Chess talents of the soviet union (2): the pioneer of computer chess


Botvinnik, the founder of Soviet chess school, became the World Champion in 1948. He should have been the World Champion Challenger of Alexander Alekhine, but this was cut short by Alekhine’s sudden death in 1946. Thus the 1948 World Chess Championship was held to decide the World Champion between five players, including Botvinnik, Euwe, Keres, Reshevsky and Smyslov. Botvinnik won the tournament convincingly with three points ahead.

As the first World Champion cultivated by the Soviet Union and the father of Soviet chess, Botvinnik was honored and was granted with political and social advantages by the Soviet government. For example, the winner of 1929 Soviet Championship, Boris Verlinsky, was granted the first Soviet Grandmaster title, but later he dropped the title, because it was more politically correct to make Botvinnik the first official Soviet GM. In addition, many Soviet players were given hints by the government that they should not defeat Botvinnik in order to ensure Botvinnik’s absolute dominance in the chess world.

Botvinnik, the father of Soviet Chess

Botvinnik retained the World Champion title for 15 years, with two brief interruptions. He was defeated by Vasily Smyslov in 1957 and Mikhail Tal in 1961, but he retook the World Champion in both rematches in the next year. Though Botvinnik actively engaged in tournaments during his chess career, he never gave up his enthusiasm in electrical engineering. He earned his PhD in electrical engineering in 1951, and joined an electrical energy research as a senior research scientist in 1956. He believed that it was his passion in engineering which prompted his achievement in chess. And with broad interests in different areas, he would never lose his passion and desire in chess. In fact, his rational and rigorous spirits in science were fully revealed in chess. He took chess as a scientific subject, and his approaches to chess were a demonstration of the scientific method, where he tried to divide chess into individual squares and analyze them all.

In 1963, Botvinnik lost his World Champion title to Tigran Petrosian, and withdrew from the World Championship Cycle after FIDE refused to grant a losing champion the right for a rematch. He was more than 50 years old and was unwilling to play so many tournaments to compete for the qualification of World Champion Challenger. He hoped to spend the rest of his life on engineering and computer chess. Botvinnik began his research on chess-playing programs, which were based on the principle of “selective searches.” However, computers at that time were only capable of calculating three or four half-moves deep. Botvinnik eventually developed an algorithm, which enabled the computer to find the best moves in difficult positions, but it often missed the correct move in simple positions. Though the chess-playing programs Botvinnik developed were far less powerful than chess engines nowadays, they laid the foundation for the development of modern chess engines and artificial intelligence.

Early computer chess

Some people believed that as chess engines became stronger, they would finally defeat human beings and chess as a sport would disappear. Botvinnik totally opposed such a point of view. He stated that being mastered at chess should not be the only aim for chess players. But rather, people play chess because people love it and play for fun. Plus, People can always learn from chess. Chess promotes logical thinking and analytical abilities, which can make chess player’s mind sharper and improve their ability to solve complex tasks faster and easier. Therefore, no matter how strong chess engines are, they will never reduce people’s passion for chess and the charm of playing it over the board. The 8th World Champion Tal maintained the same perspective. He believed that chess engines do not possess the spirits of human beings such as emotion, imagination, and intuition, and thus computers can never replace human beings over the board, when it comes to clash of two different personalities or moods.


-Bronstein, D. and Furstenberg, T. (1995). The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. London and New York: Cadogan Chess.

-Kingston, T. (2001). “The Keres–Botvinnik Case Revisited: A Further Survey of the Evidence”

-Brudno, Michael (May 2000).”Competitions, Controversies, and Computer Chess”





Young and active tournament player with excellent results including a 1st place at the BSSZ Aranytiz International Master, 1st place at the Chinese Youth Chess Championship G16, and part of the top 10 contenders in two World Chess Championships for girls G16 and G18.

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