Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Fair Question

Drunknknite was kind enough to follow the link in my last post back to my Feb. 2006 thoughts on The Greatest. He asks:

In your greatest post where is Botvinnik??

For some reason he is overlooked, even though he is the one who propelled technique and the form of scientific analysis we apply to this game to the forefront of theory. He was also 'dominant' from 1946 until 1957 (probably even later than this). In spite of the fact that Bronstein and Smyslov were right on his heels, he still showed his superiority to the great masters of his time.

As great a player as Botvinnik was, I must respectfully disagree with part of this comment. If I were to have included a list of the "Top Ten" chess players of all time, M. Botvinnik would probably have merited a place on it; but in the particular categories of my rather idiosyncratic list I couldn't justify including him. He truly was dominant in the 1948 World Championship Tournament, but then didn't play any public chess for three years, and his record in the World Ch. matches he played in 1951-63 was basically 50-50. If you will refer to his tournament and match record here you'll see that he played fairly sparingly as World Champion, had a number of very good results and a few mediocre ones in strong tournaments, but never had the kind of almost unbeatable of 4-7 years that was noted in my original post for Alekhine, Tal, Fischer et al.

It certainly hurt Botvinnik that four or five of what might have been his dominant years were 1941-45 when the Soviet Union was locked in a death struggle with Germany and international chess life was disrupted. If he had gotten a chance to play in a World Championship match and a few strong international events during those years his reputation as a great player might be even greater.

For these reasons, Botvinnik didn't make any of the lists in my original post but I'm happy to agree with drunknknite that he deserves recognition as one of the all-time greats.


Eric Shoemaker said...

Hi Robert, I personally think that a list of the top greatest players in history is more or less open to opinion. I know my list would be extremely controversial as it would include "World Title Candidates" and not just those who became World Champions. Here is my own personal list of the top ten greatest players:

1) Anatoly Karpov
2) Bobby Fischer
3) Gary Kasparov
4) Samuel Reshevsky
5) Alexander Alekhine
7) Mikhail Botvinnik
8) Erich Eliskases
9) Emanual Lasker
10) Akiba Rubinstein

I, of course, was not concerned with order here. And some great players didn't make my list either. I think every chess player and enthusiast would probably have a different list.

One name that didn't make my list was Paul Morphy and probably a lot of people might have included him; but I feel today his style of opening the position at all costs may not work with today's technique. He would probably just find himself in equal positions where defensive technique is much better than any he had to face in his day.

Anonymous said...

Don't you think Tal and Spassky were greater than Eliskases?

Anonymous said...

Interesting stuff. My knowledge of the history and times of the greats is rather limited. Or rather, how great historical events affected chess (while I know, for example, WWII was 1939-45, it took you to link it with "Hey, maybe this would have affected Botvinnik.")

@Eric: Reshevsky top 10? And I've never heard of Eliskases. Food for research.

Ryan Emmett said...

eric - I think the same reason you gave for leaving out Morphy i.e. that his 'style' of chess would not work in the current day, would apply equally to any other historical players on the list. It's not so much a question of style as technique which has improved.

If we judge historical players by the standards of current knowledge then they will all be found wanting. An average GM today could wipe the floor with the greatest players from 50 years (or more) ago because they have more knowledge about the game as a base to build on i.e. they are standing on the shoulders of giants.

I think the only way to judge greatness is by comparing players to their peers and also by what they contributed to the body of chess knowledge. On the basis Morphy would be resoundingly IN.

Also, surely Capablanca's natural talent and dominance deserves a place in a top 10 list?