Thursday, December 21, 2017

Boris Spassky's Greatest Games

As promised a really long time ago, I wanted to write an article to pay tribute to Boris Spassky, who has been portrayed as the victim many times in my previous writings (such as my series on Fischer and Petrosian). While he didn’t have the fiery drive of Fischer or the iron defensive skills of Petrosian, Spassky was reputed for his universal playing style, which made him very adaptable. His greatest strength lay in the middlegame, where his tactical acumen made him a dangerous and aggressive player.

One of Spassky’s unusual opening favourites was the King’s Gambit, a line that is rarely seen in top-level play. This choice had served him well, as we shall see in the following two examples. In our first game, the Russian used a spectacular rook sacrifice to invade via the f7 square, a move which was described as comparable to the Evergreen Game:

Boris also used the King’s Gambit to great effect against his biggest rival: Bobby Fischer. While we already know what happened between the two of them at the historic 1972 encounter, here is a lesser-known clash 12 years before, where Spassky emerged victorious in a sharp, romantic-style game:

It is worth noting that prior to the 1972 match, Spassky had a positive head-to-head score against Fischer, with two draws and three victories in favour of the Russian! The next position is another encounter between these titans where Boris came out on top. I originally did not intend to include the game in this article, but the final tactical combination is so elegant that I cannot resist showing it as a puzzle:

You can see the entire game over here.

While the earlier examples were showcases of Spassky’s tactical mastery, he could also play strong positional chess if required. In Round 5 of the 1969 World Championship, Spassky demonstrated how a well-supported passed pawn could become so powerful that not even Iron Tigran could stop it:

Spassky (left) vs Petrosian, 1969

Not surprisingly, this was also the match which Spassky won to cement his position as the tenth World Champion.

“In my country, at that time, being a champion of chess was like being a King. At that time I was a King … and when you are King you feel a lot of responsibility, but there is nobody there to help you.” - Boris Spassky

Even in his later years, Boris Spassky was still a force to be reckoned with. Our final example illustrates his defensive prowess in a difficult position, played against a young and rising Garry Kasparov:

At the time of writing, Spassky is currently the oldest living world champion. The following webpage shows excerpts from an interview in 2014, where he fondly recollects his earlier days and what chess means to him.

Spassky (right) and Anand, Sochi 2014 (Photo by Anastasia Karlovich)

Like so many great names before and after him, Spassky’s contributions to the royal game are immeasurable, and he definitely deserves a place alongside Fischer and Petrosian as one of the greatest chessplayers of the 20th century.

“I still look at chess with the eyes of a child” – Boris Spassky


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