Book Review – Mikhail Botvinnik

Mikhail Botvinnik. The Life and Games of a World Chess Champion. Andrew Soltis. McFarland & Company. Hardback. 274 Pages. 125 Diagrams. 12 Photographs. Price £30.00.

Mikhail Botvinnik was born on 17th August 1911 in what is now Repino, Russia, but was at that time Kuokkalla, in the Grand Dutchy of Finland. His parents were political radicals, which may account for their son’s Marxist-Leninist convictions. This biography reflects the historical and political events that shaped the Soviet Union and eventually give rise to its breakup. Botvinnik’s rise within the Soviet chess establishment owed a great deal of his ability to curry help and favours from officials with power and influence. At times it proved necessary to play one off against another – a game at which he became very adept – however, without considerable chess talent, such skills would have been of limited use.

Grandmaster Andrew Soltis has thoroughly researched his subject, examining relevant archives and liaising with fellow Grandmasters and students who attended Botvinnik’s chess school. (Karpov, Kasparov, Kramnik, etc..) Despite political differences, Boris Gulko described Botvinnik as ‘honest and sincere’. His legacy includes significant contributions to opening and endgame theory and demonstrating the benefits of adherence to a strict regime of sleep, exercise and study. (Commonplace today, this was innovative during the mid 20th century.)

This publication includes 88 complete and 32 partial games with notes that complement rather than overwhelm the actual moves. The state of theory in a particular opening is often explained with reference to the game under consideration and then considered in terms of subsequent developments. There is also discussion of Botvinnik’s unsuccessful attempts at building a chess playing computer. The evidence indicates that the former World Champion regarded himself as a somewhat solitary individual who felt the need to personally dislike an opponent in order to play well against him.

An excellent biography, produced to the high standards associated with this publisher, it will be interesting to compare the text with Botvinnik’s autobiography, ‘Achieving the Aim’. Some of the subject’s better known games are absent, by design rather than neglect. The author has made his selection to best illustrate Botvinnik’s life and says of the omissions, “I had nothing to add to what has already been said many times and brilliantly about them.”

Review by David Mills

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One Response to “Book Review – Mikhail Botvinnik”

  1. Andy Bak

    Feb 22. 2015

    Thanks to David for this review. I find this sort of chess book more interesting to read than some opening book!

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