The life of the world chess champions was rich and varied. The richly illustrated book tells the biographies of sixteen of the most prominent chess players and describes the games they played to reach the top. Party schemes, most important moves, infographics are presented.
There is no doubt that top-level players bring out their brightest and sometimes darkest traits when competing. Both sitting at the board and away from it, the chess players did not shy away from getting involved in political machinations, but they were also amazing in their creativity and camaraderie. In the history of chess, there are many players who have left a memorable mark.
Could Bobby Fischer defeat Boris Spassky in the Cold War ‘Match of the Century’? What role did coded yogurts, gurus and hypnotists play in the match between Anatoly Karpov and Viktor Korchnoi? Why was the scandalous “Moscow Winter” by Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov discontinued? Who is the best female chess player of all time? How did the duel between man and machine unfold in the chess arena?
If you want to know it all, take this journey of discovery. The book was translated from English by Mindaugas Krankalis.
We offer an excerpt from the book.
While playing chess, he revealed his inner world. He fought with all his strength in every party. It is a pleasure to delve into them.
Boris Spassky was still a child during World War II. However, this early experience determined the future path of his life. The five-year-old Spassky learned to play chess on a train that was used by refugees from besieged Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). The world, which focused all its attention on the most significant events in history, had no idea that new heroes were being born behind the scenes. At the age of ten, Spassky won against Botvinik who played simultaneously. in 1955 became the world youth champion, in 1956 he shared the first place in the USSR championship (he did not win the title, losing additional games) and took the third place in the Candidates tournament in Amsterdam. All this at the age of nineteen.
in 1972 the series of duels with Fischer became the most famous fact of Spassky’s biography. However, this is not his only achievement in the world of chess. It is obvious that every player who became a champion is an extremely talented chess player. With this in mind, it should be emphasized that Spassky stood out from the members of this respectable group in terms of talent. It seemed to reveal the secrets of the game effortlessly. On the other hand, playing without effort doesn’t always pay off much.
Spassky is considered a well-rounded chess player, as he skillfully played all stages of the game. Although he was extremely talented, he was not always able to use it – Spassky did not know how to work as intensively as Botvinik or Fischer. His personal life was also not successful. Recalling the first of his three marriages, the chess player said that he and his wife were “so incompatible, as if they were pieces of different colors.”
Moreover, Spassky did not hide his opinion about the regime of the USSR. However, he played so well that the Soviet authorities frowned upon speeches that would have brought great embarrassment to others. It is said that people around the Moscow Chess Club often avoided standing near Spassky. They did not want to be asked by the authorities whether they sometimes supported the impromptu thoughts expressed by the chess player. Spaski also did not always manage to maintain good professional relations. He broke up with longtime coach Aleksandar Toluš around the time his first marriage collapsed. On the other hand, according to Hooper and Whyld, authors of well-known books on chess, Spassky’s later coach, Igor Bondarevsky, was a “good influence on the chess player, restoring balance to his life.” It was predicted that Spassky would become a contender for the world championship much earlier, but everything turned out differently. He eventually achieved this goal, defeating Keres, Geller and Talley to win the 1966 title. match against Petrosian in the championship final. Spassky was the undisputed favorite of this match. Unfortunately, the contender lost to the champion. Spassky was not disturbed. He defeated Geller, Larsen and Korchnoi to secure the opportunity to challenge Petrosian again in 1969. The selection matches were difficult, so Spaski had to prove that he had enough mental and physical endurance. At last the hour was to strike, crowning his long journey.
Before the second Petrosian vs. Spassky match, chess experts were much more cautious about the chances of both the champion and the contender to win. However, Smyslov showed the deepest insight: “The Russians say: repetition is the mother of science. in 1954 I failed to win against Botvinik, but three years later I became the champion. Why is it thought that Spassky will not be able to repeat this? He has what it takes to win a match.”
We often see how the beginning determines the end result. However, it is not always possible to understand immediately how significant one or another event is. The champion started the series of final duels with a victory. However, Kasparov later assured that “the victory in the first game fooled Petrosian!” He thought that Spassky might be late, lose the thread of the game, give away the initiative.”
In the second game, Petrosian managed to snatch a draw only after a hard fight. His second, Isaks Boleslavski, wrote: “This game greatly influenced the further course of the match. Spassky realized that Petrosian’s instinct for positional play can be neglected, that even when playing his favorite positions, he is not always confident.”
Intuition did not deceive the applicant. Spassky won the fourth and fifth games, and in the latter the decision to sacrifice the queen received a huge ovation. After winning the eighth game, he took a three-point lead. However, Petrosian was not going to give up. The moment he managed to equalize the score of the match, a sad fate was predicted for Spassky. However, times have changed. in 1969 the contender showed that since 1966 it has strengthened considerably. Ultimately, the outcome of the final was determined by Spassky’s victories in the seventeenth and brilliantly played nineteenth games. Geller emphasized: “Spaski played with courage and determination. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen anything like this in a match for the title of world champion.”
After winning the title, Spassky participated in various competitions, but did not always play well. He won tournaments in San Juan, Leiden, Amsterdam, Vancouver, but performed poorly in Palma and Gothenburg. in 1970 Spassky played with Bent Larsen three times during the match between the USSR and world chess teams. Another flash of genius can be seen in their drawn duels. In addition, in the 1970s, Spassky won a famous victory over Fischer at the Chess Olympiad.
There is no point in futilely arguing whether the World Cup winner reacted appropriately to his victory. Spassky himself said: “After winning the title, I faced a merciless reality. People around them started to behave differently. Everyone started being hypocritical.” Many years later, he even told Kramnik that along with the crown of champion, he was burdened with such a heavy responsibility that those years were the most unhappy in his life. It can be assumed that the situation was further exacerbated by the need to defend the USSR chess school from the greatest threat.
Fischer’s star hour was approaching. in 1972 the two played the so-called Match of the Century, the course of which is detailed in another chapter of the book.
For the first and only time in the history of the world, the general public became interested in chess. Although Spassky lost, he received a lot of praise. Not only did he play well, but he was kind to his opponent. But Fischer’s actions were much more controversial. Interestingly, the participants in the Match of the Century became friends, and Spassky, without showing an iota of jealousy, stated: “There is no doubt that Fischer played better.”
Spassky sought to regain his lost title. Unfortunately, he unsuccessfully participated in the candidate tournaments, in 1973. lost to Karpov, 1977 – Korčnoi and in 1980 – To Lajos Portisch. During the 1984 Chess Olympiad, Spassky represented France. However, most of the games he played at that time ended in a draw after a short fight. It was obvious that the best days of the former champion were already in the past.
in 1992 An extraordinary match took place in Yugoslavia. Spassky again competed with Fischer – for the latter it was the first series of duels since 1972. And this time the American won. Only not without doubts. There were many rumors that Spassky did not fight Fischer with all his might. Of course, at that time, according to the rating, he took a place at the end of the hundred best chess players in the world, and the sports form of the American was much worse than thirty years ago. There were some great moves to be found in the match, but overall the games weren’t top-notch, and there was no shortage of pretty silly mistakes. Finally, everything was overshadowed by the sudden deterioration of Fischer’s mental health. Spassky received $1.65 million for his participation.
in 1993 he lost the match to sixteen-year-old Judita Polgar. Currently, Spassky is the oldest chess player who was a world champion. He cannot boast of robust health, but he is able to enjoy the well-deserved pleasures of a retired life.
Boris Spassky won the title of world champion, twice became the sole champion of the USSR and participated in the most famous chess match in world history. Saying his name brings to mind that glorious but brief moment when newspapers around the world wrote about chess on the front pages. Even if the names of many chess players fade from people’s memory, history will remember a certain match and two of its participants. One of them is Spassky.
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