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Vasily Smyslov vs Mikhail Botvinnik
FIDE World Championship Tournament (1948), The Hague NED / Moscow URS, rd 3, Mar-08
Gruenfeld Defense: Russian Variation (D96)  ·  1/2-1/2



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Kibitzer's Corner
Mar-17-08  Knight13: Intense pressure in the center.
Mar-18-08  Resignation Trap: Instead of 37.Kf2, White could try to retain his extra pawn with 37.Bc3!
Aug-27-09  WhiteRook48: 37 Bc3! and then 38 Kf1!!!
Aug-27-09  Marmot PFL: It would not be advisable for Smyslov to win this game...
Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: <Marmot PFL: It would not be advisable for Smyslov to win this game...>

Oh for God's sake.

Jul-21-13  zydeco: <resignation trap> True. Although after 37....Nd5 38.Bd2 Ra8 black gets very active: ....Ra4 and ....Ra2.
Premium Chessgames Member
  WCC Editing Project: From this position:

click for larger view

<"Botvinnik had to make his last six moves in <<<less than five minutes>>> and the tension of his position raised the key of verbal analysis to the point where it became necessary to request silence.">

-D.A. Yanofsky and H.J. Slavekoorde, "Battle Royal... A Round by Round Account of the Thrilling Contest for the World's Chess Title."

"Chess Life and Review" (April 1948), p.11

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Botvinnik tried a doubtful line of the Gruenfeld as Black and was in trouble from the outset. But he hung on tenaciously and earned a hard-fought draw.

One gets the impression on playing over the game that Smyslov should have won. He reached a pawn up ending. But, if there was a win there for him, I have been unable to find it.

All in all, an engrossing struggle.

Botvinnik may have thought he could get away with an inferior line against Smyslov. Going into this tournament, Botvinnik seemed to own Smyslov, holding as he did a record of six wins, five draws, and only one loss. Who would have imagined that over the next decade Smyslov would become Botvinnik's greatest rival. They played three World Championship matches against each other, and a total of 105 games (a gigantic number for any two rivals not named Karpov and Kasparov).

1. d4 Nf6
2. c4 g6

A surprise already. The Gruenfeld and King's Indian was not his usual fare at this time. Meanwhile, Smyslov was quite comfortable on both sides of the Gruenfeld. Perhaps Botvinnik felt he could get away with anything against his younger opponent, and did not want to show whatever openings he had in mind to the players (Reshevsky and Keres) who he probably thought were his most dangerous rivals for the title. Who knew at the time that it would be Smyslov who would finish second here and would win two candidate's tournaments in 1953 and 1956.

3. Nc3 d5

A Gruenfeld it is!

4. Nf3 Bg7
5. Qb3

This sharp line was very popular at the time. The move could not have been a surprise for Botvinnik.

5... c6

5...bxc4 is normal and better. One must assume Botvinnik knew what he was doing. Smyslov took immediate advantage of the opportunities the text gave him to dominate the center.

6. cxd5

"A strong move, since it gains further ground in the center." (Golombek).

click for larger view

6... Nxd5

As all of the commentators on this game pointed out (most vigorously and clearly by Keres), Black would end up in trouble after 6...cxd5 7. Bg5! By contrast, the text move:

"...leads to a livelier game where White, thanks to his strong pawn center, retains the better position." (Keres)

7. e4

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7... Nb6

The contemporary commentators all condemned the alternative of 7...NxN. But whatever its drawbacks, the text seems to doom Black to a difficult position.

8. Be3

"The center needs further support." (Golombek)

8... Be6

8...0-0; 8...Bg4; and 8...Qd6 were also decent alternatives. In any case, Black is fighting to hold his own.

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9. Qc2

Was 9. d5 stronger? A close call. Golombek trashed 9. d5, but his analysis was badly flawed.

"Premature is the immediate 9. d5 cxd5 10. Bb5+ [Much better is 10. exd5 Bd7 (or 10...Bg4 11. Bb5+ Bd7 12. 0-0) 11. a4 and White is definitely better--KEG] Bd7 11. 0-0 [Very tentative. 11. exd5 is the only way for White to maintain any edge--KEG] 0-0 [11...dxe4 is best for Black here--KEG] 12. Rad1 [Why not 12. Nxd5?--KEG] Bg4 [This leaves White just fine, Black should play 12...BxN with a small edge--KEG]

In any case, Smyslov not unreasonably played 9. Qc2, leaving:

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On his next two moves from this position, Botvinnik made decisions with which he would have to live for the rest of this difficult game.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: 9... Bc4

"To cut back the attacking chances and palliate the cramps by exchanging." (Horowitz).

9...Nc4 or 9...0-0 were probably better. The problem with the text was eloquently expressed by Euwe:

"...White remains lord and master of the board for a long time thanks to his superiority in the canter."

There was also a practical problem with 9...Bc4: The game morphed--as Keres was quick to point out in his commentary-- into a close cousin of Smyslov-Lilienthal, Leningrad 1947 (in which Lilienthal first played 9...0-0 and then--after 10. Rd1--10...Bc4). Lilienthal had his hands full after this start against Smyslov, so by playing the text Botvinnik was going down a rabbit-hole that Smyslov had previously considered. As will be seen, Botvinnik on his next move had found an alternative to Lilienthal's passive play, though the remedy was arguably worse than the disease.

The position after 9...Bc4 was:

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10. Be2

Keres argued that 10. BxB NxB 11. Bf4 was superior. The choice looks close, and White has the better chances with Keres' move and with the text. A player such as Tahl would likely have considered the wild 10. h4?! BxB 11. KxB!?. or 11...h6 12. 0-0-0. All in all, I like 10. h4. But Smyslov was at the helm in this game, and 10. h4 was not in his DNA, especially when he could enjoy a clear edge with the text.

After the text, Botvinnik made another surprising choice:

10... Nxa6

"Lilienthal developed his Knight to d7, which seems more natural. As the future course of the game shows, the black knight stands very unfavorably on a6, and there is no good way to bring it into the game." (Keres)

10...N8d7 definitely looks better. After the text, a quick glance at the board revealed the problems Botvinnik now faced:

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11. 0-0

h4 was still an option. Once Smyslov castled King-side, Botvinnik (as Keres pointed out) felt comfortable in doing likewise:

11... 0-0

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12. Rfd1

As Keres noted, White was definitely better here. But how to continue? The text was a reasonable choice.

12... Qd6

"Inasmuch as White controls the center and important posts, Black must perforce place his men in awkward positions:

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13. b3

Keres argued that 13. Qc1 was better here, but after 13...BxB 14. NxB f5 White's edge, if any, would be minimal. The text was a decent choice. So were 13. BxB; 13. a3; and 13. h3.

13... BxB
14. NxB

14. QxB looks better.

After 14. NxB, the position was:

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The key issue now was whether Black could play 14...f5.

Premium Chessgames Member
  perfidious: <....palliate the cramps by exchanging." (Horowitz).>

Aren't there remedies for this sort of thing? (laughs)

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: <perfidious>Horowitz' language was so amusing I felt compelled to quote him rather than summarize his thinking.
Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post III

14... Rac8

"Botvinnik is reduced to maneuvering behind his own lines." (Horowitz)

But what about 14...f5? Among the commentators I have read on this game, only Keres chose to address this possibility:

"The immediate 14...f5 would have been very risky in view of Bf4-e5. With the text-move, Black takes up a waiting game." (Keres).

But was a "waiting game" Botvinnik's best chance? He eventually wound up pushing the f-pawn to f6 (move 16 and then to f5 (move 19) by which time it seriously weakened his e-pawn (which Botvinnik later had to sacrifice). It surely seems better for Black to act now, If Smyslov replied to 14...f5 with 15. Bf4 as Keres suggests, Black looks fine with either 15...Qe6 or 15...Qd7, and certainly better than what he got after his actual 14...Rac8. 15. Nc3 would probably been best for White after 14...f5, but even then Botvinnik looks better after either 15...Rae8 or 15...fxe4 than the position that arose after 14...Rac8.

The above all being said, Botvinnik still had an entirely defensible position even with the text (which, in fairness, was not all that bad, even if a trifle wimpy):

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15. Bf4


"Forcing the Queen to make a decision: Queen-side or King-side." (Euwe)

But is this decision all so bad for Black? A more careful assessment of 15. Bf4 was provided by Keres:

"With this Bishop maneuver, White only chases the black queen to a better position, and enables Black to win time to prepare the central thrusts. It was therefore better [simply to play] 15. Rac1 with a further strengthening of White's position." (Keres)

The only thing I can add to Keres' superb assessment is that 15. a4 was another good possibility for White.

15... Qe6

"Black's position has grown increasingly difficult...The text move, however, has the drawback of leaving the Queen open to further attack by minor pieces. But is 15...Qd7 16. Ne5, so he must content himself with the humble 15...Qd8." (Golombek)

"Slightly better is 15...Qd7, since on e6 the Queen is soon exposed to attack..." (Euwe)

The debate between 15...Qe6; 15...Qd7; and 15...Qd8 is basically quibbling. 15...Qd7 16. Ne5 Qe6 is not a whole lot better or worse for Black than Botvinnik's 15...Qe6. And if 15...Qd8 (Golombek's suggestion) Black is no better off than what he got with the text after either 16. Qd2 or 16. Rac1.

Perhaps the least problematic option for Botvinnik here was 15...Qa3 (16. Bc1 Qa5 is OK for Black and if 16. Be5 Black would have various decent options (16...Bf6; 16...Nb4).

But Botvinnik's 15...Qe6 can hardly be called a mistake, and his position, though passive, remained entirely playable:

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Botvinnik eventually got into terrible time trouble and just barely avoided losing on time. At this stage, he seemed to be OK in that department:

"Smyslov 0:53; Botvinnik 0:59" (Horowitz)

16. Be5

16. Nc3; 16. Ng3; and 16. a3 all look more promising.

16... f6


"The best of a choice of evils." (Horowitz)

Horowitz and Keres correctly noted that 16...BxB 17. dxB [better than 17. NxB c5] would only have strengthened White's hand.

Euwe and Golombek argued that 16...Bh6 was best here for Black. But Golombek's own follow-up line [17. Nf4 Qd7 18. Nd3] suggests otherwise.

All in all, there was nothing better than Botvinnik's 16. f6, which left him some space, covered e5, and did not (yet at least) fatally weaken the Black pawn on e7.

17. Bg3

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Beginning here, however, Botvinnik courted trouble, and began to fall behind on the clock.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post IV

17... Qf7

Golombek called this move "necessary to avoid future attack on the Queen. He correctly criticized 17...c5 as an alternative, but his suggested 18. d5 ("18...Qd7 19. Nf4 is overwhelming") is wrong on at least two counts. First, 18. d5 could best be answered by 18...Nb4 after which Black has excellent counterchances. Second, after 18. d5 Qd7 19. Nf4 Black is hardly "overwhelmed" if he counters with 19...f5 or 19...Nb4.

More fundamentally, Botvinnik's 17...Qf7 was far from "necessary." Best was 17...Nb4 (probably followed by 18...f5) with decent counterplay, although Black's position is still holdable even after the text.

Another issue was the time Botvinnik took for this move. The respective times now (according to Horowitz) were:

Smyslov: 1:10
Botvinnik: 1:25

Not desperate time trouble then (Botvinnik still having 65 minutes for 33 moves), but the clock was definitely ticking on him.

18. Nf4

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18... Bh6

This move is not faulted in any of the commentaries I have seen. But the flexible 18...e6 looks much better than the doubtful placement of the Bishop on the c1..h6 diagonal. Meanwhile, Smyslov was able to continue with his plan of Nd3 c5. Another possibility to combat White's plan was 18...Nd7.

19. Nd3

Smylov now had the set-up towards which he had aimed:

click for larger view

Here, Botvinnik made a fateful decision that defined much of the balance of the game:

19... f5


'Permanently weakening another square (e5), but he must attempt some activity, as passive defense would result in a slow but sure loss." (Golombek)

"A bid for freedom at the expense of a weakened e-pawn." (Horowitz)

"Now this thrust is almost forced, since White threatened to play 20. Nc5 [which he played anyway--KEG] with a big advantage. Although Black now gains the strong d-point for the knight, and obtains some counterplay, White still stands better thanks to his more favorably placed pieces." (Keres)

While 19...f5 was probably the best practical chance in over-the-board play, it was hardly "forced" or "almost forced." He could just have held his ground and anticipated Nc5 with 19...Nd7. White would then certainly be better with 20. b4, but White has the better game on any line.

Meanwhile, let's have another look at the clock:

Smyslov: 1:28
Botvinnik: 1:42

The position was now:

click for larger view

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post V

20. Nc5


This move was trashed by all the commentators (except for Horowitz who did not comment on the move at all). But in truth, 20. Nc5 was not all that bad at all. White retains the initiative, and none of the alternatives were all that much better.

The two main alternatives are 20. exf5 (Keres and Wade-Whiteley-Keene ["WWK"]) and 20. Re1 (Golombek and Euwe and Keres [who mentions both alternatives]). I tend to agree that these two alternatives were likely the top choices, but the choice is pretty close and trashing Smyslov's selection is over-the-top.

Keres and WWK give the same line: 20. exf5 Qxf5 21. Re1 Nd5 22 Re5. But Black is still very much in the game here with either 22...Qd7 or 22...Qf7. Perhaps a stronger follow-up in this variation was 22. b4, but even then Botvinnik would still have had life with 22...Nac7 or 22...Qd7. This is probably the best line, but hardly a reason to assign a "?" to Smyslov's move.

20. Re1 is also a reasonable follow-up for White, but Botvinnik would likely have responded 20...f4! (superior to Golombek's 20...fxe4 21. Rxe4 Nd5 22. Rh4 [much better than Golombek's 22. Rae1] and Black is probably lost) with decent chances and some interesting play such as 21. Bh4 Bg7 (better than Golombek's 21...Qg7) .

The above all being said, the problem with 20. Nc5 was well summarized by Euwe:

"...the text move makes Black's job easier by allowing him to exchange an inactive knight for an active one."

In any case, after 20. Nc5, the position was:

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Whatever one makes of 20. Nc5, it is obvious that Botvinnik was not out of the woods.

20... fxe4
21. Qxe4

Was this best?

Keres touted 21. Nxe4, saying that it would "...leave more pieces on the board, and leave Black's problem with the a6 knight unsolved." Keres may well be correct, but after 21...Nd5 or 21...Bf4 Botvinnik still seems to have reasonable chances of holding the game.

The commentators all rejected 21. Ne5, but often on superficial analysis. For example, Keres and WWK give 21. Ne5 Qd5 (not best as will be seen) 22. Nxb7 (missing the stronger 22. Ng4) c5! with good playable prospects for Black (and 22...e3 may be even better).

But the real test for 21. Ne5 comes after Euwe's 21...Qf5! If now 22. Nxb7 Black has all sorts of counterchances with 22...Nb4.

After all is said and done, Smyslov's 21. Qxe4 may or may not have been the theoretically perfect choice, but it left him with a continuing advantage and Black with a dangerously backward and isolated e-pawn:

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21... NxN
22. dxN Nd5

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"At the expense of a very weak Pawn on e7, Black's pieces are now well placed." (Golombek)

"This strong support point for the knight now compensates for White's pressure against the weak e-pawn. In addition, Black also has possibilities for counterplay on the f-file. The position can already be assessed as approximately equal."

Perceptive as Keres' comments are concerning the above position, his overall assessment seems doubtful. White is unquestionably better placed. The weak e-pawn remains a problem. Botvinnik still had tough sledding ahead if he wanted to save the game.

Moreover, Botvinnik was getting into deeper and deeper time trouble.

The spectators must have been on the edge of their seats (if they were able to turn their attention from the exciting Reshevsky-Keres game that was being played a few feet away).

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post VI

23. Re1

23. Qc4 was another good option for Smyslov.

23... Rce8

Golombek and Euwe both preferred 23...Bg7 followed by 24...Bf6. Golombek was particularly emphatic about his choice, saying of Botvinnik's 23...Rce8:

"A passive continuation after which Black loses control of the key diagonal. Better is 23...Bg7 24. Rac1 Bf6 [24...Bb2 or 24...Bc3 were perhaps even better--KEG] 25. Bh4 [25. Qc4 was definitely stronger--KEG] Kg7 [25...Rcd8 or 25...Rce8 were better] 26. Ne5 Qe6 when Black has quite a good game." (Golombek)

Golombek's assessment of the final position in his proposed variation is questionable at best. Black still has an isolated and vulnerable e-pawn and will still have to fight hard to stay in the game.

24. Be5

"White gratefully takes the opportunity to take control of this important diagonal." (Euwe).

In fact, Botvinnik could now have played 24...Bg7, so the claim that Smyslov now commanded the diagonal seems doubtful.

Better for White here were 24. Qc4 or 24. Ne5.

24... Bf4

Keres claimed that Botvinnik should have played 24...Bg7 here "with an equal game."

It is hard to argue with the simple 24...Bg7. But the text also gave Botvinnik good play with his Bishop (unless Smyslov chose to exchange).

Botvinnik's big problem now was the clock, Horowitz reporting:


The position was now:

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25. Bb2


25... Qf5
26. Qc4

"Exchange of Queens is to be avoided. " (Golombek)

The position was now:

click for larger view

Botvinnik here made a crucial decision. He could (and in my view shoud) have dug in is heels with 26...e6 or 26...Bc7. Instead, he strove for aggressive counterplay with:

26... e5

Keres and Horowizt praised this move to the hilt, since it gives Black active play rather than a tedious back-stepping defense. But it also gives White excellent chances to pick up this pawn, the position now being:

click for larger view

27. Re4


Keres, Euwe, and WWK all argued that 27. Re2 was best. Keres and WWK give the following continuation: 27. Re2 e4 28. Rae1. But here Keres only considered the awful 28...exN? which loses to 29. RxR. The crucial line, however, was 28...e3! after which Black gets some real compensation for the pawn after 29. fxe3 Re4!

All in all, Smyslov's judgment in blocking the e-pawn seems sound. The position was now:

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The game now reached its climax.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post VII

27... Qf7

"The plan to free the pinned Knight results in the loss of the e-Pawn. Better is a tenacious defense with 27...Re7 and, if necessary, Ree7. Black can break out of the pin eventually with h6 and Kh7. It would not be easy for White to make progress against this procedure, though he might attempt to undermine Black's Knight with b4-b5." (Horowitz).

Only Horowitz seems to have noticed that 27...Qf7 was not Black's best. Whether Horowitz' 27...Rf7 or 27...g5 or maybe 27...Rf6 or 27...Re6 is best is difficult to tell.

But in over-the-board play, Botvinnik's move looks more than reasonable. Once he unpins the Knight, this stead can do more than its fair share to defend the Black position.

Meanwhile, Botvinnik's time troubles were getting worse:

Smyslov: 2:00
Botvinnik: 2:20
[All time figures given here, unless otherwise indicated, come from Horowitz].

After 27...Qf7, the position was:

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28. Rae1?

"It would be better to redress his former error and play 28. Re2." (Golombek)

"28. Re2 is still a good move here." (Euwe).

Smyslov held the edge for most of this game. I'm not sure if he ever had a "winning" position. If he did blow a win, this move may be the culprit, since it allowed Botvinnik's Knight to become a three-headed beast the dominated much of the rest of the game.

Without conceding that 27. Re4 was a big mistake, it is certainly true that 28. Re2 would have been a major improvement over Smylov's actual 28. Rae1. The point is that now that Botvinnik's Queen had retreated to Qf7, e4 for Black was no longer viable (the one problem with the suggested 27. Re2).

Whether Smyslov's best here was 28. Re2 or 28. Qc2 or 28. Qe2, it seems clear that the text (though strangely not commented upon by Keres or Horowitz or WWK) was a serious mistake that allowed Botvinnik's forces--and in particular his Knight--to spring to life.

28... Nf6

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"Forcing the exchange of Queens." (Golombek)

"Forcing a liquidation that is safe for Black." (Euwe)

"Naturally Black uses the first possible opportunity to force the exchange of Queens, at the cost of a pawn, especially as White's pieces will thereafter end up uncomfortably tied up." (Keres)

29. QxQ+

"For if 29. Nxe5 [??--KEG] QxQ 30. RxQ Ng4! regains the Pawn with advantage to Black." (Golombek)

On Golombek's line, Black has more than just the advantage--he'd have a win. 29. QxQ+ was the only way for Smyslov to retain any advantage.

29... RxQ

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"The ensuing endgame no longer offers any winning chances, despite White's extra pawn." (Keres)

That latter comment by Keres, it seems to me, is going too far. While I have been unable to find a win for Smyslov in the ending that follows (and disagree with those won purport to have found a win--as will be discussed], Smyslov chad a clear edge with his pawn plus, and Botvinnik would have to play very well [as he did] to hold the game.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post VIII

30. R4e2

"Rather better is 30. Rc4 avoiding any Pawn advance on the Queen-side." (Golombek)

Stockfish agrees, but I just don't see it. If 30. Rc4, Black is better than in the game after 30...Nd7. Smyslov's move looks best.

30... Nd7

Apart from his weak e-Pawn, Botvinnik had another problem--the clock:


31. b4

"On 31. Rc2 e4 followed by e3." (Golombek)

"Of course not 31. Bxe5? Rfe7 winning." (Keres)

The position was now:

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31... a5


"Very well played. The point is that White's b-Pawn is weakened so that when Black's Knight goes to d5 it will do so with an attack on that Pawn." (Golombek)

"It is very important to weaken the White b-Pawn in this way." (Euwe)

From this point on, and despite his desperate time-trouble, Botvinnik's play was of the highest order. It is not often that someone outplayed Smyslov in the endgame.

32. a3

Though ugly, 32. bxa5 was Smyslov's best chance. A possible continuation was 32...Nxc5 33. Bxe5 BxB 34. RxB RxR 35. RxR Nd3 36. Re8+ Kg7 37. Kf1 Rf5 38. Re7+ Kf6 39. Rd7 Nf4 40. Rxb7 Rxa5 41. g3 Nd3 42. Ke2 Nc5 43. Rb2 leaving

click for larger view

This is likely a theoretical draw, but White can press Black for quite a while. With Smyslov playing White, this would not be an easy draw for Black.

Perhaps, however, Smyslov--noticing Botvinnik's dreadful time trouble--was trying to blitz him. If so, it didn't work.

The position after 32. a3 was:

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32... axb4

32...Ra8 was an interesting alternative for Black.

33. axb4 Rfe7


"Black immediately gives up the Pawn. As compensation, White's pieces will be tied up and Black will get counterplay on the light squares." (Keres)

33...Ra8 was also good for Black.

34. g3

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"After which the pawn must fall." (Horowitz)

"So at length he wins the the e-pawn, but only at the cost of a further weakening of his pawn structure, this becoming apparent during the course of the next few moves." (Golombek)

"White captures the black e-pawn, albeit without getting a decisive advantage." (Euwe).

34... Bh6
35. Nxe5

"Naturally not 35. Bxe5? Bg7 and Black wins." (Keres)

35... Bg7
36. f4 Nf6

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"The Knight now returns to d5, and White loses his last hope of winning." (Keres)

But is it really that simple. As I will discuss in my next post on this game, both Horowitz as well as two contributors on this site still think Smyslov had winning chances in the above position which he threw away on his next move.

While I do not think White can win this position against best play, it is certainly true that he could at least have tortured Botvinnik for a long time had he found the strongest line.

Oh, by the way, the clocks now read as follows:


Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post IX

37. Kf2?

After this lemon, Smyslov's winning chances were entirely shot in light of Botvinnik's following superb play. The problem with the move is that--in several crucial variations--Black is able to play Ng4 with check.

Both Horowitz in his commentary on the game, and <Resignation Trap> on this site (followed by <WhiteRook48>) recommend 37. Bc3. According to Horowitz, after 37. Bc3:

"...Smyslov might carefully nurse his extra Pawn to victory. in any event, Black would be left with an uphill battle."

But does this really give Smyslov serious winning chances? I think not. If 37. Bc3 Nd5 (recommended by user <Zydeco>) 38. Bd2 (White's only chance to maintain an edge), then 38...g5 [not Zydeco's 38...Ra8 which runs into a buzzsaw after 39. Nc4] 39. Kf2 (best) gxf4 40. gxf4 BxN 41. RxB RxR 42. RxR Ra8 Black can probably hold with his strong Knight harassing the White pawn on b4). But Black can do even better with 37...g5 and then 38. Kf2 gxf4 39. gxf4 Nd5 40. Bd2 BxN 41. RxB RxR 42. RxR Ra8 and again Black can likely hold.

White's best chance seems to lie in 37. Kf1 (avoiding nasty Knight checks) and then after 37...Nd5 the game could get very interesting with 38. Re4 Ra8 .

One thing is clear, after Smyslov's 37. Kf2?, Botvinnik's fine play gave Smyslov no further winning chances:

37... Nd5

"White's b-pawn is weakened." (Golombek)

"The weak b-pawn." (Euwe)

click for larger view

38. Re4

"If 38. Ba3 Nc6." (Golombek)

After 38. Ba3, Black can also draw with 38...BxN 39. RxB RxR 40. RxR Ra8.

38. Nc4 or 38. Nc4 are slightly better, but no win seems to be on the horizon even then.

38... Nf6

Botwinnik's Knight performs miracles in this ending.

39. R4e3

"If either 39. Rd4 or 39. Rc4, Black regains his Pawn with Ng4+ [the check Kf2 allows--KEG]" (Golombek)

39... Nd4

With his flag about to fall, Botvinnik hung tough.

40. Rb3

click for larger view

40... g5!



"This last move, made with only seconds to spare, is the most accurate way of drawing." (Golombek)

"Botvinnik's last move removes the prop from the entrenched Knight." (Horowitz)

"Securing the draw." (Euwe)

"Creating another weakness in White's position in the shape of f4." (Keres)

click for larger view

The game was adjourned now, and Smyslov sealed.

A draw was now all but inevitable. But Smyslov chose to continue in an adjourned session (see my next post on this game).

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: Post X

41. Kf3 Rf8
42. Re4

42. Nd3 is no better.

click for larger view

42... Nf6

"He could also draw by 42...gxf4 43. gxf4 Nxf4 [or 34...Bh6--KEG] 44. RxN BxN 45. BxB RxB 46. Rd3, but prefers the text, since White's King would be well placed in this variation and consequently Black would have to play carefully." (Golombek)

Horowitz gives the same alternative variation beginning with 42...gxf4, and ends by saying:

"Black is still confronted by troubles with nothing more than a draw in view."

And concludes that Botvinnik's line was "the simplest way to draw,"

Euwe gives pretty much the same line, but then suggests 45. Re3 Rh5 and says that Black would then "still have to do some hard work for the draw." But Euwe overlooked that after 45. Re3 Botvinnik could have drawn with ease via 45...RxR+.

In fact, both the text and 42...gxf4 are adequate to draw,

43. Re2

"Objectively better is 43. Rc4 [variation omitted], although White is still unable to win against a good defense." (Euwe)

Golombek also analyzed 43. Rc4, and also concluded that the game would be drawn.

43... Nd5
44. Re4 Nf6
45. Re2 Nd5

click for larger view

"Drawn by repetition of moves." (Golombek)

Not quite yet, but that was inevitable.

"The Pawn cannot be held." (Horowitz)

1/2 -- 1/2

Premium Chessgames Member
  plang: 5..c6 is today considered to be insufficiently active and is very rarely played. 12..Bxe2 had been played in the draw Simagin-Sajtar Prague 1946; 12..Qd6 was new. 10..Na6 was questioned as decentralizing the knight so it seems logical to question 20 Nc5!? allowing Black to exchange his weakly placed knight. Franko offers 32 bxa..Nxc5 33 Nxe5..Bxe5 34 Bxe5..Re7 followed by ..Kf7 with a likely draw.

The modern Gruenfeld is played with more ambition than Black showed at the beginning of this game but Botvinnik did a great job of creating enough activity to hold an inferior endgame.

Premium Chessgames Member
  KEG: <plang> 5...c6 had been a favorite of Flohr and of Kashdan, but it began to disappear after Smyslov gave Botvinnik such a rough ride after Botvinnik ventured 5...c6.

I agree that Botvinnik made the best of a bad situation after 5...c6, but he probably should have known better, having faced 5...c6 while playing White in two previous games.

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