04 October 2012

1946 Alekhine - Botvinnik

Let's set the historical stage for Another Fictitious Match, the 1946 match that never was between Alexander Alekhine (b.1892) and Mikhail Botvinnik (b.1911). In connection with the Birth of the FIDE World Chess Championship, I once wrote,

When the war broke out in 1939, Alekhine had been negotiating a title match with Mikhail Botvinnik to be played in Moscow. In early 1946 Botvinnik renewed his challenge, and the British Federation agreed to host the match. It notified Alekhine of its decision in March, but he never received it. He died the day the proposal was sent. The stage was set for FIDE, inactive since 1939. The organization, along with the crown jewel of chess, the World Championship, was to be rebuilt.

Chessbase.com provided more detail in Alekhine's death – an unresolved mystery?.

In 1946 Alekhine was invited to play in a tournament in London, but under pressure from American players (Reuben Fine, Arnold Denker and others) because of his wartime record the invitation was withdrawn. He resumed negotiations with FIDE for a match against Botvinnik, which was to take place in England under the auspices of the British Chess Federation. The BCF confirmed that an agreement had been met and arrangements made in a telegram delivered to Alekhine on March 23, 1946. [...]

Correspondence of Alekhine, shortly before his untimely demise, mentioned that he felt he was being followed! Alexander Alekhine's initials were AA, so that would put him at the top of any list! Alekhine died within a day or two of the British Chess Federation voting to hold the Botvinnik - Alekhine match... so, if there was an assassin then he had to move quickly since Alekhine was about to go to England!"

After writing the 'Fictitious Match' post, I created openings for a 24 game match between the two players, using the technique described in that post. These are based on the recorded games of the two players through 1946. I was surprised how similar their opening repertoires were; for example, both played variations on the Dutch Defense (1.d4 f5). The table is in PGN format to facilitate extending the openings to longer games.

( 1.-- {AA-MB} )
( {01} 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Qc2 d5 )
( {02} 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.a3 Bxc3+ )
( {03} 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.g3 c6 4.Bg2 d5 )
( {04} 1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 b6 3.g3 Bb7 4.Bg2 c5 )
( {05} 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c6 4.Nf3 Nf6 )
( {06} 1.d4 e6 2.c4 f5 3.g3 Nf6 4.Bg2 Be7 )
( {07} 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Ne2 dxe4 )
( {08} 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 c5 4.Ngf3 Nc6 )
( {09} 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 )
( {10} 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 )
( {11} 1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 c6 3.e3 Nf6 4.-- )
( {12} 1.c4 Nf6 2.d4 {also 01-03} 2...e6 3.Nf3 b6 4.g3 Bb7 )
( 1.-- {MB-AA} )
( {01} 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 O-O )
( {02} 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Nf3 Ne4 )
( {03} 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.Nf3 Bg7 )
( {04} 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e3 e6 )
( {05} 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.c4 c6 4.e3 e6 )
( {06} 1.d4 e6 2.c4 f5 3.g3 Bb4+ 4.-- )
( {07} 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 )
( {08} 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Nd5 Nf6 )
( {09} 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 d5 4.d4 c5 )
( {10} 1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 d4 3.e3 Nc6 4.exd4 Nxd4 )
( {11} 1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.d4 exd4 )
( {12} 1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 c5 3.Nf3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 )

The two games with '--' show a point where there was no corresponding game in that collection. For an example with Alekhine as White, in game 11 after 1.Nf3 d5 2.c4 c6 3.e3 Nf6, the position was never reached in Alekhine's collection. At this point a different method of choosing White's fourth move is required. Both players were prolific writers and left a large body of annotated games -- of other players as well as their own -- which would provide a rich resource for further investigation.

What's the point of this fabrication? For me it was an exercise in matching the opening repertoires of two players using databases of their games. Note that, unlike the equally fictional 1975 Fischer - Karpov match, the two players did in fact play each other. Chessgames.com informs that they met three times over the board: Mikhail Botvinnik beat Alexander Alekhine 1 to 0, with 2 draws.

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