Vasily Smyslov

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Vasily Vasiliyevich Smyslov (Васи́лий Смысло́в) (born March 24, 1921) is a Russian chess grandmaster. He was World Champion from 1957 to 1958. He is known for his positional style and, in particular, for 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, Ruy Lopez, and Sicilian Defense.

Smyslov was a fine baritone singer, only deciding on a career in chess after a failed audition for the Bolshoi Theatre in 1950. Later, he sometimes gave recitals during chess tournaments, often accompanied by fellow Grandmaster and pianist Mark Taimanov.

Smyslov played in the 1948 World Chess Championship tournament to determine who should succeed the late Alexander Alekhine as champion, finishing second behind Mikhail Botvinnik. After winning the candidates tournament in Zurich 1953, he played a match with Botvinnik for the title the following year. It ended in a draw, meaning that Botvinnik retained his title. They played again in 1957 (Smyslov had again won the candidates tournament, in Amsterdam 1956), and this time Smyslov won by the score 12.5–9.5. The following year, Botvinnik exercised his right to a rematch, and he won the title back with a final scoreline of 12.5–10.5.

Smyslov didn't qualify for another World Championship final, but continued to play in World Championship qualifying events. In 1983 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 to future world champion Garry Kasparov. 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 only determined by the spin of a roulette wheel.

Although Smyslov has a negative record against Bobby Fischer, he beat the then sixteen year old future world champion with black pieces in Yugoslavia in 1959 (moves given in Algebraic chess notation):

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 d6 6. Bc4 Be7 7. O-O a6 8. Bb3 b5 9. f4 O-O 10. f5 b4 11. Nce2 e5 12. Nf3 Bb7 13. Ng3 Nxe4 14. Nxe4 Bxe4 15. Qe1 Bxf3 16. Rxf3 Nc6 17. Qe4 Nd4 18. Rh3 Bf6 19. Bd5 Rc8 20. c3 bxc3 21. bxc3 Nb5 22. Bd2 Rc5 23. Kh1 Qd7 24. Bb3 d5 25. Qf3 Nd6 26. Rf1 Ne4 27. Qh5 h6 28. Bxh6 gxh6 29. Bc2 Bg5 30. f6 Rb8 31. Bxe4 dxe4 32. Rg3 Qf5 33. Kg1 Qg6 34. Qe2 Rc6 35. h4 Rxf6 36. Rxf6 Qxf6 37. Qh5 Qf4 38. Kh2 Kg7 39. hxg5 hxg5 40. Qxg5+ Qxg5 41. Rxg5+ Kf6 42. Rh5 Rb1 43. Kg3 Rf1 44. Rh4 Kf5 45. Rh5+ Ke6 46. Rh6+ f6 47. Rh4 e3 48. Re4 f5 0-1

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. Nowadays, his eyesight is very bad.

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Books by Smyslov

  • Vasily Smyslov, Smyslov's 125 Selected Games (modern edition published by Everyman Chess, 1995)
  • Vasily Smyslov, Endgame Virtuoso
  • Grigory Levenfish and Vasily Smyslov, Rook Endings
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Further reading

Preceded by:
Mikhail Botvinnik
World Chess Champion
Succeeded by:
Mikhail Botvinnik
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