21 April 2007

Smyslov's Sparklers

If Web statistics are any guide, Vassily Vassilievitch Smyslov is one of the least appreciated of the World Chess Champions. Twice he emerged the winner of a Candidates Tournament to challenge Botvinnik for the title.

  • 1953 Zurich, two points ahead of Bronstein, Reshevsky, and Keres
  • 1956 Amsterdam, a point and a half ahead of Keres
On the first challenge Smyslov missed winning the title because of a drawn match (+7-7=10); on the second challenge he won (+6-3=13), only to lose the rematch (+7-5=11) a year later. More than 25 years later he reached the final of the Candidates Matches, where he lost to Kasparov, 42 years his junior.

What were the keys to his great chess strength? Why is he held in relatively little esteem by today's chess public? To answer those questions, I identified games in both 'My Best Games of Chess 1935-57' by Smyslov (1958) and 'My Great Predecessors, Part II' by Garry Kasparov (2003), with the intention of studying them in some depth.

1943 Moscow, Smyslov - Kotov
1945 USA-USSR Radio m, Smyslov - Reshevsky
1945 USA-USSR Radio m, Reshevsky - Smyslov
1946 Groningen, Smyslov - Euwe
1948 NLD/USSR, Smyslov - Reshevsky (WCC Gm.11)
1948 NLD/USSR, Euwe - Smyslov (WCC Gm.24)
1954 Moscow, Smyslov - Botvinnik (WCC Gm.9)
1954 Moscow, Botvinnik - Smyslov (WCC Gm.14)
1956 Amsterdam ct, Geller - Smyslov
1957 Moscow, Smyslov - Botvinnik (WCC Gm.6)

These ten games will form the background theme for the next series on the games of the great masters.


Ryan said...

I wholeheartedly agree that Vassily Vasiliyevich doesn't get the recognition he deserves for his outstanding chess ability and long career.

I think in general terms this may be because he isn't a 'larger-than-life' character so there isn't an obvious 'story' which sums him up.

Contrast with e.g. Tal. He was also only champion for a year, yet has a much higher profile because of his daring sacrificial style and his off-the-board reputation as a heavy smoking, hard-drinking hedonist who enjoyed life to the full.

Poor Smyslov's life of comparative virtue seems dull in comparison! Even his style seems to be hard for club players like myself to fully appreciate. The word most often used about his style seems to be 'universal', which hardly sets the pulses racing.

For what it was worth, I spoke up for Smyslov in a recent forum post on the subject of people's favourite GM's at the link below. (I'm SonOfPearl).


Tom Chivers said...

"Smyslov plays correctly, truthfully and has a natural style. By the way, why do you think he lacks that aura of mystique like Tal or Capablanca? Because Smyslov is not an actor in chess, his play is neither artistic nor fascinating. But I am fond of his style. I would recommend a study of Smyslov's games to children who want to know how to play chess because he plays the game how it should be played: his style is the closest to some sort of 'virtual truth' in chess. He always tried to make the strongest move in each position. He has surpassed many other of the World Champions in the number of strongest moves made. As a professional, this skill impresses me. I know that spectators are more interested in flaws ... ups and downs. But from the professional standpoint, Smyslov has been underestimated."