This week I conclude my homage to the great Estonian grandmaster Paul Keres, who was born a century ago this month. The game I have selected to round off my tribute is an incendiary victory against the red czar of Soviet chess, Mikhail Botvinnik. In their earlier clashes Botvinnik reeled off a series of wins, and by the mid-1950s the Soviet world champion led by seven to one in terms of decisive games. Then Keres struck back in the USSR championship and Alekhine Memorial tournaments from 1955 and 1956. This week’s game is the latter of those inflammable wins.
Keres-Botvinnik: Alekhine Memorial, Moscow 1956; Sicilian Defence
1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 d6 6 Bg5 e6 7 Qd2 h6 8 Bxf6 gxf6 Botvinnik often resorted to this double-edged variation of the Sicilian defence. As he saw it, Black’s increased pawn presence in the centre, combined with his bishop pair, made up for the compromised pawn structure.
9 0-0-0 9 Nb3 a6 10 Be2 h5 11 0-0 Bd7 12 Rad1 Be7 13 Qe3 Na5 was Ragozin-Botvinnik, Alekhine Memorial 1956. 9 … a6 10 f4 h5 11 Kb1 Bd7 12 Be2 Qb6 13 Nb3 Of course Keres avoids a mass exchange on d4 when the reigning world champion would have been relieved of all his middle game problems. 13 … 0-0-0 14 Rhf1 Na5 15 Rf3 Nxb3 16 axb3 Kb8 17 Na4 Qa7 18 f5 Be7 19 fxe6 fxe6 (see diagram 2) 20 Rxf6 Winning a pawn in brilliant style as 20 … Bxf6 21 Qxd6+ and 22 Nb6+ wins.
20 … Bxa4 also fails to 21 Rxe6. Finally 20 … b5 is met by 21 Rf7 Be8 22 Rxe7 Qxe7 23 Nc5. 20 … Rh7 Black does not need to accept the pseudo sacrifice, and in fact retains some compensation for his pawn in the shape of the bishop pair. Botvinnik’s chief problems stem from the resultant weaknesses in his camp in all parts of the board. 21 Rg6 b5 22 Nc3 Qc5 23 Na2 White’s knight now embarks on an impressive Odyssey to serially expose the vulnerable points in Botvinnik’s position. 23 … Ka7 24 Nb4 Rf8 25 Bf3 h4 26 h3 Bc8 27 Nd3 Qc7 28 Nf4 Rf6
29 Bg4 Much better than 29 Rxf6 Bxf6 30 Qxd6 Qxd6 31 Rxd6 Be5 32 Rd8 Bxf4 33 Rxc8 e5 when the win is more problematic. 29 … Rxg6 30 Nxg6 Bb7 31 Bxe6 Bd8 32 Bd5 Bxd5 33 Qxd5 Rf7 34 e5 Black resigns