Portrait of a World Champion

Boris Spassky (30 January 1937)

Boris Spassky

World Champion between 1969 and 1972, Spassky was born in Leningrad in 1937. He learned chess at the age of five and he was regarded as a child prodigy by the age of eleven, when he had attained top class in the Pioneer House in Leningrad. At this club he was first trained by Zak, followed by Tolush. Both his trainers laid the foundation to what was to develop into Spassky's combinational play.

Second place, aged fourteen, in the Leningrad Championship, was followed by his first trip abroad. This was at the Bucharest international tournament in 1953. This was won by Tolush, but at fifteen Spassky had achieved the remarkable result of tieing for fourth place with Boleslavsky and Szabo.

In 1955 he won the World Junior Championship at Antwerp and in the same year he qualified for the Candidates by placing shared 7th at the Gothenburg Interzonal. The following year he made great progress. He tied for first place in the Soviet Championship and shared third in the Amsterdam Candidates tournament.

In 1961, he won the Soviet Championship for the first time and later found his route to the World Championship steadily. In 1964 Spassky qualified for the Candidates and in the following year he defeated Keres, Geller and Tal in successive matches. In the World Title match against Petrosian he narrowly lost by 11.5-12.5. That same year, in 1966, Spassky showed his strength by taking first place in the super tournament at Santa Monica. In 1967 he won at Beverwijk.

He reinstated his claim as the top player in the World by fighting his way again through the Candidates. In 1968, he beat Geller, then Larsen and finally Kortschnoj, winning the latter match by the fine score of 6.5-3.5. In 1969 he wrestled the World Title from Petrosian by defeating him 12.5-10.5.

In 1972, Spassky was to defend his title against Fischer. In the midst of conflicting negotiations and demands, Spassky conceded his rights, and won the admiration of the chess world. His generosity, however, cost him the World Title and in 1972 Fischer triumphed against the Soviet supremacy of chess.

In 1976, he took up residency in France with his third wife, and he became a French citizen in 1978. He has competed for France in Olympiads. He scored some successes in tournaments up until 1988, but his performance in the World Cup events in 1988 and 1989 showed that his opponents had outclassed him.

In 1992, Bobby Fischer, after twenty years in seclusion, resurfaced and arranged a Revenge Match of the 20th century against Spassky in Montenegro and Belgrade. This was a rematch of the 1972 World Championship. Spassky was just below the top 100 in the FIDE rankings. This match was practically Spassky's last major challenge. He lost the match with a score of +5 −10 =15. Spassky later played the young Hungarian female prodigy Judit Polgár in a 1993 match at Budapest, losing narrowly by 4.5–5.5.

Spassky continued to play occasionally through much of the 1990s, such as the Veterans versus Women series. On October 1, 2006, Spassky suffered a minor stroke. On September 23, 2010, Spassky had suffered a more serious stroke that had left him partially paralyzed. After that he returned to France for a long rehabilitation program. On August 16, 2012, Spassky left France for his native Russia under disputed circumstances. Spassky is the oldest living former world champion.

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