World Champion Vasily Smyslov dies at 89

by ChessBase
3/27/2010 – He was "one of the great chess geniuses of the twentieth century" (Boris Spassky). Vasily Vasiliyevich Smyslov was born on March 24, 1921, auditioned as a baritone singer at the Bolshoi Theatre before he took up chess as a full-time career. In 1957 he beat Botvinnik in the world championship match and held the title for a year. Smyslov died in the night to Saturday March 27, 2010. In memoriam.

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Vasily Smyslov, 1921 – 2010

We regret to announce the passing of Vasily Smyslov, who died on 27th March 2010 in Moscow, just three days after his 89th birthday. This information was passed to us by Boris Spassky, who had just returned from Moscow. "Vasily was one of the great chess geniuses of the twentieth century," Spassky said. "For me there were four titans of chess in the Soviet Union after the Second World War: Botvinnik, Smyslov, Keres and Bronstein"

Smyslov, Bronstein, Keres and Botvinnik in 1954

Vasily Vasiliyevich Smyslov was born on March 24, 1921. He learnt chess at the age of six, and after studying books in his father's library, became really serious about the game at the age of 13, when two world champions, Capablanca and Lasker, visited his native city of Moscow. At the age of 16 he won the All-Union boys' championship, and at 17 he shared first in the Moscow City Championship. At 19 he came third in the unrestricted USSR Championship. There followed a string of successes that caught the eye of world champion Alexander Alekhine, and he became internationally known when he beat Samuel Reshevsky twice in the famous USSR vs USA radio match in 1945.

In the world championship tournament staged in 1948 to determine Aljechin's successor Smyslov came second after Botvinnik, who got the title, and ahead of Keres, Reshevsky and Euwe. In the Zurich Candidates Tournament of 1953 Smyslov scored +9 =10 –1, two points more than the nearest rival. He drew the world championship match against Botvinnik in 1954, and Botvinnik retained the title. Smyslov won the next Candidates, 1956 in Amsterdam, again with a clear margin, and in 1957 he beat Botvinnik in the world championship match by +6 =13 –3, but lost it a year later to the same player +5 =11 –7.

The former world champion, in Monaco 1994

After his one-year reign as world champion Smyslov played in the 1959, 1964 and 1982 Candidates tournaments. But he never again became a challenger. One should note that at his Candidates event in 1982 was 61, the oldest player ever to participate in such an event. Incidentally he drew his quarter-final match against Robert Hübner 7:7 and won the tiebreak, which was a spin of the roulette wheel in the Casino where they were playing. He went through to the final, the match that determined who would challenge Anatoly Karpov, but lost 8.5:4.5 to Garry Kasparov.

Vasily Smyslov with his former rival Garry Kasparov in 2004

Smyslov was always known for his positional style and his extraordinary endgame abilities. He was also a great combinational player, and in his games we find many spectacular tactical shots. In the opening he made important contributions to the English, Grünfeld, Ruy Lopez and Sicilian.

The Smyslovs

Smyslov with his wife at the 2004 Russian Superfinals

In his early years Smyslov studied at the Moscow Institute of Aviation. He also became an accomplished baritone singer. In fact he only decided to take up chess full-time when he failed an audition for the Bolshoi Theatre in 1950. He gave many recitals during his chess career, often accompanied by fellow world championship candidate and pianist Mark Taimanov.

The baritone singer Vasily Smyslov. At the age of 75 he produced his first CD of Russian romances. And in Mai 2001, exactly 50 years after his audition in the Bolschoi Theater, he sang there – in celebration of Anatoli Karpov's 50th birthday.

Smyslov played no competitive games after 2001, his failing eyesight being one of the prime reasons. He ended his chess career at the age of 80 and with an Elo rating of 2500.

A friendly game with his cat Belka at his dacha

Photos by Dagobert Kohlmeyer

World Champions 1886–to present

 1: Wilhelm Steinitz, 1886–1894, Austria/USA
 2: Emanuel Lasker, 1894–1921, Germany
 3: José Raúl Capablanca, 1921–1927, Cuba
 4: Alexander Alekhine, 1927–1935, Russia/France
 5: Max Euwe, 1935-1937, Netherlands
 4: Alexander Alekhine, 1937–1946, France
 6: Mikhail Botvinnik, 1948–1957, Soviet Union (Russia)
 7: Vasily Smyslov, 1957–1958, Soviet Union (Russia)
 6: Mikhail Botvinnik, 1958–1960, Soviet Union (Russia)
 8 : Mikhail Tal, 1960–1961, Soviet Union (Latvia)
 6: Mikhail Botvinnik, 1961–1963, Soviet Union (Russia)
 9 : Tigran Petrosian, 1963–1969, Soviet Union (Armenia)

10: Boris Spassky, 1969–1972, Soviet Union (Russia)
11: Robert J Fischer, 1972–1975, United States
12: Anatoly Karpov, 1975–1985, Soviet Union (Russia)
13: Garry Kasparov, 1985–2000, Soviet Union (Russia)
14: Vladimir Kramnik, 2000–2007, Russia (PCA/Braingames)
15: Viswanathan Anand, 2007 – present, India.

Anatoly Karpov, 1993–1999, Russia
Alexander Khalifman, 1999–2000, Russia
Viswanathan Anand, 2000–2002, India
Ruslan Ponomariov, 2002–2004, Ukraine
Rustam Kasimdzhanov, 2004–2005, Uzbekistan
Veselin Topalov, 2005–2006, Bulgaria

Stations of a World Chess Champion

A selection from the photographs provided by Edward Winter in Chess Notes

Source: Chess in Russia by P. Romanovsky, London, 1946

Source: Die Schacholympiade in Helsinki 1952 by H. Müller, Vienna, 1953

Source: Schach-Elite im Kampf, Zurich, 1954

Source: Chess Review, front cover, April 1958

Source: Kandidatenturnier für Schachweltmeisterschaft by S. Gligoric and V. Ragozin, Belgrade, 1960

Source: XIV. Schach-Olympiade Leipzig, 1960

Source: Chess Review, November 1967

Source: Programme, Russia v Rest of the World tournament, 2002

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