The Beasty Botvinnik in the Semi-Slav!

by CHESS Magazine
1/22/2018 – It is one of the most fascinating and at the same time difficult variations of all, and anyone playing it needs to put in hours of thorough preparation before using it in tournament games. The simplest way: sit back and listen to Erwin l'Ami, whose enthusiasm is clear throughout this ChessBase DVD. The Dutch GM offers a full repertoire against 5.Bg5, promising only the sharpest responses for Black and paying particular attention to the range of manoeuvres and sacrifices available to both sides. Review in Chess Magazine by Sean Marsh.

The Beasty Botvinnik Variation in the Semi-Slav! The Beasty Botvinnik Variation in the Semi-Slav!

On this DVD you will be taken on a journey through what is arguably the sharpest opening line known to men.


Review by Sean Marsh

The humorous title — augmented by the flamboyant use of the exclamation mark — is presumably designed to grab the attention and prepare students for a sharp intake of breath before they tackle one of the most fascinating and difficult variations of all. Anyone wanting to play either side of 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 e6 5.Bg5 dxc4 6.e4 b5 7.e5 h6 8.Bh4 g5 9.Nxg5 hxg5 10.Bxg5 Nbd7 11.exf6 Bb7 12.g3 c5 13.d5 Qb6 14.Bg2 0-0-0 15.0-0 b4...


....needs to put in a lot of hours preparing in a thorough fashion. Players of a certain age will remember Kasparov showing his remarkable ideas back in the 1980s and free spirits, including Shirov, taking up the challenge of defending Black’s honour some time later. Several of the games using this variation at the top level look like chess from another planet.

Beasty BotvinnikThere is no doubt L’Ami has done his homework. The variation has always been of great interest to him and his enthusiasm is clear throughout the DVD, on which he offers a full repertoire against 5.Bg5, promising only the sharpest responses for Black and paying particular attention to the range of manoeuvres and sacrifices available to both sides. He sets the scene with a very good piece on the history of the variation and speculates whether the variation would have been named differently had the German player Klaus Junge, an early and successful enthusiast for the 5...dxc4, survived World War II.

Nevertheless, the name of Botvinnik will be forever associated with the variation. As L’Ami explains, it is important to realise that the system is based on positional considerations. If it was simply a wild tactical melee then Botvinnik would not have been interested in making it part of his repertoire. Indeed, Botvinnik himself, in his essential work One Hundred Selected Games (Dover, 1960) also stresses that “a positional sense” is required, “based on the sound estimate of actual positions, functioning in the process of intelligent preparation.” He goes on to stress the safety of Black’s king after ...0-0-0, the target pawn on d4 and the plan of opening up the black bishops after ...c5.

Material is relative and activity is much more important, ably demonstrated in the section showing a selection of queen sacrifices, often with the person doing the sacrificing earning just two minor pieces in return, but with other factors influencing the evaluations also.

The strategic material on the DVD starts in unusual fashion — with the endgame. We have all seen the brilliant attacking games in which one side is destroyed in a tactical middlegame, but when endgames are reached after this variation there are certain characteristics, such as king safety and the respective pawn majorities, that emerge as factors of major importance. Even in this advanced phase of the game there are game-turning novelties being uncorked as we hit move 30.

Three videos round up the early deviations from the main (6.a4 and others), before moving on the real meat of the whole presentation. Among the more recent material it was good to be reacquainted with an old favourite, in which a real giant of the game uncorked a sensational strategic idea.


Polugaevsky (quaintly rated 2620, which says a thing or two about rating inflation over the decades), having just sacrificed his rook on h1, went on to show his idea with two brilliant pawn moves. 17.h4!! Bh6 18.f4! and it suddenly becomes clear that Black’s kingside pieces are out of the game for good (1-0, 40).

The DVD is aimed at strong, experienced tournament players. L’Ami does an admirable job explaining the ideas, plans and move orders, but club players will still find the variations too deep to handle, especially as they may have to try to remember a large amount about critical if rare variations just in case they appear over the board.

ChessBase software from Chess & Bridge

The Beasty Botvinnik Variation in the Semi-Slav!
Erwin L’Ami, ChessBase PC-DVD;
running time: 6 hours, 27 minutes
RRP £26.99 SUBSCRIBERS £24.29

The Beasty Botvinnik Variation in the Semi-Slav by Erwin L’Ami online from
The London Chess Centre or Chess4Less (USA)

Review by Sean Marsh, in Chess Magazine February/2018.

About the author

Sean is a chess tutor and writer from North East England. He is currently celebrating his 30th consecutive year of teaching chess in schools. He has worked for Chess in Schools in Communities since 2010 and was one of the first wave of CSC tutors.

Sean has been a regular contributor to CHESS Magazine since 1992 and is the author of 2014's well-received The Batsford Book of Chess: From Beginner to Winner.


CHESS Magazine was established in 1935 by B.H. Wood who ran it for over fifty years. It is published each month by the London Chess Centre and is edited by IM Richard Palliser and Matt Read.


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