Vasily Smyslov

The game is presented here in compact algebraic notation. If you do not know this notation scheme, then you should visit the chess notation link from the Beginner's Chess Page.

A Brief Biography

Vasily Vasilevich Smyslov was born on March 24, 1921, in Moscow. In his youth he hoped to become an operatic singer in the Bolshoi Theatre, but he did become World Chess Champion. Smyslov rose to prominence during the 1940's and earned an invitation to the 1948 World Championship tournament in the Netherlands. The contest was organized by the Federation Intrenational des Echecs (FIDE, The International Chess Federation), to choose a successor for Alexander Alekhine, who had died in 1946 while still world champion. Smyslov finished in 2nd place, behind the winner and new champion, Mikhail Moisevich Botvinnik.

Smyslov won the candidates tournament in Zurich, 1953, to earn a match for the World Championship against Botvinnik. The 24-game match, held in 1954, was a draw, which allowed Botvinnik to remain champion. Smyslov went on to win the candidates tournament again, in Amsterdam, 1956, and earned a 2nd title match, held in 1957. This time Smyslov won by the score 12-1/2 to 9-1/2 and became World Chess Champion. Botvinnik exercised his right to a rematch, played in 1958, and won the title back from Smyslov by the score of 12-1/2 to 10-1/2. Smyslov, champion for only a year, had outscored Botvinnik by one point over the three matches. Smyslov did not play another match for the World Championship.

To the surprise of nearly everyone, in July 1982, the 61 year old venerable ex world champion took 2nd place at the Las Palmas Interzonal Tournament, thereby earning a slot in the series of candidates matches to select a challenger for then World Champion Anatoly Karpov. Smyslov drew his first 14-game match against the German Grandmaster Robert Heubner 7-7, and the rules called for a roulette wheel to break the tie. Smyslov won the right to chose a color, and he chose red. The wheel spun, and the ball fell in the 00 slot, which is neither red nor black, another tie! The second spin came up red, Smyslov went on to the semi-final cycle, and Heubner retired from world championship competition!

Smyslov won his semi-final match too, against Hungarian Grandmaster Zoltan Ribli, by a score of 6-1/2 to 4-1/2, setting up a candidates final match with Garry Kasparov. That match was played in 1984, and Kasparov won by a score of 8-1/2 to 4-1/2. Kasparov went on to play the controversial aborted match with Karpov in 1985, and won the world championship in the rescheduled match. Kasparov remains world chess champion in the eyes of most chess players, despite being stripped of his title by FIDE in a dispute that continues to this day.

Smyslov remains an active, and strong Grandmaster of chess. Very few players have the stamina to compete even at the highest levels, at a time when most normal people would have already retired! See The Games of Vasily Smyslov.

My Game with Smyslov

Smyslov came to the Montery Park Chess Club on March 17, 1976 for a simultaneous exhibition. I do not remember how many games he played, but it must have been about 20 or 25. He was in a very mellow mood, and seemed uninclined to exert himself. His game against me is actually not all that interesting, although the experience certainly was for me at the time. Smyslov drew the games against his higher rated opponents (who were arranged in order by rating, so he knew who we were; I think there were perhaps 4 or 5 draws), and won the rest of the games. The match had been arranged by club president Yuri Oganesov, who may have been acquainted with Smyslov before himself leaving the old Soviet Union (Oganesov did once share an apartment with Tigran Petrosian).

White - Vasily Smyslov
Black - Tim Thompson
Simultaneous Exhibition, March 17, 1976
At the Monterey Park Chess Club

1.d4,d5; 2.c4,e6; 3.Nf3,Nf6; 4.Nc3,Bb5
Black plays the Ragozin Defence in the Queen's Gambit Declined
5.Bg5 ...
According the the 11th edition of Modern Chess Openings (MCO-11) this transposes into the Vienna Variation. But this same position occurs in Petrosian-Simagin, 1966, and is labled still as the Ragozin Defence by the compiler of Petrosian's games. So much for names. Simagin played 5... h6; 6.Bf6,Qf6 and went on to lose. That is the same line favored by MCO-11, but I prefer having the option to keep a knight on f6.
5... Nbd7; 6.e3,O-O; 7.Qc2,dc4; 8.Bc4,Nb6; 9.Bd3,h6
Black wishes to avoid losing the h-pawn after Bg5xf6 and Bd3xh7+
10.Bh4,Bd7; 11.O-O,c5; 12.dc5;Bc5; 13.Rad1
An unexpected move; I would assume that Rac1 followed by Rfd1 was the preferred idea. Smyslov's approach to the game is very quiet and very passive, but this move only reinforces my notion that Smyslov probably was intentionally allowing draws on the top boards, as long as his opponents did nothing too obviously stupid.
13... Be7
The bishop does not accomplish much on c5, where it is blocked by the f7 and e6 pawns anyway. The retreat breaks the pin of the knight on f6 and clears the c and d files, so the rooks can operate free of obstruction.
Black initiates a series of exchanges. This will give the remaining Black pieces more room to maneuver, and lessen White's attacking chances. I have no qualms about playing for a draw against a World Champion, and that is what I was doing here.
15.Be7,Qe7; 16.Nd5,Nd5; 17.Nd7,Qd7; 18.Qe2,Qe7
Both queens get off of the open files, where they might otherwise become targets for the opposing rooks, or block their own rooks.
19.a3,Rac8; 20.g3,Rfd8; 21.Be4,Nf6; 22.Bg2,b6
White has made no effort to make progress, first taking the b4 square away from the Black knight, and then maneuvering the bishop out of the way to g2. Black has successfully transferred his rooks to the open files, and removed all targets from the view of the g2 bishop. Neither side really has much left to do.
23.Qa6,Rc7; 24.Bf3,Rdc8; draw
By moving Bg2-f3 White was implicitly offering a draw, so I explicitly proposed a draw, which Smyslov accepted without hesitation, with a big smile and a handshake.

Back to Tim Thompson's Chess Page