Botvinnik – Smyslov, World Championship Rematch 1957

After Botvinnik defended his title against Smyslov in 1954, another qualifying cycle was once again held in three stages. After seven Zonal tournaments, a total of 21 players assembled in Gothenburg in 1955 to play in the Interzonal tournament.

All participants of the Gothenburg Interzonal Tournament (source: Chessbase)

The first nine prize winners: Bronstein, Keres, Panno, Petrosian, Geller, Szabo, Filip, Spassky and Pilnik, together with Smyslov, qualified for the next year's Candidates tournament, that was to be held in Amsterdam.

In Amsterdam, the rivalry between Smyslov and Keres, started in the previous cycle, continued. This time, it was a much tighter race. By Smyslov's own admission:

“The battle became especially fierce in the second cycle, when three rounds from the finish Keres was level with me, with Geller and Bronstein half a point behind, and Spassky and Petrosian trailing by a further half point. In this sharp situation, I won a very tense game against Bronstein, then drew with Spassky, and success in the final game with Pilnik gave me victory in the tournament.”

Once again Smyslov proved he had better nerves. Before the penultimate round,  he was half a point ahead of Keres. While he made the aforementioned draw with Spassky, Keres lost a completely won game against Filip with the White pieces (analyzed in the post dedicated to great Paul) and the tournament was essentially over.

Thus, the stage was set for another Botvinnik – Smyslov match, held in Moscow, in March 1957. From the very start of the match, Smyslov held the initiative, as he won the very first game. True, Botvinnik retaliated in the fourth and fifth game, but from the sixth game onwards, the match was dominated by Smyslov.  After 17 games he was two points ahead and after Botvinnik missed practical chances in an opposite-colored bishop endgame in the 18th game, the match was virtually over. Smyslov merely confirmed his victory with a win in the 20th game, and after 22 games he won the match ahead of schedule with the convincing 12.5-9.5 result.

Two factors contributed to Smyslov's victory. First of all, he was much better prepared theoretically than during the previous encounter. Ever suspicious Botvinnik even accused his seconds of information leaking. Smyslov employed the number of opening variations, including his patent variation in the Grünfeld defence, with tremendous effect.

Secondly, Symslov benefited greatly from the previous match. By his own admission:

„ The experience of my previous match with Botvinnik proved useful, and I had gained a clear impression of the difficulty of the [...] encounter.“

All in all, Smyslov proved to be the stronger player at the moment, and rightfully became the seventh World Champion.


Chessgames: Botvinnik – Symslov, 1957

Chessgames: Gothenburg Interzonal 1955

Chessgames: Amsterdam Candidates, 1956

Garry Kasparov On My Great Predecessors: Part Two

Mark Weeks: Chess Zonals

Vassily Smyslov: Smyslov’s 125 selected games

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