Sunday, March 28, 2010

Vasily Smyslov (1921-2010)

Former World Chess Champion Vasily Smyslov died Friday night at the Moscow hospital, having turned 89 on March 24th. There is a report and obituary at ChessBase and there will likely be many remembrances over the coming weeks.  Though he held the world title for only a short time (1957-1958), he was the best player in the world throughout the 1950s, during which he played a series of closely contested championship matches with Mikhail Botvinnik.  His best and most famous result was finishing first (two points ahead of the field!) at Zurich 1953, considered by many one of the greatest chess tournaments of all time and made immortal by David Bronstein's widely admired bookHis games have a positional character rather like that of Vladimir Kramnik today (who admired his play) and he often proved himself the Endgame Virtuoso, as demonstrated in his great book by that title.  His chess career continued to late in his life as he participated in the 1980s candidates matches (losing only to Kasparov in a match at Vilnius 1984), won the first senior championship in 1991, and last played in the Ladies vs Veterans tournaments through 2001.  I have looked closely at several of his late games in my series on A Black Fianchetto System in the Open Games and was very impressed by his play at such an advanced age.

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