02 October 2007

Tablebase 2 - Botvinnik 0

In Tablebase 1 - Botvinnik 0, I pointed out some incorrect analysis which Botvinnik published on an endgame of K + 2N vs. K + P. The correct solution can be found by looking up the position in an endgame tablebase. The 2N vs. P analysis wasn't the only elementary endgame that Botvinnik botched in his published notes. The diagram shows a position from Botvinnik's 'Best Games 1947-1970' (p.65). The sixth World Champion played 57.Qxe6 and wrote

So we have a Queen ending with a NP, the second time I have had such an ending, the first being vs. Ravinsky in the XIII U.S.S.R. Championship 1944 which was apparently only the second time in master praxis.
In the game vs. Ravinsky I didn't play convincingly and Keres in a long analytical article in 'Chess for 1947-49' criticized my play. As the reader will see from what follows, my play in that game really did deserve criticism as I simply did not understand this ending at that time.

Botvinnik doesn't say so in that comment, but his preceding and subsequent notes indicate that he considered the position a win for White. A five piece tablebase, however, shows that the position is a draw.

Olympiad, Amsterdam 1954
Minev, Nikolay

Botvinnik, Mikhail
(After 56...Kb4-a5)
[FEN "8/8/4p3/k6K/6Q1/6P1/8/q7 w - - 0 57"]

Botvinnik wrote, 'The Pawn gets to g6 pretty quickly', and the next few moves, showing accurate play by both sides, bear that out: 57...Qh8+ 58.Kg6 Qc3 59.g4 Qd2 60.g5. Here Minev played 60...Qd4. Botvinnik said nothing, but the move loses in another 65 moves. Black has five moves to hold the draw, one of which is 60...Qh2.

Now 61.Kh7 is the only move to win. Botvinnik played instead 61.Qf5+, reverting to a theoretical draw. The game continued 61...Ka4 62.Kh5 Qh8+ 63.Kg4, when 63...Ka3, among other moves, keeps the draw. Minev continued 63...Qh1, which should lose in 39 moves.

For the next 14 moves, White kept the theoretical win in hand, although without making real progress. After Black's 76th move, White's win in 39 had become a win in 60. On the 77th move he stumbled into another theoretical draw. This was quickly reversed as Black in turn blundered into a win in 35 for White. Botvinnik was able to hold this, scoring the full point on the 91st move.

In case there is any doubt, my purpose in writing this is not to ridicule Botvinnik. It is rather to point out that even the world's greatest players can conduct elementary endgames like blind people in a snowball fight. Is this perhaps a statement on humankind's general ability to conduct a game of chess?

To play through the complete game see...

Mikhail Botvinnik vs Nikolay Minev, Netherlands 1954

...on Chessgames.com. There the kibitzers point out that the Botvinnik - Ravinsky game is covered in Fine's 'Basic Chess Endings'. Did Fine understand the Q + NP vs. Q ending better than Botvinnik?

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