The history of the World Chess Championship, from 1927 until 1960, was dominated by two players. These chess titans were Alexander Alekhine and Mikhail Botvinnik.
When Botvinnik lost the title in the ’50s, he didn’t waste any time at all in regaining it. Smyslov and Tal may have wrested it away from Botvinnik, but they didn’t wear the crown for long.
Max Euwe held the crown for a brief period in the 1930s before becoming arguably one of the best presidents of FIDE.
In the following video, GM Alex Lenderman presents a game in which Botvinnik displayed great technique in the center of the board against Capablanca:
Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
After observing Alekhine defeat Vidmar in 1911 at Carlsbad, Schlecter, a recent competitor for the crown, declared Alekhine a future world champion.
This prophecy took a further 16 years to fulfill when in 1927, Alekhine defeated Capablanca in Buenos Aires.
Their match was the first to win six games. Alekhine’s final score was 6 wins, 3 loses, and 25 draws.
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After the match, Capablanca conceded that Alekhine deserved his victory.
Alekhine, somewhat unsurprisingly, held the same opinion, declaring that he had played the best chess of his life.
Alekhine Defends the Title Against Bogoljubov
The world chess champion won the first game of their match in only 26 moves! Bogoljubov fought back to draw the next two games and win the fourth.
The champion responded immediately with a win in the fifth game, once again taking the lead in the match.
In the game, Alekhine showed he was ahead of his time. playing against a minor piece that was shut out of play.
Back in 1929, this concept wasn’t well-known or as well understood as it is today.
Bogoljubov once again drew level in game 6 and managed to obtain the advantage in game 7. Unfortunately, he squandered it, and the game ended in a draw.
The players took a two-week break after game eight with a score of 5-3 in favor of Alekhine.
After winning games 10 and 12,held a 6-2 lead. Bogoljubov fought back to win games 13 and 14.
Showing he deserved his title Alekhine took control by going on to win five more games.
In a rematch with Bogoljubov, four years later, he defended his crown with 8 wins, 3 loses, and 15 draws. The match conditions were best of 30 with the winner needing to win 6 games.
Alekhine Loses the World Chess Champion Title
Alekhine experienced a very successful tournament run until 1934. Then in 1935, Max Euwe won the world chess championship in Holland.
Fortunately, Alekhine got to play a rematch only two years later, at the end of 1937. Max Euwe was the favorite, thanks to Alekhine having some disappointing tournament results.
Unsurprisingly, Euwe won the first game and was leading 3-2 when things turned in Alekhine’s favor. Alekhine won games six, seven, eight, and ten. Game nine ended in a draw.
Euwe fought back to trail by only two points, but Alekhine regained his crown with victories in games 24 and 25. Alekhine’s match score was 10 wins, 4 loses, and 11 draws.
Here is the final game in this rematch. Max Euwe fought valiantly but the Alekhine was in superb form.
World War Two Interrupts World Chess Championship Matches
World War Two intervened and put paid to any more world chess championship matches until 1946.
Alekhine accepted a challenge from Botvinnik in March 1946 but before the match took place, Alekhine died suddenly.
The influence and inspiration of Alekhine have been felt by many, including Garry Kasparov:
“Alexander Alekhine is the first luminary among the others who are still having the greatest influence on me. I like his universality, his approach to the game, his chess ideas. I am sure that the future belongs to ‘Alekhine’ chess.”
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The domination of Alekhine and Botvinnik was briefly interrupted by Max Euwe. However, this interruption served more to refocus Alekhine rather than doing any lasting damage to their domination.
Alekhine accepted the challenge in May 1934. The match would be the best of thirty, with the champion retaining his crown if they tied 15-15.
Also included was a clause saying if Alekhine lost, he was entitled to a rematch.
Euwe Surprises the World
Euwe fought hard and tied the match 10 ½ – 10 ½. He went on to win the title with 9 wins, 8 loses, and 13 draws.
Alekhine turned the tables on Euwe two years later and regained his crown in 1937. Botvinnik declared that Alekhine was in such good form, anybody could have lost to him.
Botvinnik brought a scientific approach to chess. He created an entire school based upon the study of fundamental principles of chess, opening preparation, and game analysis.
Chess was approached by Botvinnik as a problem you needed to break down into smaller pieces.
The death of Alekhine left the world chess championship title vacant. FIDE decided to use the 1938 AVRO tournament as a model for deciding the new world champion.
Back in 1938, this tournament brought eight of the world’s top chess players together for a match. Two of them, Alekhine and Capablanca, had died in the intervening years.
The original six chosen were Max Euwe, Mikhail Botvinnik, Paul Keres, Salo Flohr, Reuben Fine, and Samuel Reshevsky. In the end, Reuben Fine withdrew, and Vasily Smyslov replaced Salo Flohr.
Botvinnik scored 14/20 and ended with a plus score against all the other five competitors, finishing ahead of Smyslov, who scored 11/20.
This victory made Mikhail Botvinnik the sixth world chess champion, a title he would hold for fifteen years with two short interruptions.
Defending the World Chess Championship Title
In 1951, Botvinnik had to fight hard to retain his title against David Bronstein. The match was played was set for 24 games.
The world chess champion managed to hang on for a draw by winning the second-to-last game and drawing the last game. This tied the match with 5 wins, 5 loses, and 14 draws.
When their back is against the wall, true champions get the results they need. Botvinnik needed a win and a draw in the last two games.
This is how he got that crucial victory in game 23:
Three years later, in 1954, Botvinnik once again retained his title thanks to a drawn match. This time he drew against Vasily Smyslov in a 24-game match.
There was lots of excitement for this tournament match, even though it ended in a tie. There were only 4 drawn games in the first 16!
Out of the 24 games in the match, there were 14 wins and 10 draws. Included in these 14 victories was a streak of eight decisive games.
The players finished with 7 wins, 7 loses, and 10 draws.
Here is game 13, won by Botvinnik, playing black against the Closed Sicilian.
Botvinnik Loses the World Chess Title
Botvinnik would lose his title to Smyslov, in 1957, with a score of 9½ to 12½ in Moscow. Fortunately for him, the rules allowed Botvinnik a rematch without having to qualify in a Candidates Tournament.
One year later, Botvinnik regained his world chess champion title against Smyslov, who said he was in poor health.
convincingly beat Botvinnik, 8½ – 12½, in 1960 but was, in turn, convincingly beaten in the rematch a year later, 8-13. This was partly due to Tal’s ill-health and a change in tactics by Botvinnik.
In his rematch with Tal, Botvinnik aimed for closed positions and endgames. This reduced the number of positions rich in tactical opportunities.
Botvinnik lost the world chess champion title in 1963 to Tigran Petrosian. At this time, FIDE had changed the rematch rule so Botvinnik couldn’t automatically rematch Petrosian.
Alekhine and Botvinnik’s influence on chess is still felt today both on and off the board.
The universal playing style of Alekhine has influenced many of the greatest chess players. Fittingly, Botvinnik showed how important preparation is in countering players of exceptional ability.
As president of FIDE for many years, Max Euwe also helped shape chess into the game we know and love today. Taking the title from Alekhine is no small feat either.
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