Endgame Riddle Unzicker vs Botvinnik solved: Unzicker could have won!

by Karsten Müller
1/27/2022 – The German Grandmaster Wolfgang Unzicker was an amateur and a judge by profession but even for the world's best players he was a dangerous opponent. At the Chess Olympiad 1954 in Amsterdam he was close to winning against Mikhail Botvinnik but Botvinnik managed to save an endgame that seemed impossible to save. Karsten Müller invited ChessBase readers to take a look at this endgame, and now presents the solution of this endgame riddle.

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Endgame Riddle Unzicker vs Botvinnik, Amsterdam 1954


Apart from valuable input by the readers I received extensive analyses from Zoran Petronijevic, Helmut Kahovec and Wolfram Schoen.

Here are the conclusions by Zoran Petronijevic:

  • The adjourned position after 48.h4 is lost for Black.
  • After 50…e5 the game move 51.Kg2? is a mistake that should lead to a draw. Better was 51.h5 and White should win.
  • Black's 51st move 51…Kg8? is also a mistake. After 51…Ke8 Black should draw with best play.
  • In the game White played 52.h5, and in his analyses Botvinnik claims that the alternative 52.f4 is bad. However, after 52.f4 White is winning.
  • 53.h6? is a mistake that should lead to a draw. However, in this position, White has many winning moves. One of them is 53.Kh3.
  • Instead of 53…Rb5? (the game move) better was 53…Ra1. Black should be able to hold with best play.
  • After 61.Re8? the position is a draw. Better is 65.e5 and White should win.

Analysis by Zoran Petronijevic


Wolfram Schoen explains the critical moments of the endgame in "human terms":


Helmut Kahovec used Stockfish 14 to show the computer's point of view:



Karsten Müller is considered to be one of the greatest endgame experts in the world. His books on the endgame - among them "Fundamentals of Chess Endings", co-authored with Frank Lamprecht, that helped to improve Magnus Carlsen's endgame knowledge - and his endgame columns for the ChessCafe website and the ChessBase Magazine helped to establish and to confirm this reputation. Karsten's Fritztrainer DVDs on the endgame are bestsellers. The mathematician with a PhD lives in Hamburg, and for more than 25 years he has been scoring points for the Hamburger Schachklub (HSK) in the Bundesliga.


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