Sometimes sweet: revenge matches

by Sagar Shah
11/7/2014 – Twelve revenge matches were played in the history of the World Championships, the challengers winning no less than five times. The master of this format was Mikhail Botvinnik. Sagar Shah looks back on Tal vs Botvinnik, 1960 and 1961 to switch to Carlsen vs Anand, 2013 and 2014. The Indian IM also offers predictions by masters on the coming match.

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Revenge matches: Analysis and Opinions

Revenge matches are always interesting. In the history of the World Championship there have been quite a few revenge matches. Sometimes the World Champion had a right to a rematch, sometimes the challenger earned his right to play for the highest crown by going through the qualification process.

When Anand takes on Carlsen in Sochi, 2014, he will be the tenth person in the history of the World Chess Championship to play a revenge match. Here are more facts and details about the previous revenge matches.


World Champion


Previous match

Result of revenge match

Revenge achieved?

Mikhail Chigorin

Wilhelm Steinitz


1889 (10.5-6.5)

Chigorin loses 8.0-10.0


Wilhelm Steinitz

Emanuel Lasker


1894 (12.0-7.0)

Steinitz loses (4.5-12.5)


Efim Bogoljubov

Alexander Alekhine


1929 (15.5-9.5)

Bogoljubov loses (10.5-15.5)


Alexander Alekhine

Max Euwe


1935 (15.5-14.5)

Alekhine wins (15.5-9.5)


Vasily Smyslov

Mikhail Botvinnik


1954 (12.0-12.0)

Smyslov wins (12.5-9.5)


Mikhail Botvinnik

Vasily Smyslov


1957 (12.5-9.5)

Botvinnik wins (12.5-10.5)


Mikhail Botvinnik

Mikhail Tal


1960 (12.5-8.5)

Botvinnik wins (13.0-8.0)


Boris Spassky

Tigran Petrosian


1966 (12.5-11.5)

Spassky wins (12.5-10.5)


Viktor Korchnoi

Anatoly Karpov


1978 (16.5-15.5)

Korchnoi loses (7.0-11.0)


Anatoly Karpov

Garry Kasparov


1985 (13.0-11.0)

Karpov loses (11.5-12.5)


Anatoly Karpov

Garry Kasparov


1986 (12.5-11.5)

Karpov draws (12.0-12.0)


Anatoly Karpov

Garry Kasparov


1987 (12.0-12.0)

Karpov loses (11.5-12.5)


Vishy Anand

Magnus Carlsen


2013 (6.5-3.5)



As you can see from the table above, there have been twelve revenge matches in the past. Out of these twelve matches, five challengers were able to gain revenge on their opponents while seven were unsuccessful. And one man could win two rematches as a Challenger: the great Mikhail Botvinnik.

Wins against Smyslov in 1958 and Tal in 1961 surely make
Mikhail Botvinnik the master of revenge matches.

Of particular interest are the matches between Tal and Botvinnik in 1960-61, mainly because the two players had very contrasting styles of play. The 23-year-old Tal was a complete maverick on the chess board and thrived on complications and sacrifices. He was a creative genius who did not believe in working methodically on the game of chess. This was in total contrast to Botvinnik who is also known as the Patriarch. He liked to make elaborate and detailed plans and play chess in the most logical fashion. He also had an almost religious belief in a number of things he deemed to be absolutely essential to succeed in chess, e.g. analysing your games, staying physically fit, having a set routine during the tournament, etc.

Both World Champions wrote excellent books on the matches.
Tal wrote about 1960-match, Botvinnik about the match in 1961!

The ChessBase Master Class DVD on Mikhail Tal also offers a number of interesting facts and opinions about the first and second match between Tal and Botvinnik.

Mikhail Tal, one of the most fascinating players in the history of the game

In 1960 Botvinnik was reigning World Champion. But Tal came with very fresh and enterprising ideas to the board.

Mikhail Botvinnik vs Mikhail Tal: Opening strategy at work

Upper left: Tal started off the match with this unusual and bold idea of moving the king to d1. The ensuing positions were so complicated that Botvinnik couldn’t cope with them.

Upper right: The idea of gxf3 in the Caro-Kann is at best dubious. But Tal played it because he knew that Botvinnik would not be comfortable in such unusual structures.

Bottom left: Once again you can understand what Tal is looking for when he sacrificed his knight on e6. Tal did lose this game but his idea was correct: to play positions in which strategic planning was impossible.

Bottom right: After taking the lead in the match, Tal was so confident that he started to open games with 1.Nf3 and 1.c4 and began to beat Botvinnik also in quiet positions.

Thus, you could see how Tal was repeatedly trying to take Botvinnik out of his comfort-zone and it worked wonders. Finally, when the opponent lost his confidence, he switched his strategy and started playing positional chess also. Something similar happened in the 2013 match between Anand and Carlsen. Except that Carlsen stylistically is the complete opposite to Tal, and always looks for simplified positions in which he can grind his opponent endlessly.

Carlsen denied his opponent all dynamic possibilities by playing openings that are as sedate as possible.

Magnus Carlsen vs Vishy Anand: Opening strategy at work

Upper left: The Berlin Wall is just the kind of opening Magnus loves. Slow and positional play with no queens on board.

Upper right: The move Ne4-c3 gives White a very solid position. On the other hand the main move instead of Ne4-c3 is Bd2 when crazy complications arise after Qxd4. Just what Anand wants.

Lower left: Just one open file and a symmetrical structure. After winning two games, this is just what he wanted.

Lower right: And just like Tal who felt confident enough in the second half of the match to challenge Botvinnik on his home-turf by playing positional chess, Carlsen, too, was ready to play complicated positions. By then Vishy had already lost most of his confidence.

The similarity between Tal-Botvinnik 1960 and Carlsen-Anand 2013 is quite intriguing. The interesting thing is that in the 1961 revenge match, Botvinnik had learnt his lesson. He came well prepared whereas Tal was overconfident and had not prepared well. Moreover, he also suffered from bad health.

Botvinnik played simple openings like the Exchange Slav or some safe variation against the King’s Indian Defence and deliberately tried to take Tal into the endgame. In eight of the 21 games they played in 1961 queens were exchanged before move 20. This was a conscious effort by Botvinnik to avoid giving Tal the positions he liked. This change of strategy brought excellent results for Botvinnik and he won the match quite easily.

For Vishwanathan Anand, this 1961 match can prove to be quite inspirational. His strategy should be quite clear. To get dynamic and aggressive positions in which he can show his fine feeling for attacking chess.

Grandmasters on the Carlsen-Anand match 2014

While reporting for the World Junior Championship 2014 I could get statements from 10 GMs and 1 IM on the Carlsen-Anand match 2014. I asked them the following two questions:

Who do you think is the favourite to win the match?
How will the 2014 match be different from the 2013 match?

The GMs in the video include strong ones like GM Erwin L’Ami, GM Vidit Gujrathi, GM Farrukh Amonatov, GM Alexander Indjic, GM Abhijit Kunte and many more. The video also has the opinion of India's first IM: Manuel Aaron who is one of the most popular chess figures in India and has played against the great Bobby Fischer in the 1962 Stockholm Interzonal. According to him Anand will tear Carlsen apart!

And here is an exclusive interview of the chief arbiter of the 2014 match: Andrzej Filipowicz

Sagar is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He loves to cover chess tournaments, as that helps him understand and improve at the game he loves so much. He is the co-founder and CEO of ChessBase India, the biggest chess news portal in the country. His YouTube channel has over a million subscribers, and to date close to a billion views. ChessBase India is the sole distributor of ChessBase products in India and seven adjoining countries, where the software is available at a 60% discount. compared to International prices.


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