One famous case of fixed chess games is the Keres vs. Botvinnik World Championship 1948. I ran across this example while looking for other such chess games from history.

It is known that Stalin was a chess player and an admirer of Keres. On the basis of this, the rumor has been that Stalin made a deal with Keres. The story goes that Keres’ life would be spared. Keres, the Estonian, would not be executed the way that Petrov, the Latvian, had been. In return for sparing his life, Keres agreed that a Russian player would become World Chess Champion and that Keres would never be world champion.

Was such a deal really made?

The five games between Botvinnik and Keres were remarkable because they seem to be the worst series of five games ever played between two grandmasters. Even the strongest grandmaster will occasionally make a horrible blunder. However, these games between Keres and Botvinnik did not merely contain a few outright blunders. Rather, they exuded weakness throughout. They looked like games between two Class A players, or possibly between two experts having a bad day. However, Keres and Botvinnik were two of the strongest players in the world.

By far the worst game of the five was the last game, in which Botvinnik lost to Keres. By winning this game, Keres was able to catch up with Reshevsky and tie for third. Keres played a patzer opening, always known to be bad. Botvinnik played like an absolute rank beginner. The presumed reason is that Botvinnik had already clenched first place and the World Chess Championship. Since Keres had thrown the first four games to Botvinnik, Botvinnik was obliged to throw one back to make the final result of 4-1 in favor of Botvinnik look more reasonable and to give Keres a share of third-place prize money.

Is there evidence of any other deals to help a given player or country win?

Rumors are rife about many such games involving Russians in the 40’s, 50,’s and perhaps even the 60’s. But what about other players from other countries, perhaps doing it for personal benefit rather than to help political leaders?

This theory is laid out here.

  • 5
    I'd suggest (a) providing sources on what you cite here since it's contentious and written in a non-neutral tone, (b) ask it on Skeptics Stack Exchange instead, and/or (c) rephrasing the question to avoid implying guilt by the phrase "any other deals". It is however not an opinion-based question, as evidence can back up any correct claims.
    – Remellion
    Feb 6, 2020 at 5:01
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    @Remellion Just because it is a conspiracy theory, that does not mean it is also not a valid chess question. It belongs here more than in the Skeptics SE as it is very directly related, and a valid question. Feb 6, 2020 at 11:33
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    @PhishMaster I suggested asking on Skeptics SE and/or the other options. I do not deny it belongs here as well. But it should be much better worded.
    – Remellion
    Feb 6, 2020 at 13:24
  • @Remellion This was a chess question. It came from the ones on cheating we recently had. Fixing is a form of cheating. There have been stories of it for decades. I am asking if there are proven cases. Feb 6, 2020 at 14:14
  • The Fischer-Taimanov games were played badly by the Soviet, yet I doubt that the Soviets wanted him to play in this manner.
    – Mike Jones
    Feb 7, 2020 at 10:11

2 Answers 2


I think this kind of thing belongs in the same category as discussions over "Could Morphy beat Lasker?" At one point it might have been provable (given a little different history Morphy might have survived to play Lasker, or at least Steinitz) but that train has left the station. It's a judo question, meaning your answer typically depends on which way you're already leaning.

At best the claim the 1948 games were fixed is controversial; there are, after all, zero facts supporting the contention, only opinions. Personally, I doubt they were. You could use some of the same techniques that claim to "prove" the Keres fix was in to "prove" that Spassky threw the 1972 match, after all. But the sheer number of shenanigans the Soviets pulled back in those days gives undeserved credence to those kind of theories, so we keep seeing them.

There's a lot of speculation about Botvinnik's reign. Up against the theories surrounding both the Keres and the Bronstein games, we seem to have denials from both of the losers that it happened for any reason other than chess play. (I think it was in Sorceror's Apprentice that Bronstein even hinted that he woke up the morning of that game thinking about how his life would change as champion, and he didn't think it would be for the better, but that's my memory again, so could easily be wrong.)

As to the wider speculation, that some unspecified chess games in some tournaments have been fixed: of course it's true. Games have been fixed and will continue to be fixed, both at the local levels and at world chess levels. It's why FIDE had the old 30-move rule and why the Sophia rules on draw offers were created. Seirawan discovered a great line in the Pirc that led to a forced draw by repetition, and it's been used by GMs wanting a day off. GM's have been disciplined for "selling points" in the past, throwing games for money in order to raise a local player's rating, or to help them achieve norms. (Point-shaving happens in chess, just as in other contests; wherever there's money there's fraud.) The Soviet players in the Interzonals were known to use games against each other as extra "rest days," and Korchnoi has reported in his autobiography on how the delegation was requested to "help" a pre-selected player finish higher than the Westerners. While that may have had an effect on the selection of a challenger, did that really help Botvinnik keep the title longer than he should have? Who knows? Only Botvinnik and his opponents, and they aren't talking. (I had hopes Averbakh was going to write about it before he died; he was in position to know a lot about those, but no, so far he's kept his silence. Which leaves us having to choose the cause of that silence; is it because he wants to keep the secrets or because there were no secrets?)

How large of an effect did this have? Hard to tell, because actual certainty in any of these "fixes" is hard to achieve. Only those involved know what was in their mind, whether they played a bad move to throw the game or because they were fatigued and just blundered. Like Kasparov against Deep Blue, even the best of players will have inexplicably bad games.

So we continue to recycle the theories, with no hope of ever actually knowing, especially when everyone involved directly is dead and none appear to have left anything behind in writing.


I added a link to this theory in your question.

The reality is that there is no debate as to whether the Soviet government ordered players to throw games, the only question is "did it happen here?" Chess was considered proof of Soviet superiority, and they took dominating, and holding the world title, very seriously.

Other than that link, GM Larry Evans is probably the originator of this theory, and it appears that he came up with it on his own after analyzing the games. He wrote about this in Chess Life in October 1996 (page 40 of that issue, or roughly page 956/1232 of the pdf file)

Here is a shorter story regarding this matter.

The fact is that this would have been a closely-guarded state secret, so unless the KGB, now FSB, decides to declassify the files, we will never know for sure if GM Evans was correct, but I still would not have put it past them, or Stalin personally, to do this.

  • Some files have been leaked, and there are references to KGB and their interference with chess in the Mitrokhin Archive (I think it is primarily in volume 2). The editor (C. Andrews) notes that "A book remains to be written on the KGB's involvement in Soviet chess."
    – user30536
    Nov 28, 2023 at 16:40

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