“I am Boris Vasilyevich Spasski, a retired man. I am in the endgame of my life”, is how Boris Spasski just recently introduced himself as in an interview with Anatoly Samokhav (R-Sport).
He experienced a lot in almost eight decades. To the occasion of his 78th birthday we would like to take a moment and recall the big moments of this eventful life.
Spasski was born on January 30, 1937 in Leningrad. He says “It’s not Leningrad, it is Petrograd. I simply do not accept the name ‘Leningrad’, as I know the history of the city. It is not Lenin’s city. It is Peter’s city. This is my home”.
At an early age of nine, Boris Spasski joined the Chess Section of the Leningrad Pioneer Palace. The governmental aid (focused coach and a monthly scholarship) in addition to his great talent helped him to enter the first category of the Soviet ranking system at ten years old. One year later he won the Championship title in his section.
At the quarter finals of the USSR Championship in 1952, he obtained fifty percent of the possible score and ranked second at the Leningrad Championship.
In 1953, the Soviet Chess Association sent Spasski to his first international tournament to Bucharest at which he ranked fourth. In consequence, he was awarded with the FIDE title International Master.
Spasski won the “Tournament of the young Soviet Masters” in 1954, and placed fourth at the semi-finals of the 22nd USSR Championship.
In 1955 he achieved a shared second to sixth rank at the USSR Championship, and became Junior World Champion of the category Under 20. He also participated in the Inter-Zone-Tournament at which he shared seventh to ninth rank with fellow players. For these achievements he was rewarded with the FIDE Grandmaster title.
As a nineteen year-old, Spasski participated in the 1956 edition of the Amsterdam Candidates’ Tournament and achieved a shared third to seventh rank. At the 23rd USSR Championship in Leningrad he shared the gold medal with Averback and Taimanov. This event should remain the peak of his career.
The scene with Grandmaster Kronsteen in the James Bond movie From Russia with Love (1963) is a tribute to the duel of Spasski and Bronstein at the 1960 edition of the USSR Championship. The board shows a derivative of the final position in which Spasski made his winning move.
Several bitter defeats followed. Only eight years later, in 1964, Spasski could finally qualify again for the Inter-Zone-Tournament (through a shared first to fourth ranks at the USSR Zone Tournament) at which he also shared first to fourth rank.
In 1965, Boris Spasski won the first Candidates’ Tournament that was carried out in competition mode. He beat Paul Keres in quarter-finals, Efim Geller in semi-finals, and the legendary former World Champion Mikhail Tal in the final match.
Spasski took the first attempt of taking the World Championship throne in 1966, but lost to the World Champion Tigran Petrosjan who was holding the title at that time.
Another victory followed at the Candidates’ Tournament of 1968 at which he defeated Viktor Kortschnoi amongst other.
Boris Spasski challenged Tigran Petrosjan again in 1969 and was significantly better prepared than at the previously lost World Championship duel. With six victories, four defeats, and thirteen draws he delivered a solid performance and thus became 10th Chess World Champion in history. The world celebrated his success. Spasski, however, admitted later on that the years as World Champion were the unhappiest years of his life due to the heavy burden of his responsibilities.
His winning run lasted: In 1970 he scored one of his biggest successes at the “USSR Against The Rest of The World” tournament and the Chess Olympics in Germany.
On September 1, 1972 Boris Spasski lost his World Championship title in the most famous duel in chess history – the Match of the Century in Reykjavik against Bobby Fischer with the final score of 8.5:12.5. Spasski recently stated in an interview: “I had a friend-like relationship with Bobby. We had fun whenever we met”. Over more than ten years the two were pen-pals.
Spasski prevailed at the 41st USSR Championship in 1973 and earned back the admiration of his home country, where he had fallen from grace the year before when he lost his World Championship title.
Many unsuccessful attempts of competing for the World Championship title followed at the Candidates’ Tournaments. In 1974 he lost against Anatoly Karpov in semi-finals. In 1977 he made it to the final rounds but had to admit defeat to Viktor Kortschnoi. He dropped out after quarter-finals in 1980 after being defeated by Lajos Portisch. Only in 1985 he dared participate again at the Candidates’ Tournament of Montpellier but only ranked 6th in overall standings. Later on, he made no more attempts of qualifying for the World Championship duels.
Spasski caused a stir when meeting Bobby Fischer for an unofficial match in Yugoslavia in 1992. Fischer hadn’t played in public for over twenty years at this point and considered this duel the return match of the World Championship duel of 1972. This seriously momentous meeting was led back to Spasski’s participation. He lost the match with 12.5:17.5 points to Fischer. Since Yugoslavia was exhausted from its civil war and punished with economic sanctions from the United States, Fischer’s participation was prosecuted by the US, which led to a longer stay in prison in Japan and political exile in Iceland. Spasski wrote an open letter to George W. Bush during this time and engaged but unsuccessfully attempted to help his friend.
In his golden times, Spasski was considered one of the most talented players of his time. Especially during the 1960s, he was notorious for his universal playing style which was characterized by an extraordinarily precise opening and endgame, but also included a strong mid-game. After he had become World Champion, however, his determination faded and he never exploited his potential to the fullest. Perhaps it was owed to the negatively perceived time as World Champion that he never again aimed for this title with strong motivation again..
At an age of 65, after the 2001/02 season and the French Team Championship he stopped participating at ELO-rated tournaments and is thus listed as an inactive player by the FIDE. Every once in a while he is an honorary guest at competitions and tournaments, like at the most recent World Championship duel in Sochi (“Carlsen is a stubborn child”).
With his highest ELO score of 2690 in 1971, he ranked second in worldwide standings behind Bobby Fischer. His best historic ELO-rating before the introduction of ELO-numbers was 2773 points which he reached in July 1969.
During his last interview Spasski chose the following philosophic words to describe the game of life:
“In general, the necessary features of a chess player have always been the same, the most important of which is the love of chess. It should also be loved passionately like people love art, paintings, and music. This passion will preoccupy you and flow through you. I still see chess with the eyes of a child”
All the best, Boris Spasski!
written by Sarah, translated by Birthe