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boris vasilevich spassky

Boris Spassky

[spas-kee; Russ. spah-skee]

Boris Vasilievich Spassky (also Spasskij) (Бори́с Васи́льевич Спа́сский) (born January 30, 1937) is a Russian-French chess grandmaster. He was the tenth World Chess Champion, holding the title from 1969 to 1972.

Spassky won the Soviet Chess Championship twice outright (1961, 1973), and twice more lost in playoffs (1956, 1963), after tying for first during the event proper. He was a World Chess Championship Candidate on seven occasions (1956, 1965, 1968, 1974, 1977, 1980, and 1985).

Early life

He was born in Leningrad, (now Saint Petersburg) and learned to play chess at the age of five on the train evacuating from Leningrad during World War II. Spassky was the most impressive Soviet chess prodigy since Mikhail Botvinnik. He first drew wide attention in 1947 at age ten, when he defeated Soviet champion Botvinnik in a simultaneous exhibition. His early coach was Vladimir Zak, a respected master and trainer. During his youth, from the age of ten, Spassky often worked on chess for up to five hours a day with Master-level coaches. He set records as the youngest Soviet player to achieve First Category rank (age 10), Candidate Master rank (age 11), and Master rank (age 15). At age 15 in 1952, Spassky scored 50 percent in the Soviet Championship semi-final at Riga, and placed second in the Leningrad Championship that same year.

Young Grandmaster

At age 16, Spassky scored very impressively in 1953 at a strong international tournament in Bucharest, Romania, finishing tied 4th-6th with 12/19, as the winner was his future trainer Alexander Tolush. He was awarded the title of International Master by FIDE. In his first attempt at the Soviet Championship final, URS-ch22, Moscow 1955, at age 18, he tied for 3rd-6th places with 11½/19, as the joint winners were Vasily Smyslov and Efim Geller. This excellent result qualified him for the Goteborg Interzonal later that year.

At age 18 he won the World Junior Chess Championship held at Antwerp, Belgium, with a dominant score of 14/16, and became a Grandmaster, the youngest ever at the time. Spassky competed for the Lokomotiv Voluntary Sports Society.

By his tied 7th-9th place, with 11/20, at the 1955 Goteborg Interzonal, he qualified into the 1956 Candidates' Tournament, held in Amsterdam. There, he finished in the middle of the ten-player world-class field, tied 3rd-7th places with 9½/18, astonishing for a 19-year-old. Expectations for him were very high, and this put pressure on the young star. At the 1956 Soviet final, URS-ch23, held in Leningrad, Spassky tied for 1st-3rd places on 11½/19 with Mark Taimanov and Yuri Averbakh, but Taimanov won the further playoff to become champion. Spassky then tied for first with Tolush in a strong Leningrad tournament later in 1956.

Qualification heartbreaks

But Spassky then went into a comparative slump. Failing to qualify for the next two Interzonals (1958 and 1961), the first step to the World Chess Championship.

In the 1957 Soviet final, URS-ch24 at Moscow, Spassky finished tied 4th-5th with 13/21, as Mikhail Tal won. Tal and Spassky were roughly the same age, and Spassky had up to then outperformed Tal, but in the next few years it was Tal who was excelled, winning the World Title in 1960.

Spassky failed to qualify for the 1958 Interzonal after losing to Tal in a very nervy last-round game in the 1958 Soviet final, URS-ch25 at Riga. He had the advantage for much of the game, but missed a difficult win after adjournment, then later refused a draw. A win would have qualified him for the Interzonal, and a draw would have ensured a share of fourth place with Yuri Averbakh, with qualification possible via a playoff.

Spassky tied for first place at Moscow 1959 on 7/11 with Smyslov and David Bronstein. He just missed winning the title at the next Soviet final, URS-ch26 at Tbilisi 1959, finishing half a point behind champion Tigran Petrosian and in a tied 2nd-3rd place with Tal, on 12½/19. Some consolation was provided by his impressive victory at Riga 1959 with 11½/13, well ahead of Tal, who had in the meantime qualified for a 1960 World title match with Champion Mikhail Botvinnik. Spassky was in the middle of the pack at the next Soviet final, URS-ch27 at Leningrad, with 10/19, as fellow Leningrader Viktor Korchnoi won. Spassky journeyed to Argentina, where he tied for 1st-2nd places at Mar del Plata 1960 with Bobby Fischer on 13½/15, and he beat Fischer in their head-to-head game, their first meeting.

Another crushing disappointment for Spassky came at the qualifier for the next Interzonal, the Soviet final URS-ch28 at Moscow 1961, where he again missed advancing by one place, finishing tied 5th-6th with 11/19, as Petrosian won.

Resurgence with trainer change

Spassky decided upon a switch in trainers, from the volatile attacker Alexander Tolush to the calmer strategist Igor Bondarevsky. This proved the key to his resurgence. He won his first of two USSR Championships, URS-ch29, at Baku 1961, with a powerful 14.5/20. Spassky tied 2nd-3rd at Havana 1962 with 16/21, behind winner Miguel Najdorf. He placed joint 5th-6th at Yerevan 1962, URS-ch30, with 11.5/19. At Leningrad 1963, the site for URS-ch31, Spassky tied for 1st-3rd with Leonid Stein and Ratmir Kholmov, but Stein wound up the playoff winner. Spassky won at Belgrade 1964 with 13/17, ahead of Korchnoi and Borislav Ivkov. He was fourth at Sochi 1964 with 9.5/15, as Nikolai Krogius won.

Then, in the 1964 Soviet Zonal at Moscow, a double-round event and one of the strongest tournaments ever organized, Spassky won with 7/12, to advance to the Amsterdam Interzonal the same year. At Amsterdam, he tied for 1st-4th places, along with Tal, Vasily Smyslov, and Bent Larsen, on 17/23. He qualified for the Candidates' Matches the next year. With Bondarevsky, Spassky's style broadened and deepened, with poor results mostly banished, yet his fighting spirit was even enhanced. He added psychology and surprise to his quiver, and this proved enough to send him to the top.

World Champion

Spassky was considered an all-rounder on the chess board, and his adaptable "universal style" was a distinct advantage in beating many top Grandmasters. In the 1965 cycle, he beat Paul Keres at Riga 1965 with careful strategy, triumphing in the last game to win 6-4 (+4 =4 -2). Also at Riga, he defeated Efim Geller with mating attacks, winning with 5½/8 (+3 =5 -0). Then, in his Candidates' Final match (the match which determines who will challenge the reigning world champion for the title) against Mikhail Tal the legendary tactician (Tbilisi 1965), Spassky often managed to steer play into quieter positions, either avoiding former champion Tal's tactical strength, or extracting too high a price for complications. He won with 7/11 (+4 =6 -1). This led to his first World Championship match against Tigran Petrosian in 1966.

Spassky won two tournaments in the run-up to the final. He shared first at the Chigorin Memorial in Sochi in 1965 with Wolfgang Unzicker on 10½/15. Then he tied for first at Hastings 1965-66 with Wolfgang Uhlmann on 7½/9.

Spassky lost the final match in Moscow narrowly, with three wins against Petrosian's four wins, with the two sharing 17 draws. However, a few months after the match, Spassky finished ahead of Petrosian and a super-class field at Santa Monica 1966 (the Piatigorsky Cup), with 11½/18, half a point ahead of Bobby Fischer. Spassky also won at Beverwijk 1967 with 11/15 ahead of Anatoly Lutikov, and shared 1st-5th places at Sochi 1967 on 10/15 with Krogius, Alexander Zaitsev, Leonid Shamkovich, and Vladimir Simagin.

As losing finalist in 1966, Spassky was seeded into the next Candidates' cycle. In 1968, he faced Geller again, this time at Sukhumi, and won by the same margin as in 1965 (5½/8, +3 =5 -0). He next met Bent Larsen at Malmö, and won with 5½/8. The final was against his Leningrad rival Viktor Korchnoi at Kiev, and Spassky triumphed with 6½/10.

This earned him another challenge against Petrosian, at Moscow 1969. Spassky's flexibility of style was the key to his eventual victory over Petrosian by two points in the 1969 World Championship. Spassky won with 12½/23.

During Spassky's three-year reign as World Champion, he won several more tournaments. He placed first at San Juan 1969 with 11½/15. He won a very strong tournament at Leiden 1970 with 7/12. Spassky shared 1st-2nd at Amsterdam 1970 with Lev Polugaevsky on 11½/15. He was third at Goteborg 1971 with 8/11, behind winners Vlastimil Hort and Ulf Andersson. He shared 1st-2nd with Hans Ree at the 1971 Canadian Open Chess Championship in Vancouver.

Spassky's reign as a world champion only lasted for three years, as he lost to Bobby Fischer of the United States in 1972 in the "Match of the Century". The contest took place in Reykjavík, Iceland, at the height of the Cold War, and consequently was seen as symbolic of the political confrontation between the two superpowers. Going into the match, Fischer had never won a game from Spassky in five attempts, while losing three times. In addition, Spassky had secured Geller as his coach, and Geller also had a plus score against Fischer. However, Fischer was in excellent form, and won the title match convincingly, with 12½/21. Although Spassky did lose the title match, he performed much better than had the three other Candidates (Mark Taimanov, Bent Larsen, and Tigran Petrosian) whom Fischer had defeated convincingly on his approach to the finals.

Continued to challenge

Spassky continued to play some excellent chess after losing his crown, winning several championships. In 1973, he tied 1st-3rd at Dortmund on 9½/15, along with Hans-Joachim Hecht and Ulf Andersson. A very important victory for him was the 1973 Soviet Chess Championship at Moscow (URS-ch41). He scored 11½/17 to finish ahead of a super-class field.

In the 1974 Candidates' matches, Spassky first defeated American Robert Byrne in Puerto Rico with 4½/6 (+3 =3 -0). But he then lost the semi-final match to the up-and-coming Anatoly Karpov in Leningrad, (+1 -4 =6). Karpov had publicly acknowledged that Spassky was superior, but had nevertheless outplayed him over the board. However, Spassky's chances were badly damaged by the defection of his coach Efim Geller to Karpov's side before the match. Spassky's play lacked its usual assuredness in this match; he had to be wondering whether Geller had betrayed his secrets to Karpov.

In 1976, Spassky had to return to the Interzonal stage, failed to qualify from the Manila Interzonal, but was seeded into the Candidates' matches when Fischer declined his place. Spassky won an exhibition match with rising Dutch Grandmaster Jan Timman at Amsterdam 1977 with 4/6. He triumphed narrowly in extra games in his first Candidates' match over Vlastimil Hort at Reykjavík 1977 with 8½/16. This match saw Spassky fall ill, exhaust all of his available rest days while recovering; then the healthy Hort, in one of the most sportsmanlike acts in chess history, used one of his own rest days, to allow Spassky more time to recover; Spassky eventually won the match.

Spassky won an exhibition match over Robert Hübner at Solingen 1977 with 3½/6, then defeated Lubomir Kavalek, also at Solingen, by 4/6 in another exhibition match. His next Candidates' match was against Lajos Portisch at Geneva 1977, and Spassky won again with 8½/15, to qualify for the Candidates' final. But at Belgrade 1977, Spassky lost to Viktor Korchnoi, +4 -7 =7.

Spassky, as losing finalist, was seeded into the 1980 Candidates' matches, and faced Lajos Portisch again in Mexico. After 14 games, the two players were tied at 7-7, but Portisch advanced since he had won more games with the Black pieces. Spassky missed qualification from the 1982 Toluca Interzonal with 8/13, finishing half a point short in third place behind Portisch and Eugenio Torre. The 1985 Candidates' event was held as a round-robin tournament at Montpellier, France, and Spassky was seeded in as an organizer's choice. He scored 8/15 to tie for 6th-7th places, behind joint winners Andrei Sokolov, Rafael Vaganian, and Artur Yusupov, but only four players advanced to matches. This was Spassky's last appearance at the Candidates' level, 29 years after his first qualification in 1956.

International team results

Spassky played five times for the USSR in Student Olympiads, winning eight medals. He scored 38½/47 (+31 =15 -1), for an outstanding 81.9 percent. His complete results, from http://www.olimpbase.org/playersy/59pz3v1e.html (1955, 1957, 1958, 1960), and from http://www.olimpbase.org/1962y/1962urs.html (1962), follow.

  • Lyon 1955, board 2, 7½/8 (+7 =1 -0), team gold, board gold;
  • Reykjavík 1957, board 2, 7/9 (+5 =4 -0), team gold, board gold;
  • Varna 1958, board 2, 6½/9 (+4 =5 -0), team gold;
  • Leningrad 1960, board 1, 10/12 (+9 =2 -1), team silver;
  • Marianske Lazne 1962, board 1, 7½/9 (+6 =3 -0), team gold, board gold.

Spassky played twice for the USSR in the European Team Championships, winning four gold medals. He scored 8½/12 (+5 =7 -0), for 70.8 percent. His complete results, from http://www.olimpbase.org, follow.

  • Vienna 1957, board 5, 3½/5 (+2 =3 -0), team gold, board gold;
  • Bath, Somerset 1973, board 1, 5/7 (+3 =4 -0), team gold, board gold.

Spassky played seven times for the Soviet Olympiad team. He won 13 medals, and scored (+45 =48 -1), for 73.4 percent. His complete results, from http://www.olimpbase.org, follow.

  • Varna 1962, board 3, 11/14 (+8 =6 -0), team gold, board gold medal;
  • Tel Aviv 1964, 2nd reserve, 10½/13 (+8 =5 -0), team gold, board bronze;
  • Havana 1966, board 2, 10/15, team gold.
  • Lugano 1968, board 2, 10/14, team gold, board bronze;
  • Siegen 1970, board 1, 9½/12, team gold, board gold;
  • Nice 1974, board 3, 11/15, board gold, team gold;
  • Buenos Aires 1978, board 1, 7/11 (+4 =6 -1), team silver.

Spassky played board one in the USSR vs. Rest of the World match at Belgrade 1970, scoring 1½/3 against Larsen.

Spassky then represented France in three Olympiads, always on board one. For Thessaloniki 1984, he scored 8/14 (+2 =12 -0). At Dubai 1986, he scored 9/14 (+4 =10 -0). Finally at Thessaloniki 1988, he scored 7½/13 (+3 =9 -1). He also played board one for France at the inaugural World Team Championships, Lucerne 1985, where he scored 5½/9 (+3 =5 -1).

Later career

Spassky's later years showed a reluctance to totally devote himself to chess. He relied on his natural talent for the game, and sometimes would rather play a game of tennis than work hard at the board. Since 1976, Spassky has been happily settled in France with his third wife; he became a French citizen in 1978, and has competed for France in the Chess Olympiads.

But Spassky did score some notable triumphs in his later years. He tied for first at the elite tournament Bugojno 1978 on 10/15, with World Champion Anatoly Karpov. He was clear first at Montilla-Moriles 1978 with 6½/9. At Munich 1979, he tied for 2nd-4th places with 8½/13 behind Yuri Balashov. He tied for 1st-2nd at Baden-Vienna 1980 on 10½/15 with Alexander Beliavsky. He won his preliminary group at Hamburg 1982 with a powerful 5½/6, but lost the final playoff match to Anatoly Karpov in extra games (Learn From Your Defeats, by Anatoly Karpov, Batsford 1985). His best result during this period was clear first at Linares 1983 with 6½/10, ahead of World Champion Karpov and Ulf Andersson, who shared second. At London Lloyds' Bank Open 1984, he tied 1st-3rd with John Nunn and Murray Chandler, on 7/9. He won at Reykjavík 1985. At Brussels 1985, he placed second with 10½/13 behind his old rival Korchnoi. At Reggio Emilia 1986, he tied for 2nd-5th places with 6/11 behind Zoltan Ribli. He swept Fernand Gobet 4-0 in a match at Fribourg 1987. He tied for 1st-3rd at Wellington 1988 with Chandler and Eduard Gufeld. Spassky maintained a top ten world ranking into the mid-1980s.

However, Spassky's performances in the World Cup events of 1988 and 1989 showed that he could by this stage finish no higher than the middle of the pack against elite fields. At Belfort WC 1988, he scored 8/15 for a joint 4th-7th place, as Garry Kasparov won. At Reykjavík WC 1988, he could manage just 7/17 for a joint 15th-16th place, with Kasparov again winning. Finally, at Barcelona WC 1989, Spassky scored 7½/16 for a tied 8th-12th place, as Kasparov shared first with Ljubomir Ljubojevic.

Spassky played in the 1990 French Championship at Angers, placing fourth with 10½/15, as Marc Santo Roman won. At Salamanca 1991, he placed 2nd with 7½/11 behind winner Evgeny Vladimirov. Then in the 1991 French Championship, he scored 9½/15 for a tied 4th-5th place, as Santo Roman won again.

In 1992, Bobby Fischer, after a 20-year hiatus from chess, re-emerged to arrange a "Revenge Match of the 20th century" against Spassky in Montenegro and Belgrade; this was a rematch of the 1972 World Championship. At the time, Spassky was rated 106th in the FIDE rankings, and Fischer did not appear on the list at all (owing to his 20-year inactivity). This match was essentially Spassky's last major challenge. Spassky lost the match with a score of +5 -10 =15. Spassky then played young female prodigy Judit Polgar in a 1993 match at Budapest, losing narrowly with 4½/10.

Spassky continued to play occasional events through much of the 1990s, such as the Veterans versus Women series.

On October 1, 2006, Spassky suffered a stroke during a chess lecture in San Francisco; his wife Marina reported several days later that Spassky was doing well. In his first major post-stroke play, he drew a six-game rapid match with Hungarian Grandmaster Lajos Portisch in April 2007.

Legacy

Spassky's best years were as a youthful prodigy in the mid 1950s, and then again as an adult in the mid to late 1960s. He seemed to lose ambition once he became World Champion. Perhaps since the climb had been so difficult, through so many super-strong Soviet players, he had little left at that stage. The first match with Fischer took a severe nervous toll; his preparation was largely bypassed by Fischer. He keenly felt the disappointment of his nation for losing the title.

Never a true openings maven, at least when compared to contemporaries such as Geller and Fischer, he excelled in the middlegame with highly imaginative yet usually sound and deeply planned play, which could erupt into tactical violence as needed.

Spassky succeeded with a wide variety of openings, including the King's Gambit, 1.e4 e5 2.f4, an aggressive and risky line rarely seen at the top level. Indeed, his record of 16 wins (including wins against Bobby Fischer, David Bronstein, and Anatoly Karpov), no losses, and a few draws with the King's Gambit is unmatched. His contributions to opening theory extend to reviving the Marshall Attack for Black in the Ruy Lopez (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0-0 8.c3 d5), developing the Leningrad Variation for White in the Nimzo-Indian Defence (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Bg5), the Spassky Variation on the Black side of the Nimzo-Indian, and the Closed Variation of the Sicilian Defence for White (1.e4 c5 2.Nc3). Another rare line in the King's Indian Attack bears his name: 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.g3 b5!?

Spassky is respected as a universal player, a great storyteller, a bon vivant on occasion, and someone who is rarely afraid to speak his mind on controversial chess issues, and who usually has something important to relate.

Trivia

The chess game between "Kronsteen" and "McAdams" in the early part of the James Bond movie From Russia With Love is based on a game played between Spassky and David Bronstein in 1960 in which Spassky ("Kronsteen") was victorious.

Notable chess games

Further reading

  • Spassky's Best Games by Bernard Cafferty, Batsford, 1969.
  • World chess champions by Edward G. Winter, editor. 1981 ISBN 0-08-024117-4
  • Twelve Great Chess Players and Their Best Games by Irving Chernev; Dover; August 1995. ISBN 0-486-28674-6
  • No Regrets: Fischer-Spassky by Yasser Seirawan; International Chess Enterprises; March 1997. ISBN 1-879479-08-7
  • Bobby Fischer Goes to War: How the Soviets Lost the Most Extraordinary Chess Match of All Time by David Edmonds and John Eidinow; Ecco, 2004.
  • Garry Kasparov (2004). My Great Predecessors, part III. Everyman Chess. ISBN 1-85744-371-3

External links

References

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