Boris Spassky interview

Boris Spassky shares his thoughts during Nalchik

- What was the most memorable in the first days of the tournament?

- There were several interesting games in the first round that were rather dramatic. One of the most interesting games was between Vasily Ivanchuk and Peter Svidler. Ivanchuk was running out of time and though he played very well, he hadn’t enough time to solve all the problems and as a result he lost. Levon Aronian is a convincing leader. He has two wins.

It is quiet a good start. But it is difficult to judge after the first two rounds.
I watch with great interest how the grandmasters of the new generation compete to each other. It is very interesting to follow the style of struggle and to find out who is the dark horse. We know the white horses – they are our favorites.

- Are you going to continue the player’s career?

- The point is that I am 72 and what is the most difficult is to bear the tenseness of the struggle. I can’t do it anymore. I can play one-two games when I am invited to some contest but it is impossible for me to whole distance.

The most necessary condition to be able to play in the tournaments is to feel like you are ready to “kill” everyone, but I am very shy and now I don’t want to win. If I win I don’t feel any joy but I don’t like to lose. And it is very boring to make draws. I have already made a lot of them. I can tell you that now the old age comes to chess very early. Flourishing comes very early at 26-28. We became champions at 32. I became the champion at 32, Bobby Fisher was a bit younger, Karpov was 24, but he didn’t play the World Championship match. Lasker was 24, and it was the 19th century time.

- Are you going to attend the club “Ladja” and play simultan or may be something else connected with chess?

- Now I don’t have any special program of getting acquainted with the chess life in the republic and namely Nalchik. But there are two things I would like to do- I want to visit the chess club and the local museum of regional studies. This is the minimum program, and I think that it is also the maximum that I can do. As far as I know we have two days off and there are definite touristiс programs on these days. And, of course, I would like to join our chess herd, pardon me for the expression.

- What do you think of the today’s system of determining the World Chess Champion?

- I have never thought of the ideal system. It always seemed to that the title of the champion has lost it significance. I think now it would be reasonable to hold one tournament of claimants of the year and there should be the World Champion of the definite year. But, on the other hand, after Anand, who is the World chess champion now, had won the last game with Kramnik, the significance of the title became more important. And I am happy about this. Speaking about the idea of taking such kind of series in which the selection will be made on the pyramid scheme, which consists of six tournaments, I must say that it is not a new idea. I have an experience of participating in tournaments, made on the GMA. There were also four tournaments and the three best results were taken into consideration. I can’t judge whether it’s reasonable or not. May be it is a little bit complicated. And especially for now, when it is quite difficult to find money for organization of competitions.

- Don’t you think that chess needs a new Bobby Fisher? It seems to that grandmasters are apart, spectators are apart, and chess is also apart.

- I think now it is Magnus Karlsen from Norway. He can play this role, because he attracts in the chess world by his young age and the quality of his play. He has quite an interesting and rich play, moreover hу is a very brave boy; he goes forward whether he wins or looses. He also plays endgames well like Bobby Fisher in his time.
But if you mean that there must be an extravagant figure, some kind of showman, I can say that we don’t see such a person for now. And possibly we won’t see him.

- After the chess crown had returned to Russia, women’s chess became more popular. What’s your attitude towards it?

- Speaking about the women’s chess, I’d like to say that I glad to know that the professional work is paid well in chess too.

- Our chess school was the strongest one in the time of the USSR. How is it now?

- Unfortunately, now there is a split. We may talk a lot about the so called reconstruction, or think what has happened with the country and so on. Many players, who grew up and got chess education of the high level here, left the country. That’s the thing with me. I went to France in 1976. I have been living there for 34 years.

I think now the title of the champion became underestimated, but it is not because the interest to chess has decreased. The thing is that now the competitors have a little disparity and for this reason I don’t take the one who wins as the World Champion. He just gets the title. But in my time everyone used to be the official champion for three years. But I’d like to add that there were persons like Misha Tal. He had been the champion only fort a year. However, he was a very bright figure in chess. I think the chess world would be very boring if there wasn’t Misha Tal. His work was very useful. I can remember once when I was a participant of the tournament in Belgrade I met amateurs who were discussing the tournament. One of them said: ” No Tal- no tournament.” So there is the other reason why the titles are being underestimated. I was always fond of the history of chess, and it was very interesting to learn more about the chess world which had different steps of development. The first World Champion, the conditions which were that time. And what we have now: if your phone rings you get no point. I wish I lived in the 19th century.

- What do you think of the coach career?

- The talent of coach is a special one. You can be an excellent chess player, but at the same time an absolutely untalented coach. I have an example. I was asked to work with Flora Dmitrieva, who was the champion of Leningrad. I agreed but didn’t understand what it would be like. She had already been the champion of Leningrad. So, I gave her a piece of advice:” Flora, don’t think about the debut, just play as you like and as you see.” So she did at the next championship and she was the last. After that I realized that I should be very careful with my coach talent.
But watching Bondarenko, who had a real talent, I understood that it is easier to be a head of the school then to work. Now I am reading the lectures on general chess items because I have a great experience. It calls “How I became the champion”, “The most offending lost”, “The way one shouldn’t play chess”. I have a great number of such stories.
So, before I agree to become the head of the school I had thought it other very carefully.
Now we hold two sessions in my school in Satka Chelyabinsk region, a winter session and a summer one. There are about 30 pupils there. Now their number will be decreased. I think that my lectures can be very useful, because I am a kind of a magnet that attracts and unit children. And I can also make serious professional remarks at the coach lessons. That’s why I value my chances as 50/50.
I like to watch the youngsters and to point out their strong and weak sides, comparing them with my generation.

What do you think regarding computer influence to chess, do you see a positive moments of it?

It’s very important to take into consideration that computers have changed chess. The drawback of them is that many games begin only with the 35-th move or even later. So you are immediately involved in endgame and there is no live game.
But there is also a great advantage about them. For example, Grandmaster Bondarevsky and his wife spent a month to type the debut repertoire of Bobby Fisher. Now, you find the program and you can have everything in half a minute. It’s really a great advantage. The computer is important on the high level when the value of the move is high.
It’s very important to learn to work with the computer. It must be our servant; we should not let it become our master, other wise we will fail.

- How did you earn your first “chess money”?

- I got my first chess money in 1948 when I was giving simultan chess play in the Officers’ House in Minsk. I was 11 then. In game I checkmated one officer. He asked to return his move. So after two moves I was checkmated. I began to cry bitterly and the game was stopped for 15 minutes. When I calmed down I finished the game. Since that time I never return the moves. I got a very sad experience. Speaking about money, I got the sum on which I could buy a winter coat. So that was money, tears and a coat.

- Which of your games you can call “evergreen”?

- I think that the evergreen game is the game with Bronstein in 1960. There was a very good balance between the strategy and tactics. This idea was used in one of the movies of James Bond.

More about Boris Spassky

Boris Vasilievich Spassky, born January 30, 1937, is a Russian-French chess grandmaster. He was the tenth World Chess Champion, holding the title from 1969 to 1972.

Spassky won the Soviet Chess Championship twice outright (1961, 1973), and twice more lost in playoffs (1956, 1963), after tying for first during the event proper. He was a World Chess Championship Candidate on seven occasions (1956, 1965, 1968, 1974, 1977, 1980, and 1985).

At age 16, Spassky scored very impressively in 1953 at a strong international tournament in Bucharest, Romania, finishing tied 4th-6th with 12/19, as the winner was his future trainer Alexander Tolush. He was awarded the title of International Master by FIDE. In his first attempt at the Soviet Championship final, URS-ch22, Moscow 1955, at age 18, he tied for 3rd-6th places with 11½/19, as the joint winners were Vasily Smyslov and Efim Geller. This excellent result qualified him for the Goteborg Interzonal later that year.

At age 18 he won the World Junior Chess Championship held at Antwerp, Belgium, with a dominant score of 14/16, and became a Grandmaster, the youngest ever at the time. Spassky competed for the Lokomotiv Voluntary Sports Society.

By his tied 7th-9th place, with 11/20, at the 1955 Goteborg Interzonal, he qualified into the 1956 Candidates’ Tournament, held in Amsterdam. There, he finished in the middle of the ten-player world-class field, tied 3rd-7th places with 9½/18, astonishing for a 19-year-old. Expectations for him were very high, and this put pressure on the young star. At the 1956 Soviet final, URS-ch23, held in Leningrad, Spassky tied for 1st-3rd places on 11½/19 with Mark Taimanov and Yuri Averbakh, but Taimanov won the further playoff to become champion. Spassky then tied for first with Tolush in a strong Leningrad tournament later in 1956.

Spassky was considered an all-rounder on the chess board, and his adaptable “universal style” was a distinct advantage in beating many top Grandmasters. In the 1965 cycle, he beat Paul Keres at Riga 1965 with careful strategy, triumphing in the last game to win 6-4 (+4 =4 -2). Also at Riga, he defeated Efim Geller with mating attacks, winning by 5½-2½ (+3 =5 -0). Then, in his Candidates’ Final match (the match which determines who will challenge the reigning world champion for the title) against Mikhail Tal the legendary tactician (Tbilisi 1965), Spassky often managed to steer play into quieter positions, either avoiding former champion Tal’s tactical strength, or extracting too high a price for complications. He won by 7-4 (+4 =6 -1). This led to his first World Championship match against Tigran Petrosian in 1966.

Spassky won two tournaments in the run-up to the final. He shared first at the Chigorin Memorial in Sochi in 1965 with Wolfgang Unzicker on 10½/15. Then he tied for first at Hastings 1965-66 with Wolfgang Uhlmann on 7½/9.

Spassky lost the final match in Moscow narrowly, with three wins against Petrosian’s four wins, with the two sharing 17 draws. However, a few months after the match, Spassky finished ahead of Petrosian and a super-class field at Santa Monica 1966 (the Piatigorsky Cup), with 11½/18, half a point ahead of Bobby Fischer. Spassky also won at Beverwijk 1967 with 11/15 ahead of Anatoly Lutikov, and shared 1st-5th places at Sochi 1967 on 10/15 with Krogius, Alexander Zaitsev, Leonid Shamkovich, and Vladimir Simagin.

As losing finalist in 1966, Spassky was seeded into the next Candidates’ cycle. In 1968, he faced Geller again, this time at Sukhumi, and won by the same margin as in 1965 (5½-2½, +3 =5 -0). He next met Bent Larsen at Malmö, and won by 5½-2½. The final was against his Leningrad rival Viktor Korchnoi at Kiev, and Spassky triumphed with 6½-3½.

This earned him another challenge against Petrosian, at Moscow 1969. Spassky’s flexibility of style was the key to his eventual victory over Petrosian by two points in the 1969 World Championship. Spassky won by 12½-10½.

During Spassky’s three-year reign as World Champion, he won several more tournaments. He placed first at San Juan 1969 with 11½/15. He won a very strong tournament at Leiden 1970 with 7/12. Spassky shared 1st-2nd at Amsterdam 1970 with Lev Polugaevsky on 11½/15. He was third at Goteborg 1971 with 8/11, behind winners Vlastimil Hort and Ulf Andersson. He shared 1st-2nd with Hans Ree at the 1971 Canadian Open Chess Championship in Vancouver.

Spassky’s reign as a world champion only lasted for three years, as he lost to Bobby Fischer of the United States in 1972 in the “Match of the Century”. The contest took place in Reykjavík, Iceland, at the height of the Cold War, and consequently was seen as symbolic of the political confrontation between the two superpowers. Going into the match, Fischer had never won a game from Spassky in five attempts, while losing three times. In addition, Spassky had secured Geller as his coach, and Geller also had a plus score against Fischer. However, Fischer was in excellent form, and won the title match convincingly, by 12½-8½. Although Spassky did lose the title match, he performed much better than had the three other Candidates (Mark Taimanov, Bent Larsen, and Tigran Petrosian) whom Fischer had defeated convincingly on his approach to the finals.

International tournaments

Lyon 1955, board 2, 7½/8 (+7 =1 -0), team gold, board gold;

Reykjavík 1957, board 2, 7/9 (+5 =4 -0), team gold, board gold;

Varna 1958, board 2, 6½/9 (+4 =5 -0), team gold;

Leningrad 1960, board 1, 10/12 (+9 =2 -1), team silver;

Marianske Lazne 1962, board 1, 7½/9 (+6 =3 -0), team gold, board gold.

Vienna 1957, board 5, 3½/5 (+2 =3 -0), team gold, board gold;

Bath, Somerset 1973, board 1, 5/7 (+3 =4 -0), team gold, board gold.

Varna 1962, board 3, 11/14 (+8 =6 -0), team gold, board gold medal;

Tel Aviv 1964, 2nd reserve, 10½/13 (+8 =5 -0), team gold, board bronze;

Havana 1966, board 2, 10/15, team gold.

Lugano 1968, board 2, 10/14, team gold, board bronze;

Siegen 1970, board 1, 9½/12, team gold, board gold;

Nice 1974, board 3, 11/15, board gold, team gold;

Buenos Aires 1978, board 1, 7/11 (+4 =6 -1), team silver

Spassky played board one in the USSR vs. Rest of the World match at Belgrade 1970, scoring 1½/3 against Larsen.