7th World Champion Vassily Smyslov passed away Friday night in the Moscow hospital where he'd been interned with heart troubles for the past several days. He turned 89 years old on March 24. A world championship level player for over 30 years, his longevity and famously brief stint as world champion usually overshadow his sheer strength. The adjective "harmonious" is attached to his name the way "brilliant" is to Tal's and "universal" to Spassky's. I never really saw it in common currency, but I do remember someone referring to calling Smyslov "The Hand" because it seemed like his play flowed so naturally that good moves just came to his hand unbidden.
Smyslov is also well-remembered for both his enthusiasm and skill as a singer, which he was happy to share with audiences at chess events such as the Veterans vs Women tournaments. He was almost completely blind for the final decade of his life, but still enjoyed chess problems and the occasional visit to a big event if he didn't have to travel too far.
I met him for the first and final time in Moscow at the Botvinnik Memorial (irony duly noted). Watching him in the audience with his wife whispering the moves to him still lingers as a testimony to both love and a passion for chess. A few years ago I posted this candid pic of him at the reception there shaking hands with Kramnik, who took the highest title 43 years after Smyslov won it from Botvinnik. There will be many tributes and reminiscences to come, but as a quickie you could do a lot worse than #14 on #7. An excerpt.
He is truth in chess! 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.
He mastered all elements of play. Smyslov was a brilliant endgame specialist, all in all his play resembled a smooth flow, like a song. When you look at his games, you have that light feeling as if his hand is making the moves all by itself while the man is making no effort at all - just like he was drinking coffee or reading a newspaper! This has the feel of Mozart's light touch! No stress, no effort, everything is simple yet brilliant. I like this feature of Smyslov and I am fond of his games.
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