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  WCC Overview
Tal vs Botvinnik 1961

In 1960, the chess world gained a new champion who seemed to breathe new life into the ancient game. Mikhail Tal seemed to have ushered in a new era; and perhaps he did, but his tenure as champion was soon to be nipped in the bud.

 Tal Botvinnik 1961
 Tal and Botvinnik, 1961
A chain-smoker and a heavy drinker, Tal pulsated nervous energy, pacing like a caged tiger in between moves. And as a young man with those famous fierce, hooded eyes and that imposing hooked nose, he bulldozed all before him. Until, that is, the return match with Botvinnik in 1961. "Iron Mike" sought closed positions and endgames in a very successful effort (+10 -5 =6) to make chess something other than ever-deeper plunges into unfathomable fantasy.[1]

The match took place in Moscow between March 23rd and May 20th, 1961. Tal's loss might be attributed to a health failure due to his serious kidney disorder. Tal, however, was not one to make excuses:

"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." [1]
After 21 games, Mikhail Botvinnik won the match +10 -5 =6 to become the World Chess Champion for the third time.

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FINAL SCORE:  Botvinnik 13;  Tal 8
Reference: game collection WCC Index [Tal-Botvinnik 1961]

NOTABLE GAMES   [what is this?]
    · Game #8     Tal vs Botvinnik, 1961     1-0
    · Game #7     Botvinnik vs Tal, 1961     1-0
    · Game #20     Tal vs Botvinnik, 1961     1/2-1/2


  1. Kings of Chess: 21 Player Salute by Larry Parr

 page 1 of 1; 21 games  PGN Download 
Game  ResultMoves YearEvent/LocaleOpening
1. Botvinnik vs Tal 1-0411961Tal - Botvinnik World Championship RematchE48 Nimzo-Indian, 4.e3 O-O 5.Bd3 d5
2. Tal vs Botvinnik 1-0451961Tal - Botvinnik World Championship RematchB18 Caro-Kann, Classical
3. Botvinnik vs Tal 1-0431961Tal - Botvinnik World Championship RematchE48 Nimzo-Indian, 4.e3 O-O 5.Bd3 d5
4. Tal vs Botvinnik ½-½411961Tal - Botvinnik World Championship RematchB12 Caro-Kann Defense
5. Botvinnik vs Tal ½-½731961Tal - Botvinnik World Championship RematchE48 Nimzo-Indian, 4.e3 O-O 5.Bd3 d5
6. Tal vs Botvinnik ½-½251961Tal - Botvinnik World Championship RematchB12 Caro-Kann Defense
7. Botvinnik vs Tal 1-0331961Tal - Botvinnik World Championship RematchE24 Nimzo-Indian, Samisch
8. Tal vs Botvinnik 1-0291961Tal - Botvinnik World Championship RematchB12 Caro-Kann Defense
9. Botvinnik vs Tal 1-0731961Tal - Botvinnik World Championship RematchA23 English, Bremen System, Keres Variation
10. Tal vs Botvinnik 0-1421961Tal - Botvinnik World Championship RematchB12 Caro-Kann Defense
11. Botvinnik vs Tal 1-0421961Tal - Botvinnik World Championship RematchD14 Queen's Gambit Declined Slav, Exchange Variation
12. Tal vs Botvinnik 1-0411961Tal - Botvinnik World Championship RematchC18 French, Winawer
13. Botvinnik vs Tal 1-0411961Tal - Botvinnik World Championship RematchE85 King's Indian, Samisch, Orthodox Variation
14. Tal vs Botvinnik ½-½331961Tal - Botvinnik World Championship RematchB12 Caro-Kann Defense
15. Botvinnik vs Tal 1-0631961Tal - Botvinnik World Championship RematchE81 King's Indian, Samisch
16. Tal vs Botvinnik ½-½901961Tal - Botvinnik World Championship RematchB12 Caro-Kann Defense
17. Botvinnik vs Tal 0-1831961Tal - Botvinnik World Championship RematchE80 King's Indian, Samisch Variation
18. Tal vs Botvinnik 0-1411961Tal - Botvinnik World Championship RematchB12 Caro-Kann Defense
19. Botvinnik vs Tal 0-1751961Tal - Botvinnik World Championship RematchE81 King's Indian, Samisch
20. Tal vs Botvinnik ½-½1211961Tal - Botvinnik World Championship RematchB12 Caro-Kann Defense
21. Botvinnik vs Tal 1-0331961Tal - Botvinnik World Championship RematchE80 King's Indian, Samisch Variation
 page 1 of 1; 21 games  PGN Download 
  REFINE SEARCH:   White wins (1-0) | Black wins (0-1) | Draws (1/2-1/2)  

Kibitzer's Corner
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Apr-15-13  Shelter417: I do like Botvinnik and think he's under-appreciated these days, but this match was a huge loss for chess simply because it denied us Tal-Patrosian in 1963 (I presume Botvinnik would have refused to fight his way back through the Candidates). How great would that match have been? The greatest positional player of the era versus the greatest tactician...
Apr-15-13  Petrosianic: Botvinnik is under-appreciated because he was so seldmon in action in the 50's and 60's. He's the mountain that someone else was always trying to climb. His own heyday, the 1940's, isn't as well remembered.
Premium Chessgames Member
  perfidious: Of no other player in the following event (other than possibly Keres) would one speak of equal fifth in USSR Championship (1940) as a relative failure, such was Botvinnik's stature already in 1940.

For Botvinnik, the remainder of the decade was progress from one success to another, culminating in his title win.

No question as to who the greatest player was in the forties.

Apr-15-13  Petrosianic: It was more than just modesty. It would have been extremely uncomfortable if Alekhine had become available just at that moment, and Botvinnik had been told "Gee, we'd like to give you the title shot, but Lilienthal is Soviet Champion. Comrade Krylenko thinks it should go to him... What's that? Comrade Krylenko has been purged? Well, whoever replaced him thinks the shot should go to Lilienthal."

That's why Botvinnik pulled strings to get the Absolute Championship arranged next year, to settle once and for all the question of which Soviet player got to challenge Alekhine.

Mar-04-14  offramp: Behold Tal's score with black in the first 15 games.

He had 8 blacks in those fifteen games, scoring a less-than-sparkling +0 -7 =1.

Mar-30-14  zanzibar: By the way, the footnote link is stale. Who wrote this page, or rather, who maintains it?

I think "Kings of Chess: 21 Player Salute" was written by Larry Parr (a respected former editor of Chess Life). My understanding is that it was written by Parr for - the latter of late another casualty of entropy.

You can find old archived pages which link to the cover page of the article. But since that originally linked to a series of articles the archived versions can't be navigated. Alas.

Did I mention that I think all these history articles should be timestamped - with both the "creation date", and the "last modified date"?

PS - Did Parr ever finish the series? My forensics suggest he only got as far as Spassky (leaving Fischer/Karpov/Kasparov/Khalifman).

Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: One of the curious themes of the match is Tal grabbing pawns and then living to regret it, viz. games 7, 9, 11, 13, and 21.
Jun-07-15  Kinghunt: Did Botvinnik really have the nickname "Iron Mike"?
Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: <Kinghunt> They were probably thinking of this guy.

Actually Larry Parr and Lev Alburt claim Botvinnik was known as "Iron Mike," but I kind of doubt it.

Premium Chessgames Member
  Troller: In Danish Botvinnik's common nickname translates to <The Iron Logician>. I just checked and found it back in a publication from 1955 (reissue 1963, the one I checked).
Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: From a press conference at the end of the match:

<How would you evaluate Tal's play in the match, and his play in general, bearing in mind the difference in playing style between you and Tal?>

<<Some are of the opinion that if you lose to someone, you should criticize your opponent, whereas if you win, you should praise him. I think it is always better to say one and the same thing. I am in a "difficult" position, since after I had lost to Tal I did not say anything. Perhaps now too I shouldn't say anything. Nevertheless, I will risk doing so. The fact that Tal is a player of great talent is known to all. No confirmation from me is needed. If one talks about the deficiencies in his play, I think that they are also known.

Firstly. he is a somewhat one-sided player. When the play is of a more or less open nature and there is mainly a battle between the pieces, then Tal probably has no equals. It is commonly thought that he calculates variations very well. This is indeed so. But on its own this would be insufficient. He knows how to play these positions, and therefore he can economise on his strength in the calculation of variations.

In other positions he "feels" much weaker. More calculation does not help. In such positions one can play quite calmly against him. In the match, therefore, of course, aimed to create such positions, and therefore it was very difficult for Tal to play.

Then, it seems to me, his defiicieny is that he works little. Previously he worked more, prepared better, and developed opening systems. If one looks at his play during the past two years, nothing new is evident, he has not managed to create any new, original variations. He tried playing the variation with e4-e5 in the Caro-Kann Defence. This variation is really not so threatening, and also it is not enough to prepare only one such variation for such a match. This, of course, gave me the opportunity on each occasion to prepare something new for him and all the time to vary. This made my work easier during the games.

Chess of the last few years differs from the chess of earlier times in that players have learned to study chess well, and to prepare well for the moment when they sit down at the board and play a game. If Tal had been well prepared, if he had spent a lot of time, if he had spent a lot of time on the study of typical positions, then, of course, his great talent would have made him significantly more dangerous than now, when, in my opinon, he is simply not working much. No second can work for a player; the player must himself work.>>

Nov-30-15  cg999: Botvinnik does prove one thing
- a well prepared opening can make a win even if it is always the same (on caro-kann)
Nov-30-15  gabriel25: From old times that pople dont remember.

At that time Russia, then the Soviet Union was very interested in the propaganda value of Chess, an intelectual game, that you dont need money or complicated equipment to be good at it, the very thing for the common man.

That they put plenty of money in it was more than clear, they had most of the diferent countries FIDE representatives in their payroll, or if they were comunists so much better.

It seems Botwinnik was the very base on which the the whole chess program was based and from this far away one can guess that politically he was also well connected.

It was better to show the world that no only one Russian was good at chess, but in Russia there were many good players.

No doubt they could prevail upon B to allow some candidate get in for a couple of years because it was good for the Soviet Union, but only a couple.

Perhaps it was all done frienly or they had to apply the systems they used on Korchnoi in his match with Karpov, there they used the daughter, but there are many ways , you cannt have a car, your apartment is ilegal and you have to move far away etc, etc.

Dec-28-20  Caissanist: Here is the complete press conference referred to by User: keypusher above, albeit a different translation: .
Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: Thanks, <cassianist>. From your link, Botvinnik on the rematch clause:

<The return matches are abolished. Do you think it's the right decision?

I wrote about that in an article for Sovetskiy Sport about our chess players' performance in West Germany. I wrote that I considered this FIDE decision to be a mistake and hoped that the return matches would be restored. I also added that I wouldn't take any part in such decisions anymore, but the editor removed that sentence (of course, after getting my approval). However, if our chess players would insist on restoring the return matches, and foreign players agree with them, then FIDE, of course, will restore them. I read Tal's opinion in Shakhmaty v SSSR that return matches should be restored with great interest. I don't know if Tal still agrees with that, but a year ago, he thought that return matches should exist.

The thing is that the young players are interested in the world champion's playing first and foremost. Perhaps this title is not particularly important, because it's clear that there's currently a whole group of international grandmasters who play about equally well, but the fight for the world championship makes these grandmasters improve their chess skills and also increases the popularity of chess. That's why you should create conditions that exclude the possibility of winning this title randomly, or at least do that: if a player starts studying chess less seriously after his win, he should be punished for that. The return match is such a test for him, which is quite useful. Now we have abolished it. There's an unusual situation, because in 1963 I'll already be very old and maybe even won't play a world championship match at all. Also, such a brilliant player as Smyslov is barred from competing for the world championship after his poor performance at the USSR championship. However, if we look at the chess competitions in the last 15-20 years, we'd see that there were perhaps three most consistent and stable players: Keres, Smyslov and me. And it might happen that only Keres would play for the world championship. I think that we should preserve as many players from this three as possible.

How could it happen that such a brilliant player as Smyslov, who was the most feared player in the world between 1953 and 1958, couldn't already compete for the world championship in 1960? We should say that the current rules that determine world championship challengers are more or less fair, but still, any rule has its drawbacks. In particular, in 1949, when the rules were drafted, I proposed the following: "The top half of the Candidates' Tournament automatically qualifies for the next Candidates' Tournament, and the second half automatically qualifies for the next Interzonal." Then, by a series of legitimate reasons, this rule was violated, but I think that it was violated too brazenly. I think that if there was a rule that an ex-champion could always play in the Interzonal, nobody's rights would have been violated. If such rules were in effect now, Smyslov would've played in the Interzonal, and we could be comfortable in thinking that no random things would happen in the next world championship. However, there's a nuance. It's known that only a limited number of participants from one country can play in the Candidates', i think it's 5 out of 8. Two participants from one country are already known, so, only three Soviet players can qualify for the Candidates' Tournament from the Interzonal. There are already four Soviet players in the Interzonal. So, if a fifth player appears, Smyslov, the Soviet players would suffer in some way.

I think that we should only take into account the interests of those Soviet players who are seriously planning to challenge for the World Championship. How would the Soviet grandmasters who qualified into the Interzonal, for instance, Korchnoi or Petrosian (both surely want to win the world championship), react if FIDE decided to invite Smyslov, the ex-world champion, to the Interzonal? I think they would be glad, and that's why. They seriously want to become world champions, and then they would possibly become ex-champions. This is inevitable. And in this case, they would surely be glad to get a personal invitation to the Interzonal from FIDE.>

Premium Chessgames Member
  perfidious: Surprising really to see that, as early as 1961, Botvinnik acknowledged Smyslov's superiority during the mid 1950s; I had always thought the first time this appeared in print was in a <New in Chess> interview which came out in 1985.
Premium Chessgames Member
  Williebob: Yesterday, May 12, was the 60th anniversary of the conclusion to this match. published an article by Johannes Fischer (one of's more active writers for the English version) commemorating this event, and did a good job of outlining the arguments surrounding Botvinnik's championship years.

The article leans against Botvinnik's legacy to a degree for certain. However, the writer does not go so far as to question MB's deserved place among the greats - only the extraordinary lengths to which FIDE allowed Botvinnik his comebacks.

The following I had to read twice to comprehend:

<... the second match was played under unequal conditions.

Fundamentally unfair was the world champion's privilege to demand a return match. This rule forced the challenger to win the Candidates Tournament and two World Championship matches against the reigning world champion to capture the title, while the titleholder only needed to win one of possibly two matches to retain or recapture his title.>

This makes sense to me eventually, but I must say that nobody disputes the fact that Mikhail Tal was the seventh lineal World Champion. I can see the view that, to Tal and his fans at least, he must have felt he'd hardly been Champion at all given the short shrift by FIDE.

Despite the valid critique and asterisks applied to his Championship years, I completely admire Botvinnik; he is no less great a chess player than any Champion. He dominated at his peak, developed lasting theoretical ideas, showed the next generation how to compete with more seriousness and professionalism, and was quite a strong player well into his 60s. Viva Botvinnik!
Premium Chessgames Member
  Williebob: < but I must say that nobody disputes the fact that Mikhail Tal was the seventh lineal World Champion.>

Okay, everyone will dispute that! Tal was the Eighth. Williebob out!
May-13-21  Petrosianic: <...while the titleholder only needed to win one of possibly two matches to retain or recapture his title.>

That's a weasel phrase to try to give the impression that someone like Euwe, who won the title and lost it back to the same person were never champions at all. Kavalek used that argument in 1978 to argue that the return match was unfair.

According to Kavalek, if Korchnoi won the first match 6-0, and lost the return match 5-6, he wouldn't win the title despite outscoring Karpov 11-6. Of course that would only be true if Karpov never lost the title when he lost the first match.

Of course, even without a return match, if a person re-qualified he could still win the second match despite losing the first.

<I completely admire Botvinnik; he is no less great a chess player than any Champion.>

Well, that's just nonsense, to assume that every champion is equally good, simply by virtue of being having been champion. Some leave bigger marks than others, some are stronger than others. "They're all equally good" is something your grandmother would say just so people would play nice.

Premium Chessgames Member
  Williebob: <Well, that's just nonsense, to assume that every champion is equally good, simply by virtue of being having been champion. Some leave bigger marks than others, some are stronger than others. "They're all equally good" is something your grandmother would say just so people would play nice.>

I think that becoming the undisputed World Champion does indeed make you equal in greatness to all the other champions in at least one really great way.
May-14-21  Petrosianic: Yes, it certainly puts you in a very elite club. The elitest. There's no denying that.
Premium Chessgames Member
  kingscrusher: Surely by modern standards, this match should never have been played until Tal's health issues had been resolved to a larger extent.
Premium Chessgames Member
  MissScarlett: <Once I asked Teichmann what he thought of Bird’s chess; “Same as his health”, he replied, – “always alternating between being dangerously ill and dangerously well.”>

Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: <kingscrusher: Surely by modern standards, this match should never have been played until Tal's health issues had been resolved to a larger extent.>

Tal's health issues were not resolved until 1992.

Premium Chessgames Member
  Williebob: I have doubts that even the most talented chess player today could crack the top ten while maintaining a hard-partying lifestyle, presumably with little exercise to boot. Today's top GMs are teetotaling fitness freaks! Tal would be disgusted. Or at least very annoyed.
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