Botvinnik and the Pirc/Modern

by Alex Yermolinsky
5/24/2017 – Continuing his look at how champions began to include new openings later in their careers, the tireless student of the game, GM Alex Yermolinsky, looks at Mikhail Botvinnik, 'The Patriarch', and his employment of the Pirc-Modern defense. He also shares his first encounter with the great player as a junior, speculates on what a Botvinnik-Fischer match would have looked like, and even mentions his secret match with Gata Kamsky when he was 14. Enjoy this great article!

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The name of the 6th World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik is forever associated with famed Soviet Chess School. To this day, 26 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Patriarch, as he was not-so-affectionally-but-respectfully called, is still being credited with the continuous success of players from Russia and other republics of the former USSR.

Botvinnik's methods of preparation were legendary: Deep study of opening theory, detailed analyses of adjourned games; maintaining physical fitness; strict regimen during tournaments down to mapping out the best route for a walk to the tournament hall, etc. All this helped him to stay on top of World's Chess for 30 years. He won the Championship title after Alekhine died and kept it (with two small interruptions when losing to Smyslov and Tal) for 15 years. Only after he lost to Petrosian in 1963 and was not granted a return match by FIDE in a surprising twist two years later, Botvinnik announced he had had enough of fighting for the World Championship.

He was 52 then and still in good shape. One can only speculate what would have happened if Botvinnik decided to enter the 1965 Candidates Matches, where he was offered a spot as the loser of the previous World Championship match. If the bracket stayed the same, in the Quarterfinals he would be facing Smyslov again, for the fourth time in 12 years.

However, as it had always been the case, Botvinnik's decision to quit was firm. He continued his work as an electrical engineer and became interested in the burgeoning field of computer science. Chesswise, it was down to team tournaments and an occasional foray to the leisure spots of Monte Carlo and Palma de Mallorca.

Botvinnik's most famous student: Garry Kasparov

Then there was the Botvinnik Chess School, and a great influence it had on the young generation of Soviet players. I'm often asked how I enjoyed my time there. I shock people by answering that I was never there. Of my personal interactions with the great man, I have only had one, but it left a lasting impact, although not of the kind the reader might expect.

Back when I was about 14 years old, I was part of the Leningrad Team playing in a new event sponsored by the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper. Each team was led by a GM-Captain, and matches between teams were a combination of six-board clock simuls. Say, we played Moscow: in this case Spassky would give a simul to the Moscow kids while we the Leningrad youths would face Smyslov. Scores are combined. The time control was set for 45 moves after which the games would be adjudicated with Chief Arbiter Botvinnik being the final authority.

In round two we played Riga, and it was Mikhail Tal prowling in front of us.

Mikhail Tal vs Alex Yermolinsky, 1972

[Event "Komsomolskaya Pravda"] [Site "Moscow"] [Date "1972.??.??"] [Round "2"] [White "Yermolinsky, Alex"] [Black "Tal, M."] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A37"] [PlyCount "91"] [EventDate "1972.11.08"] [EventType "simul"] [EventRounds "5"] 1. Nf3 c5 2. g3 Nc6 3. Bg2 g6 4. O-O Bg7 5. c4 e6 6. Nc3 Nge7 7. d3 O-O 8. Bd2 d5 9. Qc1 b6 10. Bh6 Bb7 11. Bxg7 Kxg7 12. Rb1 $1 Nf5 13. a3 Rc8 14. b4 $14 Qf6 $1 15. Qb2 $6 dxc4 $1 16. dxc4 Ba8 $6 17. Rfd1 $6 cxb4 18. axb4 Rfd8 19. Qa3 $1 Ncd4 $11 20. Nxd4 Rxd4 21. Rxd4 Qxd4 22. Bxa8 Rxa8 23. c5 $1 bxc5 24. bxc5 Rc8 $15 25. Nb5 Qe5 26. Rc1 Qxe2 27. Nd6 $1 Rc6 $1 28. Nxf5+ gxf5 29. Qa1+ Kg6 30. Qxa7 $6 Qd2 $15 31. Ra1 $1 Qc3 32. Qa8 Rxc5 33. Qg8+ Qg7 34. Qxg7+ Kxg7 35. Kg2 Rc3 36. Ra4 e5 37. Ra6 f6 38. Ra7+ Kg6 39. Ra8 f4 40. gxf4 e4 41. Rg8+ Kf5 42. Rg7 h5 43. Rh7 Kg4 44. h3+ Rxh3 45. Rg7+ Kh4 46. Rg6 1/2-1/2

I managed to reach move 45, and then the game was stopped. Tal looked a bit distracted, probably he was tired from being on his feet for five hours straight. Botvinnik came over to our board, looked at the position, then at me, and said in a gravelly tone “gimme your score sheet”. As if playing Tal wasn't enough to overwhelm me, imagine how I felt then the Patriarch actually spoke to me. I couldn't say a word, I just gave him my score sheet.

Botvinnik had been away from tournament chess for a couple of years already, but his mind was sharp. In a matter of seconds he went over the game in his head. He had seen enough: my cowardly play made him purse his lips. Without another word the Patriarch thrust the score sheet back to me, and that was it - for him I ceased to exist.

Mihail Tal giving a simul in the USSR in the 1970s

He turned to Tal and said, “Well, Misha, we both know you would have won this game if it continued, but at this stage I cannot call it a win for Black”. Tal, who looked like he didn't care at all, shrugged his shoulders and shook my hand. I got my half a point and learned a valuable lesson. It may have been a dead draw on the board, but ultimately it was up to powers-that-be to decide.

I love digressions. I could sit here all day telling you my Grandpa Simpson stories. Too bad I have to drag myself, kicking and screaming, back to the subject of this article, which is Botvinnik's defenses to 1.e4 in his post-Championship years. A bit of history first.

While he started off as an 1..e5 player, later Botvinnik largely abandoned the classical approach, and instead employed a variety of responses, usually preparing a new one for the next World Championship match. The Classical Sicilian with his trademark gxf6 served him reasonably well until the crushing defeat against Keres in the Alekhine Memorial 1956. Then, with a sprinkle of the Dragon, it was mainly the French, but it also took a hit in matches against Smyslov and Tal. For the return matches against both players, Botvinnik settled on the solid Caro-Kann, and this is basically where he stood when his World Championship days were over. Of course, he didn't have to worry about 1.e4 when he played Petrosian.

True to his fundamental approach to everything: it was time for a new opening, and Botvinnik surprised everyone by choosing the relatively unexplored Pirc Defense, later to be morphed into the Modern with 1...g6. His first experience came in the remarkable battle with German GM Wolfgang Unzicker in the same Alekhine Memorial, 1956. Notes from ChessBase by GM Valery Chekhov.

Wolfgang Unzicker vs Mikhail Botvinnik, 1956 (annotated by GM Valery Chekhov)

[Event "Alekhine mem"] [Site "Moscow"] [Date "1956.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Unzicker, Wolfgang"] [Black "Botvinnik, Mikhail"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "B07"] [Annotator "Chekhov"] [PlyCount "39"] [EventDate "1956.??.??"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "15"] [EventCountry "URS"] [SourceTitle "MCL"] [Source "ChessBase"] 1. e4 d6 2. d4 Nf6 3. Nc3 g6 4. Bg5 h6 5. Bh4 (5. Bf4 Bg7 6. h3 c5 7. dxc5 Qa5 8. Qd2 Qxc5 9. Be3 Qa5 10. Bd3 Nc6 11. Nge2 Nd7 12. O-O $13 {Kholmov, R-Botvinnik,M/URS/1963/}) (5. Bxf6 exf6 6. Qd2 Bg7 7. O-O-O c6 8. Kb1 O-O 9. h4 f5 10. Bd3 fxe4 11. Nxe4 d5 12. Nc3 Qf6 13. Nge2 {Vasiukov,E-Parma,B/Suhumi/ 1966/} Bf5 $10) (5. Be3 $5) 5... Bg7 6. Be2 c5 7. e5 (7. dxc5 Qa5 8. Qd2 Qxc5 $10) 7... Nh5 (7... Nfd7 8. exd6 g5 9. Bg3 cxd4 10. Nb5 $36) 8. dxc5 (8. Bxh5 $2 cxd4 $1 9. Qxd4 (9. Nb5 Qa5+) 9... Bxe5 $17) 8... Nf4 9. Bg3 dxe5 (9... Nxe2 10. Ngxe2 dxe5 11. Qxd8+ Kxd8 12. O-O-O+) 10. Qxd8+ Kxd8 11. O-O-O+ Bd7 12. Bf3 Nc6 13. Bxf4 (13. Nge2 g5) 13... exf4 14. Nge2 h5 $1 (14... g5 15. Rd2 $5 (15. Bg4 $6 e6 16. Nb5 Ke7 17. Nd6 Ne5 $1 (17... Rab8 18. Nxf7 $1))) 15. Rd2 (15. Nxf4 $2 Bh6 16. g3 e5) 15... Kc8 16. Rhd1 Rd8 17. Nd5 e6 {[#]} (17... Rb8 $5) 18. Ne7+ $1 Kc7 (18... Nxe7 19. Bxb7+ Kxb7 20. Rxd7+ Rxd7 21. Rxd7+ Kc6 22. Rxe7 $16) 19. Nxc6 Bxc6 20. Nd4 (20. Nd4 Bxd4 (20... Bxf3 21. Nb5+ Kc6 22. Rxd8 ) 21. Rxd4 Rxd4 22. Rxd4 Bxf3 23. gxf3 g5 24. Kd2 $13) 1/2-1/2

Botvinnik facing Unzicker in 1961

The same players continued their discussion six years later at the Varna Olympiad.

Wolfgang Unzicker vs Mikhail Botvinnik, 1962 (annotated by Alex Yermolinsky)

[Event "Varna olm"] [Site "Varna"] [Date "1962.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Unzicker, Wolfgang"] [Black "Botvinnik, Mikhail"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B08"] [Annotator "AlexYermo"] [PlyCount "80"] [EventDate "1962.??.??"] [EventType "team"] [EventCountry "BUL"] [SourceTitle "MCD"] [Source "ChessBase"] 1. e4 d6 2. d4 g6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Nf3 Bg7 5. Be2 O-O 6. Bf4 Nc6 7. d5 ({The young Gata Kamsky played} 7. O-O {in our secret training match played in Kamskys' dinky apartment in a run down part of old Leningrad back in 1986. I faced numerous challenges in that encounter. Firstly, Gata was only 14, but already a formidable opponent. Secondly, one had to be diplomatic when dealiing with Gata's father, Rustam Kamsky, who was known for his quick temper. And thirdly, once the game was over the real challenge would be to get out of the neighborhood without being mugged by local denizens. I passed it all with flying colors. The game in question went} Bg4 8. d5 Nb8 $6 ({I wasn't sure about} 8... e5 9. dxc6 exf4 10. e5 dxe5 11. cxb7 Qxd1 12. Raxd1 Rab8 13. h3 Bf5 14. Ba6) ({but} 8... Bxf3 9. Bxf3 Ne5 10. Be2 c6 {was more relaible.}) 9. Qd2 Nbd7 10. h3 Bxf3 11. Bxf3 c6 12. Rad1 Qb6 (12... cxd5 $142 13. exd5 Rc8 { Black needs to resolve the situation without fear of opening the e-file. After all, Rf8-e8 is always there for him}) 13. b3 Rfc8 (13... cxd5 14. Nxd5 Nxd5 15. exd5 $14) 14. Na4 Qd8 15. dxc6 $1 bxc6 16. c4 Ne8 17. Qc2 ({The immediate} 17. c5 $1 {would pose huge problems}) 17... Ne5 18. Bg4 Nxg4 19. hxg4 e5 20. Bg3 Qe7 21. c5 dxc5 22. Nxc5 $16 {Somehow I managed to survive this.}) 7... e5 $1 { This energetic reply is the reason why Bf4 systems aren't popular to this day.} 8. dxe6 ({On} 8. Bg5 {Black can try} Nd4 ({A standard Kings Indian type of play,} 8... Ne7 9. Qd2 Nh5 10. O-O-O f6 11. Be3 f5 12. Bg5 fxe4 13. Nxe4 Nf4 { is there as well.}) 9. Nxd4 exd4 10. Qxd4 h6 {Black counts on a bishop pair to bail him out.} ({His counterplay after} 10... Nxe4 11. Qxg7+ Kxg7 12. Bxd8 Nxc3 13. Bxc7 Nxe2 14. Kxe2 Bf5 15. c3 Rfe8+ {may not be enough to safely reach a draw in a pawn down ending.}) 11. Bxf6 Bxf6 12. Qd3 Re8 13. O-O Bd7 {etc.}) 8... Bxe6 9. O-O Re8 10. Re1 h6 $1 {Botvinnik devises a plan directed against White's DSB.} 11. h3 g5 12. Be3 ({In a complex situation after} 12. Bh2 Nd7 13. Qd2 Nc5 {White is lacking adequate protection to his e4-pawn, and his Nf3 has no moves!}) 12... d5 $1 {This shot underlines a major difference between the Pirc and Kings Indian - having left his pawn on c2 White doesn't have firm control over the critical d5-square.} 13. exd5 Nxd5 14. Nxd5 Qxd5 15. c3 Qxd1 16. Rexd1 Rad8 17. Bb5 Bd5 18. Nd4 Bxd4 19. Bxd4 a6 20. Bxc6 Bxc6 {Of course, it should have been a draw, but Botvinnik's patience was rewarded with a full point.} 21. Re1 f5 22. f3 Bb5 23. b4 b6 24. Rxe8+ Rxe8 25. a4 Bc4 26. a5 Re6 27. axb6 cxb6 28. Kf2 Kf7 29. Re1 $6 {This can only be played if White is absolutely sure what he's going to do.} Rxe1 30. Kxe1 a5 31. bxa5 bxa5 32. g3 $2 ({With his king reaching the safe corner on a1 all White had to do is to reduce the number of pawn on the K-side, so he can sac his bishop for the last pawn. Therefore,} 32. f4 $1 a4 (32... gxf4 33. Be5 a4 34. Kd2 Bf1 35. Bxf4 h5 36. g4 $11) 33. Kd2 Bf1 34. fxg5 hxg5 35. g3 Bxh3 36. Be3 {draws.}) 32... a4 33. Kd2 a3 34. Kc2 h5 {Now it's pretty hard for White to stop the upcomiing breakthrough.} 35. h4 f4 $1 {[#]} 36. Be5 (36. Bf2 gxh4 37. gxf4 (37. gxh4 Kg6 38. Kb1 Kf5 39. Ka1 Bd5 40. Kb1 Bxf3 41. Ka2 Ke4 42. Kxa3 Kd3 43. Kb4 Ke2 $19) 37... h3 38. Bg3 Kg6 39. Bh2 Kf5 40. Kb1 h4 41. Ka1 Be2 42. Ka2 Bxf3 43. Kxa3 Be4 44. Kb2 Kg4 45. Kc1 Kf3 46. Kd2 Kg2 47. Ke3 Kxh2 48. Kf2 Bd3 {and White runs out of moves.}) ({The most challenging defense appears to be} 36. gxf4 gxh4 37. f5 h3 38. Be5 {but Black wins by brute calculation, which I'm sure would appeal to Botvinnik's scientific mind:} Bd5 39. Kb1 Bxf3 40. Ka2 Be4 41. f6 (41. Kxa3 Bxf5 42. Kb2 Ke6 43. Bb8 Kd5 44. Kc1 Ke4 {winning the race to the K-side.}) 41... Ke6 42. Kxa3 Bg6 $1 43. Bb8 Kxf6 {with the same outcome}) 36... Ke6 37. Bc7 gxh4 38. Bxf4 h3 39. g4 h4 40. Bh2 Be2 {The pawns will fall, adn then the black king will reach g2 before his white counterpart can get back.} 0-1

Granted, the opposition was accommodating, but Botvinnik's overall results in the Pirc/Modern were above all expectations: +14 = 6 with no losses! What helped Former Champ to achieve success was his great familiarity with Dragon and Caro-Kann structures, on the junctures of which the Modern Defense stood.

How about this one featuring the thematic exchange sac?

Aivars Gisplis vs Mikhail Botvinnik, 1963 (annotated by Alex Yermolinsky)

[Event "URS-chT"] [Site "Moscow"] [Date "1963.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Gipslis, Aivars"] [Black "Botvinnik, Mikhail"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B06"] [Annotator "AlexYermo"] [PlyCount "64"] [EventDate "1963.??.??"] [EventType "team"] [EventCountry "URS"] [SourceTitle "EXT 99"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "1998.11.10"] 1. e4 g6 2. d4 Bg7 3. Nf3 d6 4. Bc4 Nf6 5. Qe2 {A popular system back in the day. Without any pretence White intends e4-e5. Botvinnik's opponent, Latvia's #2 after Tal, possessed a style similar to his famous compatriot.} c6 {In light of his opponent's intentions Botvinnik establishes control over the d5-square.} ({Apparently, today's common alternative} 5... Nc6 {which invites} 6. e5 dxe5 7. dxe5 Ng4 8. e6 Bxe6 9. Bxe6 fxe6 10. Qxe6 Nd4 {was not quite to his liking.}) 6. Bb3 (6. e5 Nd5 {actually leads us to Alekhine's Defense.}) 6... O-O 7. O-O (7. Nc3 Bg4 8. h3 Bxf3 9. Qxf3 e6 $1 10. Bg5 h6 11. Bh4 Nbd7 12. O-O-O Qa5 13. Qe2 ({a better plan would be to force the black knight back with} 13. Bg3 d5 14. e5 Ne8) 13... b5 14. f4 b4 15. Nb1 d5 $1 { Medina-Botvinnik, Palma de Mallorca 1967}) 7... a5 {Recently, we saw two games of Magnus Carlsen's in this line, both played in bullet competition stages of his matches on} 8. a4 (8. a3 Bg4 9. Nbd2 Nbd7 $6 (9... e6 10. h3 Bxf3 11. Nxf3 d5 12. e5 Nfd7 13. c4 {illustrates the point of the modest a2-a3 move: White doesn't have a glaring weakness on b4.}) 10. h3 Bxf3 11. Nxf3 e5 ({ Too late for} 11... e6 {as White answers it in resolute manner:} 12. e5 dxe5 13. dxe5 Nd5 14. c4 $14) 12. dxe5 dxe5 13. c3 Nc5 14. Bc2 a4 $6 15. Nxe5 Re8 16. f4 $14 {Carlsen-Nakamura 1s+1spm 2016}) (8. a4 e6 $5 9. e5 Nd5 10. exd6 Qxd6 11. Na3 {was Carlsen-Petrosian from the same competition.}) 8... Bg4 {The most logical. Botvinnik moves his LSB out before building a pawn chain on the same color squares.} (8... b6 $6 9. Rd1 Ba6 10. Qe1 Qc7 11. e5 dxe5 12. dxe5 Nd5 13. e6 fxe6 14. Ng5 Rf6 15. Nxe6 {1-0, Kramnik-Svidler, Dortmund Semifinals 2004}) 9. Nbd2 d5 10. e5 Nfd7 11. h3 Bxf3 12. Nxf3 e6 13. Bg5 ({Shouldn't White strike in the center first? Followed in another example from the Patriach's files.} 13. c4 Na6 14. Bg5 Qb6 15. Ba2 Nb4 16. Be7 Rfe8 17. Bd6 Nxa2 18. Rxa2 Qb3 19. Rfa1 Qxc4 20. Qxc4 dxc4 21. Nd2 Nb6 22. Bc5 Ra6 23. g3 Rd8 24. Rc1 Bf8 25. Ne4 Kg7 26. Kf1 Bxc5 27. dxc5 Rd4 28. Nd6 Nd7 29. Nxb7 Nxe5 $17 {Matanovic-Botvinnik, Belgrade 1969}) (13. Rd1 $1 c5 ({The preparatory } 13... Qb6 14. Ba2 Na6 {puts the black knight out of position, so White doesn't have to recapture on d4 with the pawn.} 15. c3 c5 16. Be3 cxd4 17. Bxd4 ) 14. c4 Qb6 15. Ba2 dxc4 16. d5 $1) 13... Qb6 14. Ra3 {Artificial.} c5 15. c4 dxc4 16. Bxc4 cxd4 $1 {Botvinnik doesn't give Gipslis a chance to recover and play d4-d5.} 17. Be7 Rc8 18. Bd6 Nc6 19. Rb3 Nb4 20. Ng5 {[#]} Rxc4 $1 { Unlike Petrosian trademark exchange sacrifices that often were defensive in nature and could be declined by the opponent, Botvinnik's were pure powerplay.} ({The ironclad battleship of Botvinnik's chess would not allow even a small leak to spring , such as in} 20... Nxe5 21. Bxe5 Bxe5 22. Qxe5 Rxc4 23. Ne4 Qc7 24. Nf6+ Kh8 25. Qg5) 21. Qxc4 Nxe5 22. Bxe5 Bxe5 23. Rf3 {Followed are a few moves of quiet preparation} Rf8 24. Rd1 Bg7 25. Ne4 e5 26. g4 h6 $1 {[#] What is White to do here?} 27. Rc1 ({A traditional approach calls for endgame, but} 27. Qc5 Qxc5 28. Nxc5 {will be answered by} b6 $1 29. Ne4 (29. Nd7 Rc8 30. Nxb6 Rc2) 29... f5 30. gxf5 gxf5 31. Nd6 {serves the purpose of stabilizing the situation. However, the unfortunate position of Rf3 makes White's prospects gloomy after} f4 32. Rc1 d3 33. Kg2 Rd8) ({Alternatively, insisting on g4-g5 with} 27. h4 {weakens the king:} Qd8 28. g5 Qd7 29. Rg3 Rc8) 27... Qd8 $1 28. Qc7 Qd5 $1 {As we have often seen on Patriarch's games it's all about centralization.} 29. Nf6+ Bxf6 30. Rxf6 Nd3 31. Qc4 Qe4 32. Qc2 Kg7 0-1

One intriguing question we'll never the answer to is what would have happened if Botvinnik played a match with Fischer in 1970. The Patriarch himself said he would have most likely lost, and indeed, giving the arguably best player who ever lived 32 years of age handicap would be hard to overcome. Yet, giving Botvinnik's mental toughness, I doubt it would be the full whitewash Taimanov and Larsen had received one year later. Too bad the negotiations fell through, since that match would have been one for the ages.

Mikhail Botvinnik played Bobby Fischer, 32 years his junior, only once, in 1962

Say, it were to take place, then what would Botvinnik have played against Fischer's 1.e4? Probably, more than one opening, and the Pirc could have been among them.

Let's see how Mikhail Moiseevich dealt with Bobby's beloved Austrian Attack.

Franciscus Kuijpers vs Mikhail Botvinnik, 1966 (annotated by Alex Yermolinsky)

[Event "IBM"] [Site "Amsterdam"] [Date "1966.??.??"] [Round "5"] [White "Kuijpers, Franciscus Antonius"] [Black "Botvinnik, Mikhail"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B09"] [Annotator "AlexYermo"] [PlyCount "108"] [EventDate "1966.??.??"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "NED"] [SourceTitle "MCL"] [Source "ChessBase"] 1. e4 g6 2. d4 d6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. f4 Bg7 5. Nf3 O-O 6. Bd3 Nc6 7. e5 Ne8 $5 (7... dxe5 8. fxe5 Nh5 {is a modern line.} (8... Nd5 9. Nxd5 Qxd5 10. c3 Bg4 11. Qe2 Rad8 12. Be4 Qd7 13. Be3 f6 14. O-O-O {was the recent game Karjakin-Van Wely, Tata Steel 2017. Black encountered difficult problems there.}) 9. Be3 f6 10. exf6 exf6 11. O-O {From this position Anand lost a blitz game to Dubov in the last year's World Rapid and Blitz Championship.} ({Clearly better choice was} 11. Qd2 Bg4 12. O-O-O {As a rule in the Pirc White enjoys a considerably better success rate with long castling than in the Kings Indian. Small wonder, as his king is safer under the cover of the c2-pawn, and the extra tempo also comes in handy.})) 8. Be3 Nb4 $1 9. Bc4 Bf5 10. Rc1 (10. Bb3 {would still be answered by} c5 $1 11. Qe2 (11. dxc5 dxe5 12. Nxe5 Qxd1+ 13. Rxd1 Bxc2 { is about equal.}) 11... c4 12. Qxc4 Nxc2+ 13. Bxc2 Bxc2 {and the strong LSB gives Black hopes in his fight against White's powerful center.}) 10... c5 $1 11. d5 Bg4 {The e5-pawn came under assault, and Whiute decided to part with it rather than help Ne8 back into the game.} 12. O-O $5 dxe5 13. fxe5 Bxe5 14. Qe1 Bxf3 15. Rxf3 Nd6 16. Bf1 {[#] Normally, we'd expect to see Botvinnik on the White side of a Benoni agains the likes of Tal or Stein. Perhaps influenced by his adversaries play, Botvinnik decided to sac the c5-pawn, which he wasn't forced to do.} Nf5 $5 (16... Rc8 17. a3 Na6 $15) 17. Bxc5 Bd6 18. Bf2 Rc8 19. a3 Rxc3 $6 {Thematic, but a step too far.} 20. bxc3 Nxd5 21. Rd1 $6 {Imprecise. } ({One can imagine R.J. Fischer conducting the game in a more energetic fashion:} 21. c4 Nf6 22. c5 Bb8 23. Rd1 Qc7 24. g3 Ng4 25. Bh3 {etc.}) 21... Nf6 22. Bd3 Ng7 23. h3 Qc7 24. a4 Nd7 25. Bg3 Ne5 26. Bxe5 Bxe5 27. Be4 b6 { Black has stablized the situation, and the rest of the game features the steamroller effect Botvinnik's play has always impressed on on his opponents.} 28. Rfd3 Bd6 29. Bf3 Ne6 30. Kh1 Nc5 31. Rd4 Be5 32. Rc4 a5 33. Qd2 Bg7 34. Qd5 Rc8 35. Bg4 e6 36. Qd6 Be5 37. Qd2 f5 38. Bf3 Bf6 39. Qe2 Kf7 40. Qe3 Bg7 41. Qd2 Be5 42. h4 Qe7 43. Qh6 Bg7 44. Qe3 Rd8 45. Rxd8 Qxd8 46. h5 e5 47. h6 Bf6 48. g4 e4 49. Be2 Be5 50. Qf2 Qg5 51. gxf5 gxf5 52. Rxc5 bxc5 53. Bc4+ Kg6 54. Qxc5 Qxh6+ 0-1

Karpov's classical Nf3, Be2 was given a ride in the next encounter, where the Patriarch totally went trailblazing.

Marat Muhutdinov vs Mikhail Botvinnik, 1967 (annotated by Alex Yermolinsky)

[Event "URS-chT"] [Site "URS"] [Date "1967.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Muhutdinov, Marat"] [Black "Botvinnik, Mikhail"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B08"] [Annotator "AlexYermo"] [PlyCount "74"] [EventDate "1967.??.??"] [EventType "team"] [EventRounds "11"] [EventCountry "URS"] [SourceTitle "MCD"] [Source "ChessBase"] 1. e4 g6 2. d4 Bg7 3. Nc3 d6 4. Nf3 Nf6 5. Be2 O-O 6. O-O Bg4 7. h3 Bxf3 8. Bxf3 Nc6 9. Ne2 e5 10. c3 Re8 $6 {This forces White's hand in the center, but in the closed formation that rook doesn't belong to e8.} ({Modern experts on the Pirc prefer} 10... Kh8) (10... a5) ({or} 10... Nd7) 11. d5 Ne7 12. g4 $5 { An interesting attempt directed againstr Black's main plan with f7-f5.} (12. c4 Nd7 13. Nc3 f5 {is standard issue.}) 12... h6 13. Ng3 c6 14. c4 {[#] Botvinnik was not known for his Kings Indian skills, but here he paves the road for his future pupil Garry Kasparov's exploits in similar structures - see Timman-Kasparov, World Cup Reykjavik 1988.} b5 $5 15. cxb5 cxd5 16. exd5 a6 17. Be3 $2 {Too much respect for the living legend.} (17. bxa6 Rxa6 18. a4 $1 Qa8 19. Bd2 Nexd5 20. b4 e4 21. Bg2 {was the right plan, putting the emphasis on the connected passers.}) 17... axb5 18. Qd2 Kh7 19. a3 Qd7 20. Rac1 Ra4 $1 { A pretty cool way to support e5-e4. Who says Botvinnik's chess was boring?} 21. Rc2 e4 22. Bg2 Nexd5 23. Rfc1 $2 ({Of course, the bishop was worth saving.} 23. Bd4 Qe6 24. Ne2 {with mutual chances, although the extra pawn already speaks in Black's favor.}) 23... Nxe3 24. fxe3 Ra7 25. Ne2 Re5 {That boring centralization again.} 26. Nd4 Rb7 27. Nc6 Rd5 28. Qb4 h5 $1 {The beginning of the end.} 29. gxh5 Rxh5 30. Rd1 d5 31. Nd4 Rg5 32. Kf1 Nh5 33. Rf2 Qc7 34. Ke2 Rg3 35. Rdf1 Rxe3+ 36. Kxe3 Bh6+ 37. Ke2 Ng3+ 0-1

In 1970 Botvinnik defended his Motherland's colors one last time. In the Century Match against the Rest of the World he took a modest position on Board 8. In both Black games against Yugoslavia's #2, Milan Matulovic, he employed the Pirc/Modern. Enjoy the games with match bulletin annotations.

Milan Matulovic vs Mihail Botvinnik, 1970 (notes from official bulletin)

In conclusion, I might add that despite his success with the new found opening, Botvinnik realized its limitations. Therefore, in critical encounters throughout the late stages of his career, particularly against strong players, he still trusted the Caro-Kann more. That's where his games with Tal (USSR Spartakiad 1964), Gligoric (European Team Ch 1965), Spassky and Tal again (USSR Team 1966) went. The same story was true in Botvinnik's last event, Leiden 1970, a four-player event with Spassky, Larsen and Donner – no Modern Defense there.

One might agree that the Pirc/Modern had some experimental value for the great Champion who enjoyed his sunset years in a low pressure chess environment. To play this way Botvinnik didn't have to worry about latest theoretical developments, however slow they were in coming compared to this day and age. So, it was 1...g6 with Black and 1.c4 with White, and let's play some chess!

Yermo is enjoying his fifties. Lives in South Dakota, 600 miles way from the nearest grandmaster. Between his chess work online he plays snooker and spends time outdoors - happy as a clam.


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