Vasily Smyslov: Wikis


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Vasily Smyslov
Full name Vasily Vasilyevich (Vasilievich) Smyslov
Country  Soviet Union
Born March 24, 1921 (1921-03-24) (age 88)
Moscow, Soviet Union
Title Grandmaster
World Champion 1957-1958
FIDE rating 2494
Peak rating 2620 (July 1971)

Vasily Vasilyevich Smyslov (Russian: Васи́лий Васильевич Смысло́в) (born March 24, 1921, in Moscow) is a Soviet and Russian chess grandmaster, and was World Chess Champion from 1957 to 1958. He was a Candidate for the World Chess Championship on eight occasions (1948, 1950, 1953, 1956, 1959, 1965, 1983, and 1985). Smyslov was twice equal first at the Soviet Championship (1949, 1955), and his total of 17 Chess Olympiad medals won is an all-time record. In five European Team Championships, Smyslov won ten gold medals. He remained active and successful in competitive chess well into the 1960s and 1970s and he qualified for the finals of the World Championship Candidates' Matches as late as 1983. Despite failing eyesight, he has remained active in the composition of chess problems and studies and he is currently the oldest living former World Chess Champion.


Early years

Smyslov first became interested in chess at the age of 6. His father, Vasily Osipovitch Smyslov, worked as an engineering technician and had represented the St. Petersburg Technical Institute in intercollegiate chess competitions. He had also studied chess for a time under the tutelage of Mikhail Tchigorin and he became the boy's first teacher. The elder Smyslov gave his son a copy of Alexander Alekhine's book My Best Games of Chess 1908-1923 and the future world champion would later write that this book became his constant reference. He would also write that "...I was later to read everything that my father had in his library: Dufresne's handbook, separate numbers of the Soviet chess magazines Chess and Chess Sheet, the text-books of Lasker and Capablanca, and the collections of games of Soviet and international tournaments. The games of the great Russian chess master M. I. Tchigorin made an indelible impression on me; it was with interest that I read the various declarations on questions of strategy by A. I. Nimzovitch; I studied attentively the genius of prominent Soviet masters."

Smyslov's competitive chess experiences began at the age of 14, when he started taking part in classification tournaments. In 1938, at age 17, Smyslov won the USSR Junior Championship. That same year, he tied for 1st-2nd places in the Moscow City Championship, with 12.5/17. However, Smyslov's first attempt at adult competition outside his own city fell short; he placed 12th-13th in the Leningrad-Moscow International tournament of 1939 with 8/17 in an exceptionally strong field. In the Moscow Championship of 1939-40 Smyslov placed 2nd-3rd with 9/13.

War years

Vasily Smyslov in 2002

In his first Soviet final, the 1940 USSR Championship (Moscow, URS-ch12), he performed exceptionally well for 3rd place with 13/19, finishing ahead of the reigning champion Mikhail Botvinnik. This tournament was the strongest Soviet final up to that time, as it included several players, such as Paul Keres and Vladas Mikėnas, from countries annexed by the USSR, as part of the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939.

The Soviet Federation held a further tournament of the top six from the 1940 event, and this was called the 1941 Absolute Championship of the USSR, one of the strongest tournaments ever organized. The format saw each player meet his opponents four times. The players were Botvinnik, Keres, Smyslov, Isaac Boleslavsky, Igor Bondarevsky, and Andor Lilienthal. Smyslov scored 10/20 for third place, behind Botvinnik and Keres. This proved that Smyslov was of genuine world-class Grandmaster strength at age 20, a very rare achievement at that time.

The Second World War forced a halt to most international chess. But several tournaments involving Soviet players only were still organized. Smyslov won the 1942 Moscow Championship outright with a powerful 12/15. At Kuibyshev 1942, he placed second with 8/11. In a strong field at Sverdlovsk 1943, Smyslov tied for 3rd-4th places with 8/14. In the 1943-44 Moscow Championship, Smyslov tied for 3rd-4th with 11.5/16. He finished second in the 1944 USSR Championship at Moscow (URS-ch13) with 10.5/16. He emerged as champion from the 1944-45 Moscow Championship with 13/16. By this juncture, Smyslov had advanced into the group of the top three Soviet players, along with Botvinnik and Keres (who was playing in Nazi-occupied Europe during the War).

As the war ended, organized chess picked up again. But Smyslov's form hit a serious slump in the immediate post-war period. In the 1945 USSR Championship at Moscow (URS-ch14), Smyslov was in the middle of the very powerful field with 8.5/17; the winner was Botvinnik, with Boleslavsky and the new star David Bronstein occupying second and third places. At Tallinn 1945, Smyslov had the worst result of his career to date, scoring just 6.5/15 in a not especially strong field. It was little better in the Moscow Championship of 1945-46, as he could only score 7.5/15 for a tie of 7th-11th places, as Bronstein won. Then in the Moscow Championship of 1946, Smyslov scored just 8.5/15, for a tie of 3rd-6th places, as Bronstein won again. During this period he scored just 31/62 in those four tournaments, for 50 per cent.

Nevertheless, Smyslov's earlier strong results secured him one of the five Soviet places in the first really strong post-war international tournament, at Groningen, Netherlands, in August 1946. This event, the Howard Staunton Memorial, was won by Botvinnik with 14.5/19, half a point ahead of former World Champion Max Euwe. Smyslov finished third with 12.5/19, and this confirmed his status as one of the world's top players.

Smyslov found it tough going for the next while however, once he was back playing in Soviet events. In the next Soviet Championship (URS-ch15, Leningrad 1947), he tied for 3rd-4th places with 12/19, as Keres won. At Pärnu 1947, Smyslov scored 8/13 for a tied 4th-6th places, as Keres won again. At Warsaw 1947, Smyslov scored 6/9 to tie for 2nd-5th places; the winner was Svetozar Gligorić. In the Mikhail Chigorin Memorial tournament, Moscow 1947, Smyslov tied for 3rd-4th places, with 10/15, as Botvinnik won.

His results showed a consistent pattern of high finishes against strong company, but with virtually no tournament championships. Smyslov had never actually won an adult tournament other than the Moscow City Championship, before he played in the 1948 World Championship Tournament.

World title challenger

Smyslov was one of the five players selected to compete for the 1948 World Chess Championship tournament to determine who should succeed the late Alexander Alekhine as champion. His selection was questioned in some quarters, but this criticism was amply rebutted when he finished second behind Mikhail Botvinnik, with a score of 11/20.

With his second-place finish from the 1948 World Championship, Smyslov was exempt into the 1950 Budapest Candidates' tournament. Smyslov scored 10/18 for third place, behind Bronstein and Boleslavsky, who tied for first place. Smyslov's third place exempted him into the next Candidates' tournament. He was awarded the International Grandmaster title in 1950 by FIDE on its inaugural list.

After winning the Candidates Tournament in Zurich 1953, with 18/28, two points ahead of Keres, Bronstein, and Samuel Reshevsky, Smyslov played a match with Botvinnik for the title the following year. Sited at Moscow, the match ended in a draw, after 24 games (seven wins each and ten draws), meaning that Botvinnik retained his title.

World Champion

Smyslov in 1958.

Smyslov had again won the Candidates' Tournament at Amsterdam in 1956, which led to another world championship match against Botvinnik in 1957. Assisted by trainers Vladimir Makogonov and Vladimir Simagin, Smyslov won by the score 12.5-9.5. The following year, Botvinnik exercised his right to a rematch, and won the title back with a final score of 12.5-10.5. Smyslov later said his health suffered during the return match, as he came down with pneumonia, but he also acknowledged that Botvinnik had prepared very thoroughly.[1]Over the course of the three World Championship matches, Smyslov had won 18 games to Botvinnik's 17 (with 34 draws), and yet he was only champion for a year. Yet Smyslov was to write in his autobiographical games collection Smyslov's Best Games, "I have no reason to complain of my fate. I fulfilled my dream and became the seventh world champion in the history of chess."[1]

Later World Championships

Smyslov didn't qualify for another World Championship, but continued to play in World Championship qualifying events. In 1959, he was a Candidate, but finished fourth in the qualifying tournament held in Yugoslavia, which was won by the rising superstar Mikhail Tal. He missed out in 1962, but was back in 1964, following a first-place tie at the Amsterdam Interzonal, with 17/23. But he lost his first-round match to Efim Geller.

In 1983, at the age of 62, he went through to the Candidates' Final (the match to determine who plays the champion, in that case Anatoly Karpov), losing 8.5 - 4.5 at Vilnius 1984 to Garry Kasparov, who was 21 at the time, and who went on to beat Karpov to become world champion in 1985. He had beaten Zoltan Ribli 6.5-4.5 in the semifinal, but drew his quarter-final match against Robert Hübner 7-7, with the advancing player (Smyslov) determined only by the spin of a roulette wheel. His final Candidates' appearance was the Montpellier 1985 tournament, where he did not advance.

Other chess achievements

Smyslov won two Soviet championships. He tied for first and second places in the 1949 Soviet Championship (URS-ch17) at Moscow, with David Bronstein. At Venice 1950, he finished second with 12/15. He tied for first place with Efim Geller at Moscow 1955 in the URS-22ch, but lost the playoff match. He won at Mar del Plata 1966.

Excels in team play

Smyslov represented the Soviet Union a total of nine times at chess Olympiads, from 1952 to 1972 inclusive, excepting only 1962 and 1966. He contributed mightily to team gold medal wins on each occasion he played, winning a total of eight individual medals. His total of 17 Olympiad medals won, including team and individual medals, is an all-time Olympiad record, according to

At Helsinki 1952, he played second board, and won the individual gold medal with 10.5/13. At Amsterdam 1954, he was again on second board, scored 9/12, and took the individual bronze medal. At Moscow 1956, he scored 8.5/13 on second board, but failed to win a medal. At Munich 1958, he made 9.5/13 on second board, good for the silver individual medal. At Leipzig 1960, he was dropped to first reserve, and made a great score of 11.5/13, which won the gold medal.
After missing out on selection in 1962, he returned for Tel Aviv 1964, on third board, and won the gold medal with 11/13. He missed selection in 1966, but returned with a vengeance for Lugano 1968, and made a phenomenal 11/12 for another gold medal as second reserve. At Siegen 1970, he was first reserve, and scored 8/11 for the bronze medal. His final Olympiad was Skopje 1972, where at age 51 he played third board and scored 11/14, good for the silver medal.

His overall Olympiad score is an imposing 90 points in 113 games (+69 =42 −2), for 79.6 per cent. This performance is the fifth all-time best for players participating to at least four olympiads Chess Olympiads#Best individual results in men's Olympiads.

Smyslov also represented the USSR in five European Team Championships, and emerged with a perfect medals' record: he won five team gold medals and five board gold medals. His total score in these events was (+19 =15 -1), for 75.7 per cent. From, here is his European teams' data.

  • Vienna 1957: board 1, 3.5/6 (+2 =3 -1), board and team gold medals;
  • Oberhausen 1961: board 5, 9/9 (+7 =2 -0), board and team gold medals;
  • Hamburg 1965: board 4, 6/9 (+3 =6 -0), board and team gold medals;
  • Kapfenberg 1970: board 5, 5/6 (+4 =2 -0), board and team gold medals;
  • Bath, Somerset 1973: board 6, 4/5 (+3 =2 -0), board and team gold medals.

Smyslov played for the USSR in both the 1970 and 1984 matches against teams representing the Rest of the World. He was on board six at Belgrade in 1970, and on board four at London in 1984, with the Soviets winning both matches.

In 1991 Smyslov won the inaugural Senior World Chess Championship. He has played no competitive games since the 2001 Klompendans Veterans versus Ladies tournament in Amsterdam. His Elo rating following this event was 2494.


He is known for his positional style, and, in particular, his precise handling of the endgame, but many of his games feature spectacular tactical shots as well. He has made enormous contributions to chess opening theory in many openings, including the English Opening, Grünfeld Defence, and the Sicilian Defence. He has a variation of the Closed Ruy Lopez named for him: the line runs 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 0-0 9.h3 h6. Smyslov also successfully revived the Fianchetto Defence to the Ruy Lopez (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 g6) in the 1970s. In the Slav Defence, the main line with 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 dxc4 5.a4 Bf5 is named the Czech or Smyslov Variation.

Perhaps in tribute to his probing intellect, Stanley Kubrick named a character after him in his film 2001: A Space Odyssey.[2]

Opera singer

Smyslov is a fine baritone singer, who only positively decided upon a chess career after a failed audition with the Bolshoi Theatre in 1950. He once said, "I have always lived between chess and music." On the occasion of a game against Botvinnik, he sang to an audience of thousands. He occasionally gave recitals during chess tournaments, often accompanied by fellow Grandmaster and concert pianist Mark Taimanov. Smyslov once wrote that he tried to achieve harmony on the chess board, with each piece assisting the others.[3]

Notable chess games

Vasili Smyslov congratulates Yuri Averbakh at his 80th birthday and presents him a book of his own chess studies

Books by Smyslov

  • Vasily Smyslov (2003) Smyslov's Best Games, Volume 1: 1935-1957 (Moravian Chess Publishing House)
  • Vasily Smyslov (2003) Smyslov's Best Games, Volume 2: 1958-1995 (Moravian Chess Publishing House)
  • Vasily Smyslov (1997) Endgame Virtuoso (Cadogan)
  • Vasily Smyslov (1995) Smyslov's 125 Selected Games (modern edition published by Everyman Chess)
  • Grigory Levenfish and Vasily Smyslov (1971) Rook Endings (Batsford Edition)

Further reading


  1. ^ a b Watson, J.. "Book Reviews by John Watson". 
  2. ^ ""I'M SORRY, FRANK..."". ChessBase. August 29, 1999. 
  3. ^ Smyslov's Selected Games, by Vassily Smyslov, 1995, London, Everyman Chess

External links

Preceded by
Mikhail Botvinnik
World Chess Champion
Succeeded by
Mikhail Botvinnik

Simple English

[[File:|250px|thumb|Vasily Smyslov (left), with Yuri Averbach in 2002]] Vasily Smyslov (24 March 1921 – 27 March 2010)[1][2] was a Russian chess grandmaster, and World Chess Champion from 1957 to 1958.[3]p376

Smyslov was a candidate for the World Chess Championship on eight occasions (1948, 1950, 1953, 1956, 1959, 1965, 1983, and 1985). He was one of the five players selected to compete for the 1948 World Chess Championship tournament to determine who should succeed the late Alexander Alekhine as champion. His selection was questioned by some, but this criticism was silenced when he finished second behind Mikhail Botvinnik. His victories in the double-round Candidates tournaments of 1953 and 1956 were the greatest tournament wins of the 1950s. He played three 24-game world championship matches against the formidable Botvinnik, drawing the first in 1954, winning the second in 1957 but losing the return match in 1958. All three matches were held in Moscow.

Smyslov was twice equal first in the Soviet Championship (1949, 1955), and his total of 17 Chess Olympiad medals won is an all-time record. In five European Team Championships, Smyslov won ten gold medals (team and individual). He remained active and successful in competitive chess well into the 1960s and 1970s and he qualified for the finals of the World Championship Candidates' matches as late as 1983.[3] Vasiliy won the first World Senior Chess Championship in 1991. He retired from competitive play in 2001.

Smyslov was also a concert-level singer. His baritone singing, and fellow grandmaster Taimanov's piano recitals, were evening events at many major chess tournaments.

A tribute from Anatoly Karpov:

"What I remember most about [Smyslov] was his competitive spirit, but also his delicate sense of humour. It was always very tough playing against him, despite him being more than twice my age".[2]

Books by Smyslov

  • 2003: Smyslov's best games, Volume 1: 1935-1957 (Moravian Chess)
  • 2003: Smyslov's best games, Volume 2: 1958-1995 (Moravian Chess)
  • 1997: Endgame virtuoso (Cadogan)
  • 1995: Smyslov's 125 selected games (Everyman Chess)
  • 1972: Grigory Levenfish and Vasily Smyslov Rook endings (Batsford)

Further reading


  1. Russian: Васи́лий Васильевич Смысло́в
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Former world chess champion Smyslov dies at 89". Retrieved 27-03-2010. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Hooper D. and Whyld K. 1992. The Oxford companion to chess. 2nd ed, Oxford University Press.


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