Chess

Mikhail Botvinnik, who died last week aged 83, brought to his games an iron logic and discipline that other grandmasters could only envy. The following win from one of his last tournaments, at Monte Carlo in 1968, is typically Botvinnik as much for his annotation at move 13 as for the game itself.

With Pal Benko playing White, Botvinnik Black, the game opened: 1.c4 g6 2.g3 Bg7 3.Bg2 e5 4.Nc3 Ne7 5.e4 d6 6.Nge2 Nbc6 7.d3 f5 8.Nd5 0-0 9.Be3 Be6 10.Qd2 Qd7 11.0-0 Rf7 12.Rae1 Raf8 13.f4.

All fairly conventional stuff, one might think, and most players as Black would now dither with 13...Kh8, or think about kicking away the white knight with Nd8 and c6. Botvinnik, however, had it all worked out. Here is how he explained the position:

"Black's plan comprises the following: 1) Black exchanges immediately with fxe4 in order to force the pawn to recapture (14.Bxe4 is met by Nf5), after which the white e-pawn may become an object of attack; 2) exchange white-squared bishops with Bh3 to weaken the white e-pawn and king position; 3) exchange exf4, when White must recapture with the pawn to maintain control of e5; 4) attack the e-pawn with Re8, when White will bring his knight to g3 to defend it; 5) finally, with h5 and h4! the weakness of the white e-pawn and king must prove decisive."

The next few moves were taken directly from that menu: 13...fxe4 14.dxe4 Nc8! (so that the c-pawn will be defended by the rook on f7) 15.c5 Bh3 16.b4 Bxg2 17.Kxg2 exf4 18.gxf4 Re8 19.Ng3 h5!

All according to plan. Now 20.h4 Qg4 is bad for White, so Benko launched some dangerous tactics:

20.b5 N6e7 21.f5 h4 22.fxg6 Rxf1 23.Rxf1 (23.Nxf1 Qg4+ is fatal) 23...hxg3 24.Rf7 Be5! (avoiding the dangerous threat of Rxg7+ followed by Qd4+) 25.Bd4 Qg4 26.Rf4 (tempting, but 26.Bxe5 was a better chance) 26...Qh5! 27.Bxe5 Qxh2+ 28.Kf3 Qxd2 29.Nf6+ Kg7 30.Nxe8+ Kxg6 31.Rf6+ Kh7 32.Bxg3 Qd3+ 33.Kf2 Qxb5 34.cxd6 Qxe8 and White resigned.

Black's accuracy in beating off a powerful attack was impressive enough, but the true brilliance is Botvinnik's essential dismissal of White's entire plan as a minor tactical diversion in his own grand strategic plan.

Had any other player written a similar note at move 13, one could dismiss it as a piece of boastful, post hoc rationalisation. The great Botvinnik, however, really did win games by such strategic magic. And, most frightening of all, he could probably have won from the White side of the same position and made it seem equally logical and inevitable.

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