Person of day - 30 JANUARY 2021
Spassky was born and raised in Leningrad, but he learned to play chess in the Urals, where his family was evacuated during the War. The future world champion started to play at the age of 5, became an international master at 16 and, two years later, he became the world junior champion. He became the first Soviet player who won the title of chess prince.
In that same year, making his debut at the national championship, 18-year-old Boris Spassky from Leningrad split third place in elevated company, with world champion Mikhail Botvinnik and Tigran Petrosian. This success won him an invite to the inter-zonal tournament. Having overcome this challenge, Spassky played in the candidates’ tournament in Amsterdam and entered the chess elite.
Spassky was 19. Before him, no one had played in the candidates’ tournament at that age. Subsequently, Robert Fischer broke that record. The player from Leningrad performed well at the difficult competition, splitting 4th-7th places with David Bronstein, Tigran Petrosian, Efim Geller and László Szabó, which was considered to be a fantastic achievement by the experts and a sign that the young chess player could soon win the right to play the world champion.
However, a new star appeared on the chess scene at this time- Mikhail Tal from Riga. A contemporary of Spassky, Tal was a little late with his first successes, which came later. But Tal’s astonishing surge to the chess Olympus in the second half of the 1950s took Spassky and all other candidates aback. It was Tal who knocked Spassky out of the next contenders’ cycle, defeating him in a dramatic match in the final round. Something similar happened to Spassky three years later, at another qualifying championship of the USSR. In the decisive match, he lost to the new star of Soviet chess, Leonid Stein and cleared the way for him to the inter-zonal tournament.
Spassky was helped by his remarkable trainer, Igor Bondarevsky. He assumed mentorship over the chess player and helped him to overcome a protracted crisis. Spassky advanced through the qualifying rounds (defeating Keres, Geller and Tal) and in 1996 he played his first match for the world championship against Petrosian. However, the ninth world champion defended his title and won the match by a score of 12,5:11,5.
Spassky was 29 at the time and he treated his defeated philosophically. He performed the next candidates’ cycle with as much confidence as the first. Spassky won matches against Geller, Larsen and Korchnoi and in 1969 he won the right to a second match against Petrosian. The match turned out to be difficult, but the candidates’ attack was stronger that the champion’s defence- the match finished with a score of 12,5:10,5 to the new, 10th champion.
Spassky was the world champion for three years: in 1972, he lost the title to Robert Fischer in Reykjavik. However, he became the champion of the Soviet Union next year, winning the most difficult championship in history (1973). Afterwards, he once again entered the fight for the world championship, but his path to another match for the world crown was not to be. Anatoly Karpov won his semi-final against him in the 1974 candidates’ tournament.
In 1976, Boris Spassky left the USSR- he married Marian Scherbakova, an employee of the French Embassy and the government was forced to permit him to move to France. Boris Vasilyevich retained Soviet citizenship and even performed for the USSR team at the Olympiad. Spassky continued to participate in the fight for the world championship, playing in candidates’ tournaments, but his best years were behind him and his success curve was dropping unremittingly.
In the 1990s, he largely stopped participating in large tournaments and reminded others of himself in his match against Robert Fischer in Belgrade in 1992, which was dedicated to the 20th anniversary of their match in Reykjavik. The American who long ago departed from chess won this nostalgic match 10:5. The match in Belgrade was the ex-world champion’s farewell to profession chess as it reminded him of the time when both he and Fischer shone on the chess stage.
The 10th world champion left a strong mark on the history of chess. Anatoly Karpov wrote his about him: “Spassky was a genuine and unique all-rounder. He defended and attacked equally well and he accumulated positioning superiority. It was he who began the infatuation with universality, which continues to this day.” The ex-world champion’s matches remain alive too, with many of them making up the treasures of chess.
In August 2012, Spassky returned to Russia from France, not without incident. The grandmaster’s wife and son claimed that he was kidnapped: Boris Spassky Jr even went to court. But Boris Vasilyevich himself claimed that he returned to Moscow voluntarily because he felt domestic isolation in Paris after all his contacts with the chess world ceased. Soon after his return, in January 2013, Spassky led another session in a school that carries his name in Satka, in the Chelyabinsk region. In November 2014, Boris Vasilyevich was a honorary guest of the match for the world championship between Carlsen and Anand in Sochi.