International Chess Federation
Wednesday, 24 Mar 2021 07:28
In memory of Vasily Smyslov

Photo: Koen Suyk / Anefo

2021 is a year of remarkable anniversaries. Vasily Smyslov was born on 24 March 1921, precisely 100 years ago.

The winner of the famous Zurich 1953 Candidates Tournament, Smyslov played his first match against Mikhail Botvinnik in 1954. It ended in a draw, with seven wins from each side, so the champion retained the title. In the next cycle, Smyslov won the Candidates Tournament (Amsterdam 1956) again, this time to beat the patriarch 12½–9½ in 1957 and become the 7th World Champion.

Photo: Boris Dolmatovsky

Botvinnik took the title back in a rematch next year, but a short reign did not extinguish Smyslov’s passion for the game. Just like Korchnoi, Smyslov boasted exceptional longevity in competitive chess. To mark the date, the Chess Federation of Russia published an article in which GM Dmitry Kriakvin reflects on longevity and centenarians’ topic. We publish an excerpt dedicated to Smyslov.

He was a member of the world chess elite until the 80s and accomplished the impossible – a record that will never be broken. In 1984, at almost 63 years old, Smyslov reached the Candidates Matches’ final to be stopped only by Garry Kasparov, who was soaring to the top.

Right before that, Vasily Vasilievich finished second in the Interzonal (Las Palmas 1982), ahead of  Jan Timman, Tigran Petrosian, Bent Larsen, Vladimir Tukmakov, Lev Psakhis, and other grandees. In a dramatic quarterfinal against Robert Huebner, he made it to the next round only by drawing lots. When all tiebreak games ended in draws, the qualification spot was decided in a casino. The German grandmaster did not have the nerve to attend the procedure. Smyslov, however, calmly took his place at the playing table and did not even blink when the ball halted on zero at the first attempt. The second spin favored the former world champion.

Photo credits: D. Fligelis via

In the semifinals, Vasily Smyslov defeated Hungarian Zoltán Ribli, and although his dream to face Anatoly Karpov did not come truehe remained the most dangerous opponent for players of any level for a long time. For example, in a 1988 USSR Championship with a phenomenal lineup, Vasily Vasilievich finished in the middle of the final standings – he beat Viacheslav Eingorn, Vassily Ivanchuk, and Jaan Ehlvest. In Tilburg (1992), held in experimental at that time knockout format, he went through three rounds, eliminating much younger Boris Gulko and Grigory Serper. In the round of 16, Smyslov scored first against Evgeny Sveshnikov, but his opponent managed to bounce back and then snatched the victory in the match.

Your author saw Vasily Smyslov for the first time at the Igor Bondarevsky Memorial in Rostov-on-Don in 1993. The battle for the first place in the main event unfolded between Sergey Tiviakov, Lev Psakhis and Vladimir Epishin, with the latter two finishing half a point behind in the end. Smyslov performed not too well but saved a fantastic endgame against Psakhis, which I did not manage to spectate till the end – it went dark, the hall got empty, and my parents took the young chess fan home. Nowadays, both computer and Lev Psakhis confirm that the veteran defended just amazingly.

Photo: Alexander Yakovlev/TASS

Vasily Smyslov was active for a very long time. His favourite competition was, without doubt, a then-popular match “Ladies against seniors”. He visited distant and hot India, competed in the Highest League of the Russian Championship and knockout world championships, was a sparring partner for young stars, and scored solid 2 out of 6 in the 1997 match-tournament facing Emil Sutovsky, Judit Polgár, and Loek van Wely. In his last match with the ladies (2001), at 80 years old, he netted 5 out of 10. Later he could not compete anymore because of the eyesight problems – doctors prohibited him from playing. The legendary chess player passed away on  March 27, 2010, a few days after his 89th birthday.