A couple of months ago I played through all the games, with annotations, from former
Mikhail Tal's excellent book 'Tal-Botwinnik 1960' on his historic World
Championship, becoming the youngest World Champion ever.
One of Tal's main weapons vs. Botwinnik was the
Nimzo-Indian Defence. There are many different variations that White can
try vs. the Nimzo, the
Leningrad variation, the
Rubinstein variation, the
Classical variation and the
Samisch variation, amongst others.
The line that Botwinnik played vs. Tal in their epic match was the Samisch variation.
The idea behind this line is to force Black to give up the Bishop pair at the cost
of doubled pawns. White considers the exchange on c3 to be advantageous and hopes
the bishop pair and the extra central pawn will be in his favour. In game 4 of their
match, Tal played one of the 'normal' lines involving castling. In games 14, 16,
18 and 20 Tal played 5...
Ne4, preparing to push f5 and strike back against the centre in that
In the Samisch, White regularly dominates the center with his pawns and gets e4
in quite easily. Tal's idea, based on a monograph by Soviet great Mark Taimanov was quite surprising, going against the 'classical'
rules of not moving a piece twice in the opening.
An interesting note, is that the ...Ne4, ..f5 idea can also be used in the Classical
variation after 1.
f5 It is playable
in this line, it may be more effective, because not only is the knight clearing
the way for the central thrust of f5, but he also gains a tempo on the queen.
Tal drew games 14, 16 and 18, but in the 20th game, Botwinnik made an improvement
that Tal believed refuted the line entirely and was completely better for White.
I had my doubts about that, so let's take a look at game 20. Notes are by me, and
Tal where listed.
Botwinnik - Tal
World Championship (20) Moscow 1960
E24 - Nimzo-Indian : Samisch variation
e3 Other moves that have been played here include 6.
Qc2 as by Botwinnik in games 16 and 18, and 6.
Nh3 as played by Botwinnik in game 14.
Qh5+!! The two exclamation marks are given by Tal himself, and he states
in his book '...the twentieth game contained the most valuable theoretical contributions
in the match and willingly or unwillingly, I found myself locked in a difficult
struggle. ... When such checks are made at the outset, they are usually very bad
checks, when Botwinnik makes such a move - it is profound, and unquestionably home
Qh6 In this position, Tal played 8...
d6 I wasn't sure if this was the strongest, so I checked the current
theoretical works, Modern Chess Openings (MCO) and Nunn's Chess Openings (NCO).
In MCO the line isn't even listed, and in NCO it is listed with 6.
Qc2 as the strongest, and in this line between Botwinnik and Tal gives 8...
Qg5 and marks it as equal. I don't mind playing queenless middlegames, but
Tal dismisses it in his book saying 'Several results of the opening experiment can
now be discussed. The Black squates on the kingside, deprived on an important defender,
are very vulnerable and the white Queen, by herself, brings disarray into a rather
broken-up position. The loss of tempi by the Queen has no significance whatsoever
since Black is unable to do anything about it. The attempt to transfer into the
endgame by 8...
h4 gives White a significantly better game.' Tal's game finished
Now, I'm not grandmaster, world champion, etc. etc. etc. but I have to disagree
with Tal's assessment of the line. This line may be slightly better for White, but
gives no more of an advantage than any other opening. Maybe the GMs agree with me,
because I've only tracked down a handful of games in this line, with Black winning
all of them, but White never playing 10. h4 Polgar-Bischoff diverted with 9.
Qh3 The other two games I have were Brusi-Barbara Hund (WGM) 1978 and
Gert Pietrse-Tony Miles Amsterdam 1988. Surprisingly neither one of them continued
10. h4 They both continued 10.
Brusi - Hund
Bagneaux Open 1978
E24 - Nimzo-Indian: Samisch variation
b6 In a game here on schemingmind.com, I once played this line (where
I won with some luck) I continued 10...
Nxf3+ 0-1 It's not theoretically relevant, but
there is a nice finish :) 11.
Kd2 Is the immediate 13.
e4 attempting to open up the position a little better? 13...
axb6? Allowing Black to trade off the Bishop was weak
positionally. White's main advantage was the Bishop pair. Without that positional
trump, Black cleans up. The alternative 16.
Be2 wasn't much better after 16...
Nxc4 The rest of the game for completeness sake is
Pieterse - Miles
E24 - Nimzo-Indian: Samisch variation
Possible the safest square on the board for the Black King. 19.
g4? The wrong idea at the wrong time. Opening up the squares in front
of his King is not right for White at this time. Did he get impatient? A better
plan would be to maneuver his pieces to attack on the queenside, possibly coming
up the b-file. Miles takes advantage and wins easily after this. 19...
In conclusion, Tal's line that he played vs. Mikahil Botwinnik in their first championship
match is theoretically solid, and if there is a refutation to 5...
Ne4 it's not in Botwinnik's line he played in the 20th game. Black
still has a very good, dare i say better position in the line I suggested. It’s
an interesting alternative, that isn’t covered very well theoretically and will
be a potent surprise for your opponent.
Any criticisms to analysis are welcome as I'm not the strongest player in the world,
as well as any other games that I may have missed (particularly any games found
with Tal's 10.
h4), or have been played by the Schemingmind.com members themselves, would
be welcome in the comments.