Vassily Smyslov, genius of the endgame

4/12/2007 – The seventh world champion was universally talented, but in the endgame he often took decisions of staggering depth. In his Thursday night lecture our Playchess trainer Dennis Monokroussos shows us how Smyslov transformed an endgame position that looked slightly worse into one that was dynamic, dangerous for his opponent and then won – all in just 32 moves. Be there and learn.

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Dennis Monokroussos writes:

In the 1982 Interzonal in Las Palmas, 14 players vied for the two available spots into the next year’s Candidates matches. Among the participants were American GM Walter Browne, then near the peak of his powers, and Vassily Smyslov, 61 years old and 24 years an ex-world champion. Needless to say, Smyslov qualified, Browne didn’t, and Smyslov won their individual game as well.

How did he do it? A big part of the story lies in his fantastic endgame ability, which he cultivates even to this day as an outstanding composer of studies. His great rival, Mikhail Botvinnik, once said that while Smyslov’s talent was universal, in the endgame “he was in his element. Sometimes he took decisions that were staggering their depth.” Mikhail Tal called him “a virtuoso of the endgame…a modern Capablanca. We have all learned from his brilliant technique of playing endings.” And Smyslov wrote of himself that his father “instilled in me a love for so-called ‘simple’ positions, with the participation of only a few pieces. I was able to gain a deep feeling for what each piece is capable of, to sense their peculiarities, their strength and impotence in various different situations on the board, the limits of their capabilities, what they ‘like’ and what they ‘don’t like’ and how they behave… Such a ‘mutual understanding’ with the pieces enables a player to see that which often remains concealed to purely logical analysis. It is then that the innate ability of a player, which I call a sense of harmony, manifests itself.” (All the quotes are from Kasparov’s chapter on Smyslov in My Great Predecessors II.)

Fine words, but the point is for us to learn from his chess, not to master the art of eulogizing the living. So we’ll take a close look at his win over Browne, to see how he rapidly transformed an endgame position that looked slightly worse and fairly uninteresting into one that was dynamic, dangerous for his opponent and then won – all in just 32 moves. There are useful pointers we can take from his win and apply to our own games, and in passing we’ll learn a little about the Bogo-Indian as well.

The fun begins Thursday night at 9 pm ET – see you then!

Dennis Monokroussos' Radio ChessBase lectures begin on Thursdays at 9 p.m. EDT, which translates to 01:00h GMT, 02:00 Paris/Berlin, 12:00h Sydney (on Friday). Other time zones can be found at the bottom of this page. You can use Fritz or any Fritz-compatible program (Shredder, Junior, Tiger, Hiarcs) to follow the lectures, or download a free trial client.

You can find the exact times for different locations in the world at World Time and Date. Exact times for most larger cities are here. And you can watch older lectures by Dennis Monokroussos offline in the Chess Media System room of Playchess:

Enter the above archive room and click on "Games" to see the lectures. The lectures, which can go for an hour or more, will cost you between one and two ducats. That is the equivalent of 10-20 Euro cents (14-28 US cents).


Dennis Monokroussos is 40, lives in South Bend, IN, and is an adjunct professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame.

He is fairly inactive as a player right now, spending most of his non-philosophy time being a husband and teaching chess. At one time he was one of the strongest juniors in the U.S., but quit for about eight years starting in his early 20s. His highest rating was 2434 USCF, but he has now fallen to the low-mid 2300s – "too much blitz, too little tournament chess", he says.

Dennis has been working as a chess teacher for seven years now, giving lessons to adults and kids both in person and on the internet, worked for a number of years for New York’s Chess In The Schools program, where he was one of the coaches of the 1997-8 US K-8 championship team from the Bronx, and was very active in working with many of CITS’s most talented juniors.

When Dennis Monokroussos presents a game, there are usually two main areas of focus: the opening-to-middlegame transition and the key moments of the middlegame (or endgame, when applicable). With respect to the latter, he attempts to present some serious analysis culled from his best sources (both text and database), which he has checked with his own efforts and then double-checked with his chess software.


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