Portrait of a World Champion

Vasily Smyslov (24 March 1921 - 27 March 2010)

Vasily Smyslov

Grandmaster and World Champion in 1957, Vasily Smyslov was born in Moscow. He was taught chess by his father, when Vasily was six and a half years old. Early in his life, Smyslov had two main enthusiasms - chess and music. At first he attempted to become an operatic singer, and, with his fine baritone voice, he auditioned for the Bolshoi company. He made it till the last fifty, but, seeing that he could make no further improvement he had to abandon all singing ambitions.

During this time, however, he also worked hard at chess and he learned a lot from Chigorin, Nimzowitsch and Alekhine. His first success came in 1938 when he shared first in the Moscow Championship. In 1940 he placed third in the 12th Soviet Championship, a full 1.5 points ahead of Botvinnink. After the Second World War, he placed third in Groningen 1946 and in the World Championship match-tournament in 1948, he placed second after Botvinnik.

A shared first with Bronstein in the 17th Soviet Championship was followed by third place in the 1950 Candidates Tournament in Budapest, behind Bronstein and Boleslavsky.

Smyslov triumphed impressively in the Candidates at Zurich in 1953, 2 points ahead of his nearest rival. He drew a match with Botvinnik in a title match in Moscow 1954. Following this, came a string of tournament victories, amongst them first place at the Amsterdam 1956 Candidates Tournament. That year Smyslov also shared first with Botvinnik in the 1st Alekhine Memorial Tournament in Moscow.

He became World Champion in 1957, by defeating Botvinnik by the score of 12.5-9.5 in Moscow. He lost the return match the following year. In the 1959 Candidates in Yugoslavia, he placed 4th, and, in the Amsterdam Interzonal of 1964 he shared first place. In 1965 he was defeated by Geller 2.5-5.5 in the Candidates Tournament quarterfinals.

He was half a point short of qualifying for the Candidates when he shared seventh place with Portisch in the Interzonal at Palma de Mallorca in 1970. His subsequent attempts to qualify for the Candidates were unsucessful, though in 1983, at the age of 62, he managed to go through the Candidates Final. He lost 4.5-8.5 at Vilnius 1984 to Garry Kasparov, who was 21 at the time. Smyslov had beaten Zoltán Ribli 6.5-4.5 in the semifinal, but drew his quarter-final match against Robert Huebner 7-7, with Smyslov advancing by the spin of a roulette wheel. His final Candidates' appearance was the Montpellier 1985 tournament, where he did not advance.

Smyslov holds the record for his 17 Chess Olympiad medals won. In five European team Championships, he won ten medals. He died of heart failure in a Moscow hospital on 27 March 2010, three days after his 89th birthday.

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