Wednesday, 14 January 2009


Vasily Vasiliyevich Smyslov born March 24 1921 in Moscow.
In 1938 when Smyslov was 17 he won the USSR Junior Championship. That year he also tied for 1st-2nd places in the Moscow City Championship, with 12.5/17.
He was twice equal first in Soviet Championships 1949 and 1955. His results showed a consistent pattern of high finishes against strong company, but with virtually no tournament championships.

Smyslov had never actually won an adult tournament other than the Moscow City Championship, before he played in the 1948 World Championship Tournament.
He was a Candidate for the World Chess Championship on eight occasions (1948, 1950, 1953, 1956, 1959, 1965, 1983, and 1985).
With his second-place finish from the 1948 World Championship, Smyslov was exempt into the 1950 Budapest Candidates' tournament. Smyslov scored 10/18 for 3rd place, behind Bronstein and Boleslavsky, who tied for first place. Smyslov's 3rd place exempted him into the next Candidates' tournament.
He was awarded the International Grandmaster title in 1950 by FIDE on its inaugural list.
After winning the Candidates Tournament in Zurich 1953, with 18/28, two points ahead of Keres, Bronstein, and Samuel Reshevsky, Smyslov played a match with Botvinnik for the title the following year.
Played in Moscow, the match ended in a draw, after 24 games (seven wins each and ten draws), meaning that Botvinnik the current champion retained the title.

Smyslov had again won the Candidates' Tournament at Amsterdam in 1956, which led to another world championship match against Botvinnik in 1957. Assisted by trainers Vladimir Makogonov and Vladimir Simagin, Smyslov won by the score 12.5-9.5. In 1958 Botvinnik exercised his right to a rematch, and won the title back with a final score of 12.5-10.5.
Smyslov later said his health suffered during the return match, as he came down with pneumonia, but he also acknowledged that Botvinnik had prepared very thoroughly.
Over the course of the three World Championship matches, Smyslov had won 18 games to Botvinnik's 17 (with 34 draws), and yet he was only champion for a year.

Smyslov represented the Soviet Union a total of nine times at chess Olympiads, from 1952 to 1972 ( except 1962 and 1966). He contributed greatly to the Soviets team gold medal wins on each occasion he played, winning a total of eight individual medals. His total of 17 Olympiad medals won, including team and individual medals, is an all-time Olympiad record.
At Helsinki 1952, he played second board, and won the individual gold medal with 10.5/13. At Amsterdam 1954, he was again on second board, scored 9/12, and took the individual bronze medal. At Moscow 1956, he scored 8.5/13 on second board, but failed to win a medal. At Munich 1958, he scored 9.5/13 on second board, good for the silver individual medal. At Leipzig 1960, he was dropped to first reserve, and made a great score of 11.5/13, which won the gold medal.
After missing out on selection in 1962, he returned for Tel Aviv 1964, on third board, and won the gold medal with 11/13. He missed selection in 1966, but returned with a vengeance for Lugano 1968, and made a phenomenal 11/12 for another gold medal as second reserve. At Siegen 1970, he was first reserve, and scored 8/11 for the bronze medal. His final Olympiad was Skopje 1972, where at age 51 he played third board and scored 11/14, good for the silver medal.
His overall Olympiad score is an imposing 90 points in 113 games (+69 =42 −2), for 79.6 per cent. This performance is the fifth all-time best for players participating to at least four olympiads.
Smyslov also represented the USSR in five European Team Championships, and emerged with a perfect medals' record: he won five team gold medals and five board gold medals. His total score in these events was (+19 =15 -1), for 75.7 per cent.Here is his European teams' record.
• Vienna 1957: board 1, 3.5/6 (+2 =3 -1), board and team gold medals;
• Oberhausen 1961: board 5, 9/9 (+7 =2 -0), board and team gold medals;
• Hamburg 1965: board 4, 6/9 (+3 =6 -0), board and team gold medals;
• Kapfenberg 1970: board 5, 5/6 (+4 =2 -0), board and team gold medals;
• Bath, Somerset 1973: board 6, 4/5 (+3 =2 -0), board and team gold medals.

Smyslov played in and won many tournaments over a long career, but this could have all been different he is a fine baritone singer. He only decided upon a chess career after a failed audition with the Bolshoi Theatre in 1950. He once said, "I have always lived between chess and music."
On the occasion of a game against Botvinnik, he sang to an audience of thousands. He occasionally gave recitals during chess tournaments, often accompanied by fellow Grandmaster and concert pianist Mark Taimanov.
Smyslov wrote some fine chess books his most noted being Rook Endings which he co-wrote with Grigory Levenfish in 1971.
I was very lucky to meet Smyslov in 1996 at the Fox trot tournament in London. He seemed embarrassed by all the attention he was getting,even though in the same tournament was boris spassky.
I give 4 of his games.
This game Smyslov sacrifices his queen to win a brilliant game.

Here he gives the great Karpov a lesson in attacking chess.

In this game Smyslov get a excellent knight posted on d5 thatgives a lot of trouble.

In this game polgar makes a mistake and once smyslov plays qxd8 the e7 bishop is up for grabs or smyslov wins the exchange.


chesstiger said...

"After winning the Candidates Tournament in Zurich 1953, with 18/28,... "

Wow, 28 games had to be played? Was it a round robin with 15 players then?

In 1985 he had to play against Kasparov in the semifinals of the candidates cycle. So he played very well, even at an old age.

Korch said...


Yes Candidates Tournament in Zurich 1953 was round robin with 15 players. I would recommend Bronstein`s "Candidates Tournament in Zurich 1953" which is one of the best chess books ever written.

In 1985 Smyslov played in Pretendents tournament in Montpellier which was round robin with 16 players. Only top 4 went to candidates matches. Smyslov took 8th place with 7,5/15 - quite decent result for his solid age.

CHESSX said...

To be a top player over that number of years is fantastic.
I dont know if this longeverty will be repeated with todays players ?
If it is not repeated does that mean that their are perhaps more better players around now ?

chesstiger said...

Not more better players running around now otherwise Korchnoi wouldn't win tournaments at his old age.

But chess has changed, computers have broken open the door to our wahalla kingdom of the chessboard.

Rolling Pawns said...

lontemosI considered Smyslov a master of endgame, didn't know he played middlegame so well. I liked that queen sacrifice and his play with isolated pawn against Karpov is educational.
I have a deep respect for these old guys still playing. His getting at 62 to the Candidates final is phenomenal.

LinuxGuy said...

I've actually been thumbing through his Selected Games book lately. He has a lot of these middle-game combinations in his book, too.

I had the Dover book on him before, and those games seemed a bit more geared to opening theory. This book is more like showing how he laid 'em down flat, with less analysis, or at least briefer comments/analysis.

LinuxGuy said...

Smyslov always stressed the harmony of the pieces, and intuition. He was very open to weird experimentation in his games, though. Like in Zurich '53 and especially with Botvinnik when he lost the return match.

In Zurich, I got the impression he was the more solid player debunking others weirdness, though.

Bronstein was weird in a more cat and mouse sense than Smyslov. I have this impression that the players of that era, like '53, knew that Smyslov was the best. In Zurich, he benefited from other players' meltdown. I think he beat Keres to put him ahead for good.

CHESSX said...

When Kasparov was challenging Karpov the russian chess managers said "we have one world champion we don't need another"

I think Smyslov may have been held back by the same thinking, always to be second fiddle to Botvinnik.

Although he became world champion it was only for a year.He was at that time equal to Botvinnik.
But we will never know.

But Smyslov was a master of the middlegame.

LinuxGuy said...

If anyone is interested in his 125 Selected Games book, I believe it has nearly all the games from the Dover book, plus another 60+ games added.

Most do appear in his positional style and he gives a good blend of descriptive comments alternating with analysis with analysis of key points during the game.

At one time I had a chess-book collecting addiction, 10-15 years ago, and I had matchbooks for all of the modern world championships (except for Petrosian-Spassky, but even there I had the decisive games from some other books).

Botvinnik would rematch his opponents a year later, like Tal and Smyslov. In both cases, these players were suffering physically from maladies during their rematch - I believe it was Tal that was in need of dialysis.

Either way, I didn't get the impression that their level of play was the same during the rematch. Combine that with the fact that (I believe) Botvinnik much later mentioned that his strength (as a Hall of Famer) was in preparing for these rematches/matches - not in those words, obviously - but I thought he was trying to downplay himself here. Wish I had the quote, sorry, perhaps it was from a NIC or CL article. I'm trying to remember something from years ago, perhaps it was in a CL article from after his passing.

Botvinnik was great, and his games are a joy to study, but when I think of these other players, I mostly think of them in terms of who amongst them was better/different/etc., not really in terms of how they stacked up against Botvinnik. Obviously Botvinnik was one of the all-time best, but it seems he also had some sort of political influence over setting up the rematches - how is one of the mysteries of Chess, unless someone knows more about it than I.

LinuxGuy said...

If I had to rate them in strength, I would go Botvinnik, then Smyslov, then, Bronstein.

Tal sorta belongs to a later generation, but Tal seemed to me highly susceptible, for someone of World Championship strength, in endgames (even though, I think he got a lot of endgame draws with Botvinnik, to his credit). In the middle-game, it did seem like he was all that, and a bag of chips - awesome.

LinuxGuy said...

Perhaps Botvinnik had no political influence, but he did have a year to prepare for the rematches, whereas I don't know if the new champion was burnt out, had to keep playing in tournaments, or whatnot.

CHESSX said...

Some say Botvinnik was able to help Paul Keres after the war, when the Russians looked at his war time(german) tournament record.

I think you may be correct perhaps winning the title was Smyslovs peak.

I have that dover book and it is full of wonderful games.

I met Smyslov at a tournament in London in the 1990's i got him to autograph that dover book. He seemed shy and taken back at being asked.

I wonder will some of todays younger players still be able to perform at the highest level after 30 or 40 years of play?