47. f7, Kg7  48. Kg1, Kxf7 49.  Kg2   (Here Keres analyses 8 different possibilities depending where the two Kings can be placed on.He determined that all of them were winning for him) , 49…, Kg6  50. Kg1, Kh6  51. Kg2?   (51. a3)  ,  Kg5  52. Kg1, a5!  53. Kg2, a4  54. ba4 , Qe4  55. Kf1, Qxc4  56. Kg2, Qg4 / And White resigned.

The magnificent struggle in Tal – Keres continued as follows:

41. …, Nd3  (sealed)  42. Qc8, Kg7  43. Qf5! , Qd2  44. Nd4!  ,Qe1 45. Kg2, Qe3!  46. Qd5!, Qf2  47. Kh3, Qf1  48. Kg4, Nf2!  49. Kf5, Qd3  50. Ke5, Ng4  51. Kd6  Qxa3  52. Kc7, Qe7  53. Kc8, Ne3 (end of home analysis according to Keres)  54. Qb5, Qe4  55. Qb2, Kg6  56. Qb6, f6  57. Ne6 ,Nc4  58. Qa6, Ne5  59. Nc7, Qc2  60. Qd6, Qxh2  61. Nd5, Qf2  62. Kb7, Qxg3!  63. Qxf6, Kh5  64. Qe6, Ng4  65. Ne7, Qf3  66. Kc8, Kh4  67. Nf5, Kh3  68. Kd8, h5  69. Qg6, Ne5  70. Qe6, Ng4  71. Qg6, Ne5  72. Qe6 , Qd3  73. Nd4, Ng4  74. Qd5, Nf2!  75. Kc8, h4  76. Qe5, Qe4  77. Qf6, Qf4  78. Nf5, Ne4  79. Qe6 , Qg4 / and Tal resigned.


Written by QChess

December 20, 2012 at 8:22 am

Mijail M. Botvinnik: deviatii diagonal*

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* “the ninth diagonal

My feelings towards Botvinnik are , today in 2012, contradictory. Some 30 years ago Botvinnik’s games taught me the art of planning in Chess. You may know strategy, you may be able to play combinations, calculate variations, etc. But one day you realize you are not progressing… That happened to me: I could understand any positional game, no matter if that was played by Petrosian or Karpov. And?. And you have to learn how to  make plans and integrate them in the framework of a chessgame. I even discovered , on my own, that planning was not only referred to “strategical planning”, and realized there was also “tactical planning” : I called it “tactical strategy” .

(I will explain my method of training with Botvinnik’s games later. )

Botvinnik was the first Soviet chessplayer in becoming World Champion of Chess. He was an exceptional strong player: hard-working, talented, with a scientifical mind he applied to Chess, absolutely self-disciplined and goal-oriented, with a deep positional knowledge and accurate calculation skills, able to study and prepare in a systematic unprecedented way, who spent much time devoted to his engeneering work and was able to keep ready for the Chess battles holding secret matches at home… He also made a thorough study of the openings and the typical middlegame positions stemming from them

Botvinnik learnt Chess at 12, and became a GM in 1950. Champion of the Soviet Union in seven times.  In 1948 a match-tournament was decided as the way to find the Chess World Champion. Alekhine had died two years before and the old method of choosing a challenger died with him as FIDE took over the ruling of the Chess world. The “chosen few” were Botvinnik, Smyslov, Keres, Reshevsky, Fine and Euwe. Reuben Fine declined to take part and when the smoke of the battle cleared Botvinnik had won the event.

In 1955 he defended the title against Bronstein and retained it because the rule was that in the case of a final tie the Champion retained the crown (later Bronstein hinted at having suffered some sort of pressure not to win the match…)

In 1954 the same happened in his match with Smyslov: a final tie with Mijail Moiseyevich retaining the crown…

In 1957, Smyslov defeated him becoming Champion of the World. For cases like this , Botvinnik had secured a return match in a year’s time. In 1958 he regained the title.

In 1960 Tal beat him but in 1961, again in a return match, Botvinnik defeated his opponent… Again World Champion.

In 1963 Petrosian defeated him this time with no return match. It was said that Bovinnik never forgave FIDE for such a “treason”.


Botvinnik had to learn to live -as the rest of the USSR citizens- in the terrible Stalinist era. Apparently he knew how to do it. He was the Chess “blue-eyed-boy” of the regime, and he knew how to move his pieces on the political board too. Not only in the Keres’ controversy, but also when he feared he could not be taken as the best to play against Alekhine… Apart from Stalin himself – remember Chess was  a “matter of state” in the former USSR, it seemed he was in good relations with names like V. Snegirov, Nikolai Krylenko (1885-1938), People’s Commissar of Justice and Prosecutor General of the RSSFR and, in the 30’s,  also head of several sports associations,with  Chess among them. The last was V. Molotov (1890-1986): Stalin’s protegee, Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars, Minister of Foreign Affairs, First Deputy Premier.

Many pages have been written about all this. I have my own opinion, of course… But curiously enough, all his political influences could not prevent him from being excluded of the Soviet Union Chess Team for the Helsinki Chess Olympiad. Botvinnik explained that was due to two bad results (The Maroczy Memorial and the USSR Chess Championship) but he was far from pleased since he wrote that the decision was taken in a “strange way” by voting it among the rest of Team members : Bronstein, Keres, Smyslov, Boleslavsky and Geller (remember what had happened with Keres before, and later with Bronstein…) The result of the “poll” was unanimously against him with a blank ballot (!) .-So he would never know who to really blame for the offence!-.

Botvinnik had a natural talent for strategy and planning. He tried to find an “opponent-proof”  opening repertoire focusing on the English/ Catalan/ QG as White and the French as Black . Against the QP he used several defences within QGD boundaries but also the Grünfeld though one of his pet lines was the Dutch. He made a great contribution to the theory of the middlegame systematizing many positions and procedures.

The two big questions which will never be answered are:

– Is the Bronstein story true?

-What happened in the Keres case?

The same I said in the post about Keres (nº. 2) I believe happened -if it really happened- with Bronstein.

The Soviet authorities had many ways to do things. They did not bother to kill Petrov as you know. In the Keres case, he knew what he had to do to survive and did it. In the Bronstein case I suppose the adequate hints operated the miracle. But we will never knew the truth. In the case of chessplayers nobody can explain why some suffered such criminal treatment while others could speak even criticize openly without too many problems.

Well, going back to Chess, I must say that Karpov had taught me how strategy worked in practice but Botvinnik taught me how strategy worked in theory...


If you want to use my method, follow the folowing steps:

1.- Copy a Botvinnik game in a sheet of paper in columns.

2.- Play the first ten-twelve moves on the board.

3.- Cover Botvinnik’s moves with a paper and try to find them one by one. Once you ave cosen your move (the move you think Botvinnik played, uncover it and check it against he move you chose.

4.- Once you have finished the exercise, replay the game writing down why you thik Botvinnik played each move.

You can obtain the percentage of the moves you managed to guess following this method:

-take the total number of moves of the game.

-take down the number of opening moves you played.

-add two zeroes to the number of moves you have guessed.

-divide this number by the number you got in step two.

For instance: let’s suppose the total number of moves was 40. You played ten opening moves. So, 40 -10 = 30.

20+oo = 20000

If you have guessed 20 moves, then 2000/30= %

A percentage 0f 70% or + is excellent.

This is the way I used to train.


P.S.  The blog has been flooded by spam comments so from now on it will be necessary to register to leave a comment.

I hope you understand this decision and encourage you to leave comments. Thank you very much indeed..- Questchess.

The Soviet Chess School .- Part 1

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(Note: The topic I am writing about presents a lot of problems. For practical purposes I understand as “Soviet era/period”  the one from 1917 to 1989. Some readers may find it confusing the terms “Russian School of Chess” and “Soviet School of Chess”. The former refers to the period before the Soviet Revolution and was the seed of the latter.)

Every chessplayer has heard of the so-called “Soviet School of Chess”. After the 1917 Revolution ,Chess became a matter of paramount importance for the new Soviet authorities. Lenin (himself a chessplayer) ordered that Chess should be taken to every corner of the country, and designed N. Krylenko -People’s Commissar of Justice- to organize the matter.When Stalin (also a player himself) succeeded Vladimir Ilich Ulianov, he followed suit and Chess continued being spreaded throughout the whole country: schools and factories, farms and the armed forces, big cities and remote places. Chess was a cultural symbol and was treated accordingly.

In 1948 Mikhail Botvinnik (1911 – 1995) became the first Chess World Champion of the Soviet era. The enormous Soviet machinery devised to produce Chess champions began to work supported by the state. Schools of Chess for the youth, trainers, players, analysts began to flourish all over the country. They worked as a whole “team” and hence the name of “Soviet School of Chess”. In any case, this should not be understood as referred to a certain ,peculiar, privative  stylistic approach, but to the way they faced and carried away the task.

In the West ,chessplayers began to speak of the Soviets as “professional chessplayers”, though it is very curious to know the ideas of the Soviet players themselves…

Be that as it may, the Soviet players could live -better or worse- on Chess: by playing, teaching, writing or training. Chess was under the control of the state (even the KGB was involved), and it became a matter of state too (if you do not believe it a single book will be enough:  “Russians versus Fischer”. Chessplayers were compelled to obtain university degrees to be allowed to play abroad, for instance…

The outcome of all this was that from 1948 to 1972 all the World Champions and the challengers were Soviets (Botvinnik, Bronstein,Smyslov,Tal,Petrosian,Spassky). The Soviet Union won nearly every team event too. In 1972 Spassky lost to the American Fischer but in 1975 A.Karpov recovered the title back once Fischer decided not to play. Karpov was succeded in 1985 by Kasparov.There was a time when FIDE had to put a limit to the number of Soviet players able to compete in qualification events. The Soviet chessplayers dominated the world’s Chess scene for many decades and the influence of such period can still be seen. In the West, professionals and amateurs eagerly tried to obtain Chess literature from the Soviet Union. Bobby Fischer studied Russian to be able to read in the original ( he also pleased himself in pointing out mistakes and errors he believed were made on purpose to mislead unaware Western opponents, and ,of course, to mislead himself so as to prevent him to defeat “the Reds”…) The special characteristic of a country like the USSR made it possible to publish anything without caring about editorial profits, from collection of games by any chessplayer alive or dead to treatises on the different aspects of the game.

In the meanwhile, Soviet leading chessplayers were “forced” to win on any occasion, at any place, at any personal cost. The state support was not there for the professional player  to live comfortably. The goal was , from the very beginning, winning to show the world the cultural superiority of the Soviet system . And they really did it: they won and won. No matter if in the West their colleagues bitterly complained about money/personal conditions, or accused the Soviets of having a big advantage : the Soviets were there to conquer, and at the same time, they never tried to keep any sort of secret and -with the inherent  problems created by the political situation between the Soviet Union and “the rest of the world”- that rest of the world had access to an immense Chess lore.  This is why I have always thought that most of us are in fact children of the Soviet Chess School. Even Fischer was…(Of course different people have different opinions. These are mine and if someone thinks different I will respect his/hers too). But I learnt how Chess was played on my own, by reading translations/originals of Russians books, getting Russian magazines and studying the games of those great chessplayers… Today, I still take great pride in it.

In 1970 a match between the Soviets and the “Rest of the World” was held in Belgrade. The Chess world was about to reach boiling point since Fischer was becoming a real threat and the press -not only the specialized one, remember the world was in the so-called ” Cold War”. After years speaking of the Soviet Chess supremacy, with Chess blossoming all over the world , it seemed the time was ripe for such an event. Former World Champion Max Euwe chose Larsen , Fischer, Portisch,Hort,Gligoric,Reshevsky,Uhlmann,Matulovic,Najdorf and Ivkov with Olafsson and Darga as reserves.                                                                                                                                                                                                                            The Soviet line-up was impressive, with the World Champion and three ex-World Champions: Spassky,Petrosian,Korchnoi,Polugaevsky,Geller,Smyslov,Taimanov,Botvinnik,Tal,Keres with Stein and Bronstein as reserves. The final result was a narrow 20.5 to 19.5 for the Soviet team, with Fischer railing against Portisch for agreeing a draw against Korchnoi in a position the American thought worth being played on and with a  poor result for the Soviets on the first board… (This is a personal observation: after beating Petrosian in 1969, Spassky’s result left much to be desired, but this is a different story…)

(In 1984 the a similar event was held. In that year the Soviet Union also won : 21-19 with Karpov and Kasparov leading the Soviet team and Korchnoi playing in the RoW team as he was a Swiss citizen.)

To be continued .


(In the next post we will travel back in time to understand the genesis of the Soviet School of Chess and some games will be included. To me, this is a captivating topic because of my admiration for the Soviet/Russian chessplayers.They have been there, by my side, all my Chess life.Their lives and feats inspired me, taught me, dragged me to distant times and helped me to keep on living and fighting even when I was feeling the deepest of loneliness …)

Written by QChess

March 21, 2012 at 7:02 pm

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