When Mikhail Botvinnik lost the World Championship in 1960 to the dazzling attacking player from Riga, Mikhail Tal, there seemed little chance of him regaining his title. Yet in the Return Match one year later, with a surprising demonstration of aggressive chess, Botvinnik completely outplayed his young opponent and ran out the easy winner. All 21 games of the match are deeply annotated.

The Botvinnik-Tal Return Match is not I as well known as their first encounter for the world chess crown. Both players acted in the same manner as in their 1960 match. Tal played very riskily, sometimes even recklessly, in accordance with his style. Botvinnik also upheld his conceptions. He played uncompromisingly, but endeavoured to take play into the endgame. I cannot agree with the widely-held opinion that Botvinnik supposedly exchanged the queens and won - at any event, many saw this to be the basis of his victory in the match. Quite often he also outplayed Tal in the middle-game, after which the subsequent endgame would be a matter of technique. Nevertheless, Botvinnik was superior in the endgame, although at times Tal was also successful in the technical stage of the game. Thus he won the 19th game, and in the 2nd encounter he converted an apparently minimal advantage into a win.

It seems to me that in this match Botvinnik and Tal exchanged roles - Botvinnik was in very good form, but this cannot be said about his opponent. Hence the diametrically opposite result of the return match. Whereas in 1960 Tal gained a confident victory, here it was Botvinnik. Whereas in 1960 Tal was able as though to lure his opponent onto his own territory and outplay him, here it was all exactly the opposite. Botvinnik, well trained and in good form, achieved 'his' positions and outplayed Tal.

It was evident that during the intervening year Botvinnik had prepared thoroughly for the return match, whereas during this time Tal had been relaxing more than working. Botvinnik often 'caught' Tal in the opening,

and the latter was no longer able to do anything in the subsequent play. Moreover, at times Botvinnik gained a big advantage even with Black. In the opening stage Tal suffered a fiasco in the 4th, 7th, 9th and 10th games. Tal played 4-5 games at his former level, but on the whole he was clearly inferior to Botvinnik, who played simply splendidly. Botvinnik's opening set-ups were very deeply worked out - not even in the sense of any specific moves, but in the general strategic conception: everything was venomous, and well perceived and regulated by him. In the opening Tal frequently employed rather risky experiments, apparently hoping in this way to divert Botvinnik from his preparations. But for the most part this did not happen - Botvinnik also proved to be ready for this possible turn of events. In order to play 'his' chess at that time, Tal needed an enormous amount of energy - to constantly maintain the tension on the board and calculate a mass of variations. And simply physically one senses that the store of energy, that Tal had in 1960, was lacking on this occasion. Generally speaking, it can be said that, whereas in the year between the two matches Botvinnik had obviously improved his play, Tal had at best stood still. And, of course, this told.

Of the games from the match that appeal to me, I should mention in particular the fourteenth. It ended in a draw, but both sides played very resourcefully. Botvinnik conducted the next game excellently. Tal played well in the second and seventeenth games. But practically all the games won by Botvinnik have a distinctive, logical thread from beginning to end.

In general, I would say that Tal endeavoured to play in the endgame, as he did in the middlegame - constantly sharpening the play, seeking tactical features. This indicates a lack of psychological strength. A constant striving for sharpening, for forcing variations, is a bad sign, vividly demonstrating a lack of confidence and strength to play a prolonged game.

From the chess view point it would have been very interesting to see how the return match would have proceeded, had the two players been in equally good form. I am convinced that this would have been an incredible encounter, possible one of the most interesting matches in the entire history of chess - to bring together the Tal of 1960 with the Botvinnik of 1961. Unfortunately, history decreed otherwise.

Vladimir Kramnik

World Champion

Botvinnik-Tal Moscow 1961 (Return Match for the W. Ch.)

Auteur: Mikhail Botvinnik
Pagina's: 126
Uitgever: Edtion Olms
Jaar: 2003
Type: Hardcover