Boris Spassky, fearing death, 'flees' to Russia

8/18/2012 – Since Thursday we had been searching for the 75-year-old former World Champion who, his wife told us, had disappeared from their house in Meudon near Paris. Now he has turned up in Moscow, with a harrowing story, which he revealed to the Russian newspapers Komsomolskaya Pravda. After a stroke in 2010 he was rehabilitating in France, where he apparently felt trapped. Interview.

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I have known Boris Spassky for decades, and have always been in touch with him – by letter, then email and, since a few years ago, with Skype video calls. Conversations were always convivial, and I have always treasured his wry, self-deprecatory humour. Our last video Skype contact was early this year, when Boris was in good spirits and planning a visit to Hamburg, to record the story of his life. I have also known his wife Marina Shcherbacheva since Bilbao 2008.

On Thursday I received an email from Boris, who was shocked by the news of his friend Svetozar Gligoric's death. We added it to our report. Then, later that night, an alarmed call from Marina, who told me that her husband had left their house and was apparently on his way to Moscow. We spent all day pinging common friends in France and Russia, but without success. Today we found the answer in a big Russian newspaper.

Frederic Friedel


On September 23, 2010 the tenth World Champion Boris Spassky was brought to a Moscow clinic, having suffered a stroke. A few weeks later the grandmaster, who has dual citizenship, was sent to France, where he has lived since 1976. There he was effectively put under house arrest by his wife Marina Shcherbacheva – the great chess player was cut off from the rest of the world. But yesterday he was able to flee to Moscow...

We dialed the number of Spassky, without much hope – after all he had been through he was, we thought, unlikely to talk. But we were greeted by a familiar voice...

Boris Vasilievich, we have had no news of you for some two years. Can you tell us what happened?

I do not really know to this day. After my stroke, I was put into a Paris clinic, where I was treated appallingly. I do not want to accuse anyone specifically, but someone thought it would be interesting not to treat my physical problems, but instead to stuff me full of tranquillisers. When finally I was transferred home, I found the phone was cut off, and there was no Internet access. I was isolated. I begged to be sent to Moscow, but nobody would listen. To this day, I do not know who all this was done for.

Maybe you have some suggestions?

I do not want to get involved with this question. I am not a rich man, but maybe someone had a financial interest in seeing me dead as soon as possible. I will not accuse anyone. Let God be their judge.

Didn't you call the police? Bang your fist on the table?

What you are talking about was impossible. I could not even walk. Even now, I can only get about with the help of special apparatus. Because of the drugs they pumped me with, I was covered in ulcers. I was slowly dying.

How were you saved?

Despite it all, I have some true friends. They arranged my escape.

How?

First, I needed documents, because in some mysterious fashion, I had ended up with no papers, not French ones, nor Russian ones. One can only assume they were taken from me. By whom? I have no answer. Anyhow, the friends managed to get me out of the house, stick me in a car and take me to the Russian Embassy.

And there they helped you?

Yes, they gave me a single-use passport, to travel to Moscow. I am thankful that they did not delay this. Yesterday morning, I arrived in Russia and I am already in a hospital.

How do you feel?

A bit better. I hope to be back on my feet in the next few months and to return to my normal chess life.

What were you doing for these past two years, when you are in a virtual prison?

I wrote my autobiography, "My Chess Path". Understanding that I was not to be allowed to glimpse the future, I instead returned to the past.

Are you back in Russia for good?

I hope so.


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