Understanding before Moving 164: Chess history in a nutshell (45)

by ChessBase
2/11/2024 – Herman Grooten is an International Master, a renowned trainer and the author of several highly acclaimed books on chess training and strategy. In the 164th episode of his ChessBase show "Understanding before moving" Herman continues his series "Chess history in a nutshell" and continues to take a look at the legacy of Vassily Smyslov, the seventh World Champion in the history of chess. | Photo: Pascal Simon

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Vassily Smyslov (3)

In the last two shows we talked about Vassily Smyslov, the seventh World Champion. Much has been said about his life and style, and I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to play him in a two-games knockout-match. That was in 1992 at the Interpolis chess tournament in Tilburg, the Netherlands.

The tournament had been running for about 15 years, and before that it was always a round robin with twelve players, the most important representatives of the world's top players at that time. The tournament was always held in the building of the insurance company itself.

For this occasion, it was thought that it would be fun to change the format to a knockout tournament. In addition to the various top players who were invited, all Dutch players with an Elo-rating of more than 2400 were also asked to participate. This invitation was gratefully accepted by almost all players. And so it was that I was paired against former world champion Smyslov!

He was already 71 years old, but I could see at first hand that he could still play chess at a high level. In the first game, in which I had Black, I got out of the opening satisfactorily. In a Benoni structure I had no problems and was already beginning to feel a little optimistic. At one point I thought it would be to my advantage to play a long game, to "sit it out" and then try to outplay him in the endgame.

Not only was that an overly optimistic thought, it was also an overly simplistic thought. What was I thinking? Hadn't he written many books on the endgame, some of which were on my bookshelves? The veteran held his own in the endgame! It became a total disillusionment for me, because it was not he who was "outplayed", but I who was the victim of his drive in the far endgame.

After 63 moves and almost 6 hours of play I finally had to topple my king. The next day I tried to get something with White, but in the end I wound up in a hopeless rook endgame. But -perhaps due to fatigue, or perhaps due to nonchalance because he was almost through to the next round - Smyslov made a mistake and I was able to salvage half a point.

Afterwards, I had a short chat with him, which was very pleasant. When I asked him to look at the games again, he shook his head in a friendly manner. He was old, a tournament at his age was gruelling and the games had gone on long enough. But he complimented me on my defence in the rook endgame. He thanked me for the games, put on his coat and left. Out of respect for this great player, after the tournament I wrote an article (in Dutch) about him: https://www.schaaksite.nl/2010/04/01/smyslov-innemende-persoonlijkheid/.

Smyslov was also known as a composer of endgame studies. The position shown in the diagram has arisen after a number of moves have already been played. White has only two light pieces for the queen, but the black king is in a difficult position. How can White take advantage of this?

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