Chess

We conclude this week of mourning for Mikhail Botvinnik with the best Botvinnik story and his own favourite game. First the story, as fondly recounted on numerous occasions by Boris Spassky.

Shortly after Spassky had won the world championship, he was walking with Botvinnik through a Moscow marketplace when a man carrying a basket of water-melons rushed up to them.

"Mr Spassky," the stranger gushed, "you are a brilliant player and your games have given me great pleasure for many years." The tirade of compliments continued for some time and ended with the man saying he would be honoured if Spassky would accept a water-melon as a token of his esteem.

Spassky smiled broadly and took a step backwards in a pose of delighted astonishment. Botvinnik, the grandmaster of protocol, leaned down and whispered solemnly in his ear: "Take the water-melon and say 'Thank you very much'."

It was the same on the chessboard. Every situation had its appropriate response and Botvinnik could be relied upon to know it. Take, for example, the game of which he was most proud, a win against Jos Raul Capablanca in the Avro tournament of 1938. White's entire strategy is carried through with remorseless logic.

White: M. Botvinnik

Black: J.R. Capablanca

1 d4 Nf6 22 f4 f5

2 c4 e6 23 exf6 Nxf6

3 Nc3 Bb4 24 f5 Rxe1

4 e3 d5 25 Rxe1 Re8

5 a3 Bxc3+ 26 Re6! Rxe6

6 bxc3 c5 27 fxe6 Kg7

7 cxd5 exd5 28 Qf4 Qe8

8 Bd3 0-0 29 Qe5 Qe7

9 Ne2 b6 30 Ba3! Qxa3

10 0-0 Ba6 31 Nh5+ gxh5

11 Bxa6 Nxa6 32 Qg5+ Kf8

12 Bb2 Qd7 33 Qxf6+ Kg8

13 a4 Rfe8 34 e7 Qc1+

14 Qd3 c4 35 Kf2 Qc2+

15 Qc2 Nb8 36 Kg3 Qd3+

16 Rae1 Nc6 37 Kh4 Qe4+

17 Ng3 Na5 38 Kxh5 Qe2+

18 f3 Nb3 39 Kg4 Qe4+

19 e4 Qxa4 40 g4 Qe1+

20 e5 Nd7 41 Kh5 resigns

21 Qf2 g6

12.Bb2 and 13.Qd3 encourage Black to close the position with c4, which lets the white centre pawns roll with f3, e4 and e5. Black's 15...Nb8 set off on the greedy path to b3 which won the a-pawn but left the knight out of the game. 15...Nc7 would have been better. As the game went, 24.f5 came just in time to support 26.Re6, and the white bishop, neglected for so long on b2, won the game with 30.Ba3!

William Hartston

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