16 June 2007

The Birth of the Modern World Championship

The next game in Smyslov's Sparklers, marks the first time I've looked at the 1948 World Championship tournament on this blog. In signalling the arrival of FIDE and establishing the foundation for future World Championship cycles, the event was the most important chess tournament of the 20th century.

In Predecessors II (p.274), Kasparov introduced the Smyslov - Reshevsky round three game with the following remarks:

The means of determining the World Champion chosen by FIDE after Alekhine's death was far from irreproachable. [...] FIDE, the Soviet Chess Federation, and Botvinnik were aiming for a simple and rapid solution to the problem. A characteristic feature: when at the Congress in The Hague (1947) it transpired that Fine would not be playing in the match-tournament, they did not even bother to find a replacement, but simply reduced the number of players to five and added an extra, fifth cycle. It was unfair that Miguel Najdorf, who was playing brilliantly at that time, was not included in the match-tournament: he finished fourth in Groningen 1946, and moreover bet Flohr 500 guilders that he would defeat Botvinnik in the last round -- and won!
But why didn't they include Boleslavsky, who was runner-up in two successive USSR Championships (1945 and 1947)? 'God himself ordered that he be included,' thinks Bronstein. 'Isaak never complained to me: he also understood that he possessed some shortcomings in the eyes of Botvinnik, and perhaps, unfortunately, also of society. I am not saying that Boleslavsky, Najdorf, or I would have won the Candidates tournament, but, of course, the results would have been different. The reason why Botvinnik was in a hurry to play the match-tournament was that things had been difficult for Keres during the war, and he was all nerves, Reshevsky had played only in weak tournaments in America, and Euwe had not played chess at all.'
As for Smyslov, he was not yet sufficiently experienced to provide serious competition to his formidable compatriot in the 1948 Hague/Moscow match-tournament. But to fight for second place was well within his powers.

This portrait of Botvinnik as manipulator is not flattering. It is a recurring theme in accounts of the sixth World Champion after his death in 1995.

No comments: