Botvinnik vs. Bronstein | World Chess Championship 1951
Botvinnik vs. Bronstein in their 1951 world championship match in Moscow. | Photo:

Botvinnik vs. Bronstein | World Chess Championship 1951

| 66 | Fun & Trivia

With an amazing 10 decisive games out of 24, and several late lead changes, it is no surprise that Mikhail Botvinnik vs. David Bronstein made the top 10 list of most exciting world championships of all time.

The public was hungry to see Botvinnik over the chessboard again after this three-year hiatus. That the challenger, Bronstein, was a highly-creative player, didn't hurt either.

This match, which represented the first of nine consecutive held exclusively in Moscow, scored 29 points from our judging panel. It is also the first match in our countdown where one judge rated it number one (NM Dane Mattson). Still, two judges left it off their list completely.

mikhal botvinnik

Botvinnik via Wikipedia. 

As for the match itself, it took place in the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall and had the key provision that the champion, Botvinnik, retained the title in case of a 12-12 tie. That's a rule he would end up needing.

Bronstein took the lead with the first win in game five, then Botvinnik won two straight. After a few more wins by each player, the champ still led by one with only four games to go.

That's when Bronstein won two straight to get to 11.5 points. He only needed one point from the final two games to become the new world champion.

The finish to game 22, the one that gave Bronstein the lead, was especially sweet:

But with his back against the wall and having only one turn with White remaining, Botvinnik kept his crown by winning in game 23 to pull level at 11.5 points each. It took a while, but eventually his two bishops broke through against two knights.

Bronstein couldn't make anything happen in the final game, so after only 22 moves a draw was agreed and the 12-12 tie allowed Botvinnik to retain the title. 

Reflecting back many years later in The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Bronstein said that while there may have been some overt pressure from authorities, he was never told to throw the match, and it was his obligation to not to bend to this pressure regardless.

In fact, four decades later, he even seemed to prefer that history played out like it did and he never became world champion:

In those times such a title meant that you were entering an official world of chess bureaucracy with many formal obligations. Such a position is not compatible with my character. Since my childhood I have enjoyed freedom and despite the country that I grew up in, I have tried to live all my years in this spirit and I am very happy that today I feel the same and can enjoy my freedom.

Coming up next: Number 7 on our list!

The Most Exciting World Chess Championships:

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Mike Klein began playing chess at the age of four in Charlotte, NC. In 1986, he lost to Josh Waitzkin at the National Championship featured in the movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer." A year later, Mike became the youngest member of the very first All-America Chess Team, and was on the team a total of eight times. In 1988, he won the K-3 National Championship, and eventually became North Carolina's youngest-ever master. In 1996, he won clear first for under-2250 players in the top section of the World Open. Mike has taught chess full-time for a dozen years in New York City and Charlotte, with his students and teams winning many national championships. He now works at as a Senior Journalist and at as the Chief Chess Officer. In 2012, 2015, and 2018, he was awarded Chess Journalist of the Year by the Chess Journalists of America. He has also previously won other awards from the CJA such as Best Tournament Report, and also several writing awards for mainstream newspapers. His chess writing and personal travels have now brought him to more than 85 countries.

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