Person of day - 24 MARCH 2023
The future world champion began to play chess at the age of 6. He was taught by his father, Vasily Smyslov Sr, who was an experienced amateur with a first category rating- a rare accomplishment in those times. At the behest of his father, for a long time Vasily only played chess at home and did not participate in competitions. Later, in his adolescent years, he began to attend chess classes in Moscow Pioneers’ Palace.
In 1938, Smyslov split 1st-3rd places at the Soviet championship for 1st category players and came 1st-2nd at the Moscow championship. Soon after, Vasily Smyslov was recognised as one of the strongest chess players in the country. In 1940, he won bronze medal at the USSR championship and in a 1941 match-tournament for the title of national champion, he also came third. He was the champion of Moscow in 1942, came second in 1943-1944 to an invincible Botvinnik.
Smyslov played in 18 (!) Soviet championships. In 1949, he came first, in 1955 he split 1st-2nd places, but lost the additional match to Geller. He won nine Olympiads with the USSR team, in 1952, 1954, 1956, 1958, 1960, 1964, 1968, 1970 and 1972. He won the first team world championship in 1985 and five team European championships, in 1957, 1961, 1965, 1970 and 1973. He became a recognised master of sport of the USSR in 1948 and an international arbiter of chess compositions in 1957, in addition to being a chess theorist.
In the first large post-war tournament in Groningen in 1946, Smyslov came third and was included in the match-tournament for the world championship in 1948. There, he came second and remained among the best grandmasters of the world since then.
The 1950s saw the Vasily Smyslov’s immense talents thrive. Twice, in 1953 and 1956, he won the candidates’ tournament and played three matches against Botvinnik for the world championship. The first, in 1954, ended with a draw, the second in 1957 saw Smyslov win and become the seventh world champion, but in 1958 Mikhail Botvinnik got his revenge and retained the crown.
Vasily Smyslov retained his playing ability for many years, setting a record that is unlikely to be surpassed: the made it to the final candidates’ match at the age of 62! His opponent at that time was 20 year-old Garry Kasparov; their contest took place in Vilnius at the start of 1984.
Mikhail Botvinnik wrote:
“Smyslov’s main forte in chess is his perceptiveness. His talent is universal and exceptional. He could play a subtle debut, put up a solid defence, stage a vigorous attack or manoeuvre in cold-blooded fashion. With his endgame, no words are needed- that was his masterpiece. Sometimes he made decisions that were amazing in their depth.”
Vasily Smyslov wrote several outstanding books, which became chess classics: Rook Endings (with G. Levenfish as co-author), Endgame Virtuoso. He also made several historical remarks that entered chess legend forever: “I will make 40 decent moves, and if you of the same, the match will end as a draw”, “the most important thing is to preserve people” (after a thrashing of Moscow’s team by RSFSR’s) and others.
Smyslov was a professional vocalist; he even applied to the Bolshoi theatre twice in 1950. He often said that he “always lived between music and chess.” Smyslov made a valuable contribution to debut theories: in the Spanish game and Gruenfeld’s Defence, there are variants which are named after him. He was also interested in chess compositions and he published two textbooks about his best matches.
V. Smyslov was awarded the Order of Lenin in 1957, Order of Friendship of Peoples in 1981 and Order for Services to the Motherland IV Class in 1996- all for his role in developing chess in Russia.
“Smyslov represents what’s right in chess! He is a chess player who plays in the proper way, who has a very natural style…I would recommend that children who want to learn chess study Smyslov’s matches first and foremost. Because he played like you should; his style came closest to a certain virtual “truth” of chess. Smyslov was brilliant at the endgame, and his game flowed like a song. When you watch his matches, you get an easy feeling that your hand is making the move on its own, while the player is completely relaxed, drinking coffee or reading the newspaper. You feel a Mozart-esque lightness!” wrote 14th world champion Vladimir Kramnik.
Vasily Smyslov died on the night of 27th March 2010. He was buried at the Novodevichy Cemetery.