Botvinnik the Patriarch!

by Davide Nastasio
7/14/2018 – Mikhail Botvinnik is the patriarch of the Soviet School of Chess. Knowing Botvinnik's games is fundamental for the development of every player, argues reviewer DAVIDE NASTASIO, who takes you on a tour of the lasted addition to the Fritztrainer Master Class series. Try your skills at some study positions as you learn about Botvinnik and his games in this review. Whether or not one likes Botvinnik's style or personality, he is clearly a piece of chess history worth knowing and studying.

Master Class Vol.10: Mikhail Botvinnik Master Class Vol.10: Mikhail Botvinnik

Our experts show, using the games of Botvinnik, how to employ specific openings successfully, which model strategies are present in specific structures, how to find tactical solutions and rules for how to bring endings to a successful conclusion

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Master Class Vol. 10 — Botvinnik

A review

As a chess player, I'm interested in improving myself. Playing tournament after the tournament I have the chance to ask for advice on improvement. Once while talking with an old National Master, who is also a great coach, he told me if you want to learn chess, watch Botvinnik's games. He also told me to read his trilogy. It was difficult to find it, but I was able to get a copy in Italian. Unfortunately, books take a long time. Maybe I start to read one, I'm able to read 50 pages, and then something happens: family, work, etc. and the book is totally forgotten for months. Instead, I like much more the video format, because it's more direct. More accessible within the time limits an adult has.

If the advice was given only by an obscure FIDE Master (FM) in the USA, telling us to study Botvinnik's games, well we wouldn't really be impressed. But what if at the end of his match, Petrosian, the ninth world champion would say something similar?

One of the problems I always have in the opening is to take control of the centre. David Vest (the above mentioned National Master) also told me to study Botvinnik's games for learning that particular concept. Bronstein spoke of Botvinnik exceptional ability to control the centre, and was mentioned in volume 2 of Kasparov's books on his great predecessors:

Mihail Marin in the video introduction for the strategy section of this series says Botvinnik was the "first" who studied the opening with the idea of understanding the typical structures and the possible endings.

I think this is interesting because it shows where the origin of one idea, which is considered common today, was actually brought to life. Marin also mentions Botvinnik was an outstanding endgame player.

One of Marin's favourite combinations played by Botvinnik was against Portisch, a positional game, which became a tactical firework. It can be found as video clip number 20 in Oliver Reeh tactics section.

Marin outlines well Botvinnik's personality at the board, and his general beliefs. Botvinnik would be cautious and not play a combination if he couldn't evaluate it clearly, maybe this could be in contrast with Tal, hence I remember a famous saying:

Some of the main ideas of Botvinnik are worth mentioning. They could be used by every chess player to improve his or her own games.

  1. Publish your games, by which he meant the analysis of one's own games. In that time there were no engines, in order to increase one's accuracy one had to submit analysis to public scrutiny, and eventually to receive some criticism in return.
  2. Botvinnik knew already that in order to become good in the endgame one should do at least two things:
    a) Analyse studies
    b) Try to transpose into endgames in one's own tournament games, because that will build up experience

At this point, we can understand, if we analyze Botvinnik's rise to the top after WWII, when a new World Champion had to be designated, how important the endgame was. Botvinnik didn't win in the opening and he didn't win in the middlegame. He would win in the endgame, thanks to an effort of imagination and creativity! On this DVD there you will find all the games played by Botvinnik in his life. Please check those between 1946 and 1948. They will be eye-opening in terms of understanding how important the endgame is.

Here are three games which are great examples of Botvinnik's endgame play in this period:

 

Click or tap a game in the list to switch games

While I was working on this review, I found some studies composed by Botvinnik (for the sake of precision, in some cases Botvinnik worked with a composer). The idea for some studies sometimes came from real games from 1925 to 1945 and were published in some ancient Russian/Soviet magazines.

In this first study, the solution given by Botvinnik ended in a checkmate, but this wasn't correct since Black can lose material and avoid the mate. Maybe in 1925 Botvinnik's ideas of what a study was, differs from today. In any case, I thought it would be a good exercises for a reader to try to play against Fritz, making the review more interactive, and a learning experience!

 

Play your moves on the diagram

As mentioned, Botvinnik believed in publishing his own analysis, and he did it also with books on tournaments. The second study is the product of such analysis. Botvinnik was analyzing a game from the USSR championship from 1939, between Levenfish and Kotov, and this is the result of a possible pawn ending which could have happened in that game.

 

The next study was presented by Botvinnik in the competition Shakhmati v SSSR in 1939 and received the fourth prize.

 

Marin, in the middlegame strategy section, comments on six games by Botvinnik, using the interactive video format. Practically, Marin presents a game, explains parts, and then at a certain move, he begins to ask questions for which the viewer must find the correct move or idea. This is a great training tool. It is like to have a one-on-one lesson with a GM.

This DVD is a great training tool because it comprises a section on tactics, treated by Oliver Reeh with 20 video clips.

Reeh sometimes asks questions directed to find the correct move also for Botvinnik's opponent. For instance, in the first tactical position, he asked which of two moves was better for Black:

 

Reeh presents the position explaining White is better, but Black made the wrong move. Which move between Rc6 and Qd8 would allow Black to continue to play, instead of losing a pawn?

A section by GM Karsten Mueller is on Botvinnik's endgames, with 14 video clips. In some clips, Mueller asks viewers to find the best move using the Fritz training system, and in others, he explains what happened.

I found the following endgame funny for the title: "Bronstein's knightmare" and tragic for the result, Bronstein lost the game. Bronstein wasn't able to find the move which drew. Now you can play the position against the engine, and I hope you will take the chance to practice, because in order to improve we must practice as often as we can!

 

We are at move 57. Bronstein played the wrong Kc2 (you can also try this move against the engine so you can discover why it is wrong, or buy the DVD to learn it thanks to the wise explanation by Mueller!). Can you find the move which draws?

What's on the DVD?

There are 103 selected games which have a total of 410 training questions. The DVD comes with a database with all of Botvinnik's games for a total of over 1200 games. It is clearly a no-brainer that for the price of this DVD one can train for at least 15-20 hours, making it one of the cheapest tools on the market for the serious student!

The DVD comes also with two libraries of Botvinnik's openings in a tree format. This can be used to shape one's own opening repertoire, or eventually (because they are .ctg files) can be used with an engine within the Fritz Chessbase GUI, to make the program play the openings like Botvinnik played them. Master Class Vol.9: Paul Morphy


As I argued in another review, one should have all the Master Class DVDs, and go through the right order which in my opinion is: Morphy, Lasker (I'm also writing a review on Lasker, because I think he is the fundamental key to better understand the Steinitz revolution), Capablanca, Alekhine, and then Botvinnik.

While I was watching games and positions for this review, I came upon a couple which are certainly worth your time.

One is a tactical shot, not played by Botvinnik, but rather by the famous Kotov. Again, you can now play directly against Fritz some positions:

Botvinnik just played 23.Ng3 can you see how Kotov won? Play it out against Fritz!

 

Then I'd like to show the position coming from the first endgame presented by Mueller, because many players in the range 1400-1800 believe all opposite colour bishop endgames always result in a draw. In this case, you'll play as Botvinnik, against Kotov, and give him payback, for the position we saw above!

 

As we can see to have a GM like Mueller to chose endgame positions from the games of a champion like Botvinnik can be quite rewarding for our chess improvement.

Pro and cons

If I'm allowed a small criticism: Marin is a gifted teacher, Botvinnik clearly a prolific player, who has created many middlegame masterpieces, I feel six video clips for such giant are too few. I think a minimum of ten should be the right number.

Another criticism is the choice of games, some have been extensively analyzed in all books, videos, etc. For example, Botvinnik - Capablanca AVRO 1938, is like Rotlewi - Rubinstein a classic everyone knows. I think I have that game in at least five or more different books in my chess library, for example:

  • Botvinnik's Best Games vol. 1 1925-1941 game 94
  • Botvinnik: Half a Century of Chess - game 35, page 92
  • Soltis: Botvinnik Life's and Games, page 111
  • Botvinnik: One Hundred Selected Games, game 59 page 154
  • Kasparov: My Great Predecessors vol. 2 page 125 - game 37

Of course I could go on, but the point is: I'd like to have great teachers like Marin to show me some lesser known games by Botvinnik.

Final thoughts

I wouldn't like anyone to think I'm superficial. I wrote this review from the chess point of view. If it was a biography on Botvinnik, then we would surely open a can of worms which is practically endless, because Botvinnik had some clear shortcomings and flaws as a human being. But here we are speaking about chess, and chess only. We are interested in whatever can give us an edge to improve our chess over our chess competitors in tournaments, at the chess club and so on. In this context then Botvinnik becomes unique, and a fundamental milestone in our chess improvement.

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Davide is a novel chess aficionado who has made chess his spiritual tool of improvement and self-discovery. One of his favorite quotes is from the great Paul Keres: "Nobody is born a master. The way to mastery leads to the desired goal only after long years of learning, of struggle, of rejoicing, and of disappointment..."
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