Botvinnik – Petrosian World Championship Match 1963

While Botvinnik and Tal were contesting their first match in 1960, the Zonal tournaments for the next qualifying cycle have already started. Since more than 50 countries have become FIDE members, an additional zone was added compared to the previous cycle, increasing the number to a total of nine zones.

Based on the results of the Zonals, 23 players qualified for the Interzonal tournament, held in 1962 in Stockholm. The players fought for the six qualifying places. In Stockholm, it was 18 years old Fischer's time to shine – he won the tournament two and a half points (!) ahead of Petrosian and Geller. Apart from the aforementioned trio, Korchnoi, Filip and Gligoric also qualified. Mikhail Tal as the winners and Paul Keres as the runner-up of the previous cycle qualified directly.

The Candidates tournament was to be held in the tropical island of Curacao later in 1962. Before the tournament, Fischer and Tal were considered as the main favourites. Tal because, well, he was Tal, and Fischer because of his brilliant play in the Interzonal tournament. Only the cautious Euwe considered Petrosian the favourite, while Petrosian himself pointed out Fischer and Korchnoi.

Slikovni rezultat za curacao candidates

Soviet delegation before departing to Curacao. Paul Keres (left), alongside Efim Geller, Mikhail Tal, Tigran Petrosian and Viktor Korchnoi (with seconds Yuri Averbakh and Isaac Boleslavsky on the stairs)

In any case, as often happens, the pre-tournament predictions were once again quite off the mark. Tal and Fischer both started the tournament very badly. Tal's bad play was understandable, as his health once again bothered him. In the end, he withdrew after the third cycle and immediately undergone a kidney surgery.

Fischer's failure was more inexplicable. He was playing much more badly and nervously than in the Interzonal tournament. It would appear that the traits of the characters had a decisive effect. He was overconfident in his own abilities and in the process completely underestimated the Soviet players. According to his second, Arthur Bisguier, Fischer always called them „patzers“. Bisguier also agreed that Fischer's mistake was mainly of psychological nature:

„No, I think Fischer’s weakness is not lack of ability but perhaps — it’s been said before — a lack of mature understanding of the whole concept of the struggle rather than a mature understanding of chess per se, of which he is second to none“

After the tournaments though, Fischer released a famous article in Sports Illustrated, under the title, Russians have fixed the Chess World, in which he complained about the draws Soviet players made in their games. The leading trio, Keres, Petrosian and Geller, drew all 12 games against each other in order. Fischer accused them of doing so deliberately, in order to preserve some energy and focus on the games against Tal (who was unwell), Korchnoi (who was uncompromising) and foreign players.

Although Fischer's theories always have to be taken with a grain of salt, many years later Korchnoi confirmed this was not a mere speculation on Fischer's part:

This was perhaps the only time when the Soviet authorities did not intervene to determine any competition among the Soviets. On this occasion, it was Petrosian personally who set up this controversy and he was helped by his friend, Geller. Keres was a wise man, but he was not cunning, he took the bait, while he could have refrained. The three players had privately agreed that they would draw all their games with each other.“

After the tournament, FIDE decided that in the future it would hold its future Candidates in the form of the knock-out matches, to avoid similar controversy. But it did not change the outcome of the 1962 tournament.

In any case, in the wake of Fischer and Tal's failure, a fierce race developed between the Petrosian and once again, Paul Keres (who, you might recall, finished second in the preceding three Candidates). 2 round before finish, Keres faced his eternal client Benko (prior to this encounter he has beaten him 7 times in a row).

Alas…this time Keres played strangely, passively and the game was adjourned in an unpleasant position for him.

During the adjournment, Benko was offered unexpected help from - Petrosian and Geller. According to Benko:

„In this all-important game, I was a bit better and adjourned. A while later, Petrosian and Geller came to me in secret and offered to help me beat their own countryman! I was disgusted. Telling them that it would be a draw with the best play, I demanded that they leave. However, when we resumed, Keres made an error, and I won.”

(This crucial game is analyzed in a post dedicated to Paul Keres)

Thus, Petrosian won the Candidates tournament half a point ahead of Keres and Geller and qualified for the match against Botvinnik. The Curacao tournament symbolically marked the end of the career of the great Estonian, who finished second for the record fourth time. As Tal remarked:

 Only once did I see Keres upset: at the finish of Curacao. The theory of probability played a cruel trick on him.”

The Petrosian – Botvinnik match was conducted in Moscow between March 23rd and May 20th, 1963. In contrast to the Botvinnik – Tal, 1961 match, which was extremely bloody, this match featured significantly lower amount of decisive games. It shouldn’t be surprising because Tigran Petrosian has had the reputation of a drawing master for quite some time. His solid, positional style was quite formidable and it was said he could „anticipate danger from ten feet away.”

Although he did start a match with the loss, after a series of draws he won the 5th and the 7th games. After another series of draws, Botvinnik levelled the score in the 14th game. But the 15th game proved to be the turning point and the decisive moment of the match. Petrosian once again reached the same structure with the White pieces already featured in the 5th game, and once again outplayed the Patriarch in a tremendous display of endgame technique.

After the 15th game, Botvinnik clearly lost his composure. After the defeats in 18th and 19th game, Petrosian drew the rest of the games, and after 22 games became the World Champion.

Since this time there was no rematch clause as in his previous matches, Botvinnik decided to retire from the future Candidates cycles, although he didn’t stop playing competitive chess for almost a decade afterwards.


Chessgames: Stockholm Interzonal, 1962

Chessgames: Curacao Candidates, 1962

Chessgames: Botvinnik – Petrosian, 1963

Chesspedia: Botvinnik – Petrosian, 1963

Wikipedia: World Chess Championship 1963

Garry Kasparov On My Great Predecessors Part Three

Garry Kasparov On My Great Predecessors Part Two

Pal Benko: My Life, Games, and Compositions


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