Boris Vasilievich Spassky was born January 30, 1937 in Leningrad Boris was the tenth World Chess Champion, holding the title from 1969 to 1972. Today he celebrates his 83rd birthday!
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).
The above information is what you would find on WIKI, but what it does not tell you is that Boris Spassky is the most famous chess player alive, the most respected and certainly the best ambassador that chess could ever want. Now long retired from active competition, Boris is a most welcome guest where ever he goes. The millions of friends and fans that he has made in his life all feel honoured to have him in their presence.
It is hard for me to pick which one of his games is my favourite–he has played so many brilliant and unforgettable games–but undoubtedly his victory over David Bronstein in the Soviet Championship in 1960 has a very special place. When Fischer saw this game he was blown away. Left speachless! In his very next interview he said that Spassky was one of the 10 best players in history!
Bronstein resigns in light of the coming Rxf8 check and Ng6 check, forcing mate, as the reader can easily verify for himself. A magnificent game. Truly a work of art.
So famous was this game in the 1960’s that it was included in the James Bond film ‘From Russia with Love’.
A number of years ago I wrote a blog entry (Spassky according to Spassky) , and for the occasion of Boris’ 81st birthday I reproduce it here. Enjoy!
”The place of chess in society is closely related to the attitude of young people towards our game. Nowadays young people have great choice of occupations, hobbies, etc, so chess is experiencing difficulties because of the high competition… so our profession does not attract young people.”
”I later told Botvinnik that the best example of the Soviet School of Chess was…Bobby Fischer… He was not amused…”
”… I gave a simultaneous chess display at the Officers’ House in Minsk. I was eleven at the time. In game I checkmated one officer. He asked to take back his move. After two moves I was checkmated. I began to cry bitterly and the game was stopped for 15 minutes… since that time I never allow taking back moves. It was a very sad experience.”
1958 Soviet Championship; the decisive game
”The game was adjourned, and I had a good position; but I was very tired from analyzing and went to resume next morning unshaven.
Before I played important games I usually tried to bathe, to put on a good shirt and suit, and to look comme il faut. But on this occasion I had analyzed incessantly and came to the board looking very disheveled and fatigued.Then I was a like a stubborn mule. I remembered that Tal offered me a draw, but I refused. Then I felt my strength ebb away, and I lost the thread of the game. My position deteriorated, I proposed a draw, but Tal refused.When I resigned there was a thunder of applause, but I was in a daze and hardly understood what was happening.I was certain the world went down; I felt that there was something terribly wrong. After this game I went on the street and cried like a child.I remembered that in 1951 when I lost to Smyslov in his clock simultaneous was the last time I cried, and I promised myself then never to cry again, but after losing to Tal I couldn’t keep my word.”
”When I am in form, my style is a little bit stubborn, almost brutal. Sometimes I feel a great spirit of fight which drives me on”
On Bronstein in the 1956 Candidates Tournament:
”It was a revelation to me how seriously and nervously the other candidates took their tournament work. I remember especially Bronstein one evening wanted to reassure himself about his prospects. He took three dice and threw them three times.
Each time three fives came up, and Bronstein decided this was a lucky omen. Next round he had to play against Smyslov and he lost, completely killed. I tried to understand this situation; I was very young and I saw that the other candidates were very nervous and excited.
I felt quite calm, and I understood that I was a very weak player in this company but had to fight-attack.”
After Spassky lost a highly publicized game to the American William Lombardy on first board in the 1960 Student Olympiad he was left off the 1961 team and was eventually suspended from foreign travel three times…a typical Sports Committee humiliation… ”My nervous energy was completely destroyed for three years.” Spassky said of this period.”
Spassky and his first gm trainer, Tolush (on the right)
”It was then that I met Tolush, and it seemed natural that we should work together. He continued as my trainer from 1952 to 1960. It became hard for me, because I didn’t find a good personal contact with Tolush. He was a rather brutal man and he liked very much to give advice to me…it was terrible!
Eight years is a very long time, you know. I had nobody to turn to at that time except my mother. I didn’t have contact with my brother and sister and was alone. That man…I still had respect for him, of course….Also I made the mistake of leaving Tolush at the time of my divorce, when I was in a very nervous state. I should have had a special meeting with him to explain what I was doing, but instead I refused to speak to him.”
Spassky then met GM Bondarevsky in 1961
”Bondarevsky did a lot not only for my chess knowledge and understanding of positions, but also for my character. I admired him less as a grandmaster than I did Tolush. Bondarevsky used to be a combination player, but then he decided to become like Capablanca and now his chess is rather dull. But when I first got to know him well, I was drawn to him, felt a great respect and saw that this man was a very interesting man.”
”When we played a Candidate’s match with Larsen in Malmo in 1968, the total prize fund was something like $250! I protested to the FIDE President Rogard then. But he reasonably replied that it was according to the wishes of the Soviet Chess Federation, to which he had to listen. The Soviet Chess Federation, of course, did not care about the players, for the communists chess was only an instrument.”
On fighting to become World Champion:
”I don’t believe that I ever considered the possibility. I used to play from tournament to tournament and from game to game. My outlook only changed much later, in 1964, when I was a main referee of the match Russian Republic vs Budapest. I decided to make a joke and told Bondarevsky ”I shall be world champion.” Then I saw that my joke was coming rather good, and that I had a strong position. That was the first time I thought seriously about the title.”
”In chess we must fight…”
”Ocasionally I looked at my games which I played at age of 30, 40, 45 and looked my present games when I was 60 or 62 and I said: ‘Ohhh, I’m crazy…to play such a bad chess after showing such beautiful quality.’So I think I stopped playing very late.”
”I believe that the Marshall is good enough for a draw, which was of course all I aimed for with Black. After this match (with Tal,1965) Bondarevsky and I thought we should erect a statue to Frank Marshall; a very sympathetic player!”
Spassky on Karpov:
”He [Karpov] was eating me like crocodile eating small animal.”
“My heroes were all tragic!”.
”When I play chess probablyI seem rather unruffled,but this is not really so. It is like a clown’s face which is put on specially for the occasion; when I appear particularly calm I am really feeling specially nervous.”
”Chigorin was probably the first ‘computer-like’ Grandmaster. He always gave lots of concrete variations and looked at positions without pre-justice.”
” I don’t want ever to be champion again.”
”In my country, at that time, being a champion of chess was like being a King. At that time I was a King – and when you are King you feel a lot of responsibility, but there is nobody there to help you. ”
On Spassky’s technique for encouraging players to resign in the simul: “… his rival is two pawns down in an endgame (king and six pawns v king and four) … Spassky would approach the board, look at it with a frown for 30 seconds as if it was the hardest position he’d ever seen, then look up at his opponent and say in that lovely, lilting Russian voice:‘But where is your army?’ Worked every time. I think he scored 15 wins and 5 draws in the simul.”
”The talent of coach is a special one. You can be an excellent chess player, but at the same time an absolutely untalented coach…I said recently to Garry: ‘Garry if you come back to chess, I’m ready to be your coach. Gratis [for free]'”
”Sometimes I play through games with computer. From time to time computer comes up with very interesting moves…But I think that modern players should learn how to control computer, as otherwise it would be bad for the game. ”
”When I played Bobby Fischer, my opponent fought against organizations – the television producers and the match organizers. But he never fought against me personally. I lost to Bobby before the match because he was already stronger than I. He won normally.”
On Spassky’s preparation against Petrosian:
”Together with Bondarevsky and Krogius, I came to the conclusion that the World Champion, for all his great positional mastery, was not a player of a strict, classical profile. His style, directed towards limiting the opponent’s possibilities, is unique and, particularly in match play, extraordinarily effective.
It is not accidental that Petrosian is a phenomenal match player. All the same, his unsurpassed skill at manoeuvring and tacking is sometimes dictated not only by the requirements of the position but rather by prophylactic tasks.
On the whole, our idea justified itself: in the Tarrasch Defence, for example, Petrosian was not able even once in five attempts to seize the isolated queen’s pawn.”
”Nowadays the dynamic element is more important in chess – players more often sacrifice material to obtain dynamic compensation. Of course, such players were in my generation too and they existed before (for example, Alekhine) but then fewer people played like that than now. When I spoke with Alexander Nikitin (former coach of Garry Kasparov ), he said that players of my generation had very good understanding of chess, but the game was slower then. Nowadays there is more dynamism in chess, modern players like to take the initiative. Usually they are poor defenders though.”
” I was always fond of the history of chess, and it was very interesting to learn more about the chess world, the first World Champion, the conditions which existed at that time. And what do we have now: if your phone rings you lose the game. I wish I had lived in the 19th century.”
“Now I’m preparing myself to die very peacefully.”
“Do you think the spot next to him is available?”
Boris on Korchnoi
I remember fondly one conversation I had a few years back with Boris Spassky. We were discussing Victor Korchnoi (‘Victor the Terrible’). Boris and Victor had been bitter adversaries for more than 40 years at the time of this conversation, and they had played more than 60 times in official competitions..(including 2 candidates finals)… only Karpov can boast to have played Victor more times.
Boris, at one point, came up with the incredible statement that Korchnoi had every quality necessary to become world champion BUT lacked ONE very essential quality…and it was precisely this quality that prevented him from attaining chess’ highest title. I coaxed Boris on…
He began to list Korchnoi’s many qualities:
...Killer Instinct (nobody can even compare with Victor’s ‘gift’) …Phenomenal capacity to work (both on the board and off the board) …Iron nerves (even with seconds left on the clock) …Ability to Calculate (maybe only Fischer was better in this department) …Tenacity and perseverance in Defense (unmatched by anyone) …The ability to counterattack (unrivaled in chess history) …Impeccable Technique (Flawless, even better than Capa’s) …Capacity to concentrate (unreal) …Impervious to distractions during the game …Brilliant understanding of strategy …Superb tactian (only a few in history an compare with Victor) …Possessing the most profound opening preparation of any GM of his generation …Subtle Psychologist …Super-human will to win (matched only by Fischer) …Deep knowledge of all of his adversaries …Enormous energy and self-discipline
Then Boris stopped, and just looked at me, begging for me to ask the question that needed to be asked….I asked: ‘But, Boris, what does Victor lack to become world champion?‘ Boris’ answer floored me:”He has no chess talent !”