Exercises in Style: From Wilhelm Steinitz to Magnus Carlsen (2/4)

by Johannes Fischer
7/18/2017 – What is style in chess? And how unique is it? Tal and Botvinnik played differently but how easy — or difficult — is it to spot these stylistic differences? Part 1 of the "Exercises in Style" presented games by Wilhelm Steinitz, Emanuel Lasker, José Raúl Capablanca and Alexander Alekhine, the first four World Champions in the history of chess. Now follow games by Max Euwe, Mikhail Botvinnik, Vassily Smyslov and Mihail Tal. Do you know which World Champion played which game?

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The first undisputed World Champion in the history of chess was Wilhelm Steinitz, while the 16th and current World Champion is Magnus Carlsen. In this article and in the days to come ChessBase presents 16 games by the World Champions — one per World Champion. Without giving any information when, where and against whom these games were played, can you find out which World Champion played which game by just looking at the moves?

To simplify the task, the 16 World Champions were divided into four groups. In the first group were Wilhelm Steinitz, Emanuel Lasker, José Rául Capablanca and Alexander Alekhine, the second group consists of Max Euwe, Mikhail Botvinnik, Vassily Smyslov and Mihail Tal.

The games were chosen with a random generator. But only tournament and matchgames were taken into account and only wins. Games between two World Champions were also ignored.

Game 1


Game 2


Game 3


Game 4


Mega Database 2017 If you want to you can explain your choice the in comments. It is, of course, easy to find out who played which game if you search for the games in the ChessBase Megabase. But this would spoil the fun, so if you do, please keep it to yourself! Moreover, we'll reveal who played which game soon. And part three of the "Exercises in Style" series will also follow soon.

See also:

Exercises in Style: From Wilhelm Steinitz to Magnus Carlsen (1/4)

Exercises in Style (1/4): Solutions


Johannes Fischer was born in 1963 in Hamburg and studied English and German literature in Frankfurt. He now lives as a writer and translator in Nürnberg. He is a FIDE-Master and regularly writes for KARL, a German chess magazine focusing on the links between culture and chess. On his own blog he regularly publishes notes on "Film, Literature and Chess".


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Peter B Peter B 7/23/2017 07:26
I'll guess Tal, Euwe, Smyslov, Botvinnik. But I did so badly last time.... who knows! Game 1 of course looks Tal-like, but maybe the editors are tricking us. Botvinnik played some Sicilians so I'll guess him for Game 4. Game 3 looks solid and Smyslov like - there are tactics at the end, but any WC would find them. And the complications of Game 2 fit what I know of Euwe.
Resistance Resistance 7/22/2017 06:24
My selections.

N°1 - Mikhail Tal (pretty sharp game; Botvinnik and Smyslov out of the question; too sharp a game even for Euwe).

N°2 - Botvinnik (seems like the kind of slower, long term oriented play you would expect from him, and also because Game 4's approach seems too dynamic for 'The Patriarch').

N°3 - Euwe (because of its leaning towards tactical play, and because I already assigned Tal to Game 1; it might be Smyslov's, though).

N°4 - Smyslov (didn't look like a Botvinnik game to me; I have Tal on board 1. It might be an Euwe game, too, but decided that Game 3 was more in the style of the Dutch world champion).
airman airman 7/19/2017 11:07
I think the first is EUWE , the second smyslov. the third and the one I am most sure of is Botvinnik and the last Tal.I am pretty sure Tal did not pay a game with b5 that early. Maybe an off hand game if so.
vinniethepooh vinniethepooh 7/19/2017 08:17
The first game looks like Tal; going for a very interesting position and ending it with a few tactics. The second game I think is Symslov as he complicated the game a bit in the beginning.. followed by strike! The third game seems like Botvinnik; just a feeling and that leaves Euwe for the last one.
mdamien mdamien 7/18/2017 11:35
The first game felt like Tal, going for an imbalanced position with active pieces as Black, then a deep sacrifice that seems on the edge of intuitive from a mortal point of view. The second game sorta yelled Smyslov from the start, with the Rubinstein Nimzo reminding me of Zurich 1953, but the game also had that Smyslovian "complicate and then strike with a combination" feel to it. I picked Euwe for game three, as it has this clean logical approach that erupts when the tactics are there. That left Botvinnik for game four, and I guess with the Najdorf I would have picked Tal if this were the first game I looked at.