26 July 2009

Does 'Soviet School' Mean Botvinnik?

In Characteristics of the Soviet School, I gave Euwe's summary of the subject from his Development of Chess Style. Summarizing his points -- struggle for the initiative, fighting spirit, active defense, study of the openings, no superficial judgements -- it sounds to me like a description of Botvinnik's style. As has been pointed out many times by different people, it isn't realistic to categorize the great diversity of styles exhibited by the top Soviet players of the 1950s and 1960s (e.g. Bronstein, Smyslov, Tal, Petrosian, Spassky) under the single phrase 'Soviet School'. Is it really a synonym for Botvinnik's approach to chess?

Here are some excerpts from Kotov and Yudovich:

Ever since his youth Botvinnik has had a scientific approach to chess as a game demanding the most painstaking study and flights of creative imagination. He happily combines his natural talent with a tremendous capacity for work, an iron will to win, and patience. His style is now exceptionally versatile: he is equally strong in positional play and complicated positions abounding in combinational possibilities. He has studied and systematized typical positions from actual play and worked out a number of new technical methods. He is constantly enlarging his stock of effective opening lines. [...]

In each of his tournaments Botvinnik comes up with resourceful, smashing attacks: combinative attacks with sacrifices, often unexpected, and positional attacks, with gradual building up of pressure, the breaking of defense lines and, finally, the rout of his adversary. His brilliant sacrifices in encounters with Chekhover (1935), Tartakower (1936), Euwe (1948), and Taimanov (1952) have gone down in chess history. The examples of scintillating attacks carried out by Botvinnik are too many to enumerate. In the Amsterdam tournament of 1938 [AVRO] even Capablanca's brilliant skill could not help him to foresee the unexpected smashing attack launched by Botvinnik. [...]

Another characteristic feature of Botvinnik's style was revealed clearly at the 7th USSR Championship in 1931. We refer to his tenacity in defense, his ability to find latent defensive resources when he lands in a tight spot. True, this rarely happens, for he foresees danger in good time and takes steps to meet it properly. Still, when he does get into a tough situation he finds a way out of it more often than other players. When in trouble, Botvinnik usually defends himself by creating the utmost positional difficulties for his adversary. [...]

All the contestants in he 1948 match-tournament for the World Championship suffered defeat at the hands of Botvinnik. It is indicative of his prowess that these were not accidents resulting from unexpected complications but, primarily, strategical routs in games which were logical from beginning to end.

One of the secrets of Botvinnik's success is his opening erudition. His knowledge of openings is as diversified as it is deep. He is remarkably fertile in inventing and playing new variations. [...]

In his early period Botvinnik preferred a calm positional style of play. He negotiated combinational storms when they could not be avoided, but he was clearly less at home in them than in calm positions with a well-defined center and a maneuvering battle. It was here that Botvinnik's main feature as a sportsman revealed itself: he takes a clear, objective view of his shortcomings, even the slightest ones, and works persistently to root them out. Realizing that his weak point at that time was involved combinational positions containing numerous possibilities not subject to precise calculation, he deliberately sought such positions on every convenient occasion in order to acquire maximum experience in them.

From Soviet School of Chess, p.127. Wondering if I had seen all of the games on the list of Botvinnik's 'brilliant sacrifices', I searched for them on Chessgames.com. Here's what I found:-

Several of these games have long comment threads from the regulars at Chessgames.com.

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