Greengard's ChessNinja.com

Vassily Smyslov Dies in Moscow

| Permalink | 55 comments

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.

Favorite games and stories? Please share.


A real great who was at or near the top for 4 decades - I still think him reaching the candidates final in 1983 is a truly remarkable achievement. Despite his even record against Botvinnik his other results make him for me the strongest in the world from 1953-58 at least. His record in that period is outstanding and his dominance of Zurich 1953 a highlight of Bronstein's great book.

Condolences to his loved ones and RIP.

The first time I saw him was when I saw veritable Grandmasters for the first time. I think I was 13; it must have been 1967. It was a simultaneous exhibition by Smyslov, Keres, and Flohr (or rather 3, each had his own 36 or so boards). I was fascinated by the ease and speed with which they played. (Not that they all scored 100 %, but the scores were rather crushing.)

Seeing this got me hooked on chess...

Then I saw him again in Kapfenberg 1970, European Team Championships. The Soviet juggernaut was really something... Petrosian, Korchnoi, Keres, Stein, Kholmov, Tal, Geller, Smyslov (board order is not correct except for the first two, and I am missing at least two players; not Spassky, however, he wasn't there).

Favourite game? Perhaps his beautiful attack against Ribli during the match that made him a finalist in the Candidate Matches at a most improbable age:

But there is so much to choose from!

In conclusion, permit me to quote from The Oxford Companion to Chess:
"... retrospective grading shows him ahead of Botvinnik from 1950 to 1957, and first in the world for the second half of this period."

A player who aroused the interest of Alekhine and played a Candidates Final against Kasparov - what a career!

Let us be grateful for his legacy.

-Wow, Knallo, you really have a long track record in chess. And still hanging around here at Mig's place. Hats off.

Sad news.

One impressive game is Smyslov vs Liberzon, 1968 (of which he said "my best game in ten years). It's also an English opening, which always interests me... especially if there is a queen sacrifice.


Wonderful. Thank you.

Could someone translate this 2006 interview with Shipov? It's already great in Google Translate.


The Liberzon and Ribli games are indeed wonderful choices.

At the risk of being overobvious:

[Event "Candidates Tournament"]
[Site "Zuerich"]
[Date "1953.10.13"]
[Round "24"]
[White "Keres, Paul"]
[Black "Smyslov, Vassily"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "E14"]
[PlyCount "56"]
[EventDate "1953.08.30"]
[EventType "tourn"]
[EventRounds "30"]
[EventCountry "SUI"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceDate "1999.07.01"]

1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 e6 3. Nf3 c5 4. e3 Be7 5. b3 O-O 6. Bb2 b6 7. d4 cxd4 8. exd4
d5 9. Bd3 Nc6 10. O-O Bb7 11. Rc1 Rc8 12. Re1 Nb4 13. Bf1 Ne4 14. a3 Nxc3 15.
Rxc3 Nc6 16. Ne5 Nxe5 17. Rxe5 Bf6 18. Rh5 g6 19. Rch3 dxc4 20. Rxh7 c3 21. Qc1
Qxd4 22. Qh6 Rfd8 23. Bc1 Bg7 24. Qg5 Qf6 25. Qg4 c2 26. Be2 Rd4 27. f4 Rd1+
28. Bxd1 Qd4+ 0-1

[Event "World Championship 20th"]
[Site "Moscow"]
[Date "1954.04.15"]
[Round "14"]
[White "Botvinnik, Mikhail"]
[Black "Smyslov, Vassily"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "E68"]
[PlyCount "66"]
[EventDate "1954.03.16"]
[EventType "match"]
[EventRounds "24"]
[EventCountry "URS"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceDate "1999.07.01"]

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. g3 Bg7 4. Bg2 O-O 5. Nc3 d6 6. Nf3 Nbd7 7. O-O e5 8. e4
c6 9. Be3 Ng4 10. Bg5 Qb6 11. h3 exd4 12. Na4 Qa6 13. hxg4 b5 14. Nxd4 bxa4 15.
Nxc6 Qxc6 16. e5 Qxc4 17. Bxa8 Nxe5 18. Rc1 Qb4 19. a3 Qxb2 20. Qxa4 Bb7 21.
Rb1 Nf3+ 22. Kh1 Bxa8 23. Rxb2 Nxg5+ 24. Kh2 Nf3+ 25. Kh3 Bxb2 26. Qxa7 Be4 27.
a4 Kg7 28. Rd1 Be5 29. Qe7 Rc8 30. a5 Rc2 31. Kg2 Nd4+ 32. Kf1 Bf3 33. Rb1 Nc6

I'll try and translate at least some of it tomorrow, though Google translate does do a reasonable job. A couple of other interviews I mentioned here a few days ago are, in English, http://www.gmsquare.com/interviews/smyslov.html and the 2005 Russian radio interview he mentions when talking to Shipov: http://archive.svoboda.org/programs/ftf/2005/ftf.100905.asp Sadly the archive doesn't seem to have the audio version with him singing.

I always loved a quote that I heard was from him: "I will play 40 good moves. If you can play 40 good moves we will draw."

My apologies for the "double-post", but I wanted my observances to be in the proper post.

I am very sad to read of the passing of Vasily Vasilyevich. He was a great chessplayer! He played Mikhail Moiseyevich three times for the World Championship and not many realize that he had an overall plus score (+1 out of 69 games).

"Ave, Imperator, morituri te salutant!"

RIP GM Vassili Smyslov.

if Smyslov was still with us, I think he would of voted for Kirsan to be lifetime FIDE president.

"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"

That someone was no other than Spassky. He stated that Smyslov didn't need to use his head for all his moves, some of them were espontaneusly executed merely by his hand. I think the quote appears on My Great Predecessors.


I was impressed by the harmoniousness of his person and being; reading of him was like
being in the literary presence of a great
humanitarian peacefulness.

Delighted to see repeated mention of my favorite, the Liberzon game. I cited it yesterday on the message boards.

While not a great game, I also have fond nostalgic memories a violent post-2000 thrashing of Sofi Polgar at one of the Ladies-Veterans events. Can't locate the game yet...

Go here to hear Smyslov singing -


Scroll a bit down to Post 17

My favourite game of his was the one I was lucky enough to play against him at the Lloyds Bank Masters in 1982. We thought he'd retired and was just visiting London. Little did we know.

However, I realise he did play more significant games both historially and aesthetically!


Have made the changes to the article on Smyslov on my bl0g, and have given you credit. Honestly, I didn't think anyone actually read the bl0g, but it beats me why I didn't give the proper sources of the article credit. :( Let me know what you think of the bl0g, thanks.

Thanks ddd - what a fantastic voice. It would have been great to see the closing ceremonies where he and Taimanov were both playing.

Mark Crowther's obituary also makes note of his amazing record in team events. It may be easier being part of an all conquering Soviet team, but you still have to beat the players put in front of you and many top players of today struggle with that.

Sad news indeed.
I had the pleasure of playing him twice in 1991 when an official Russian contingent lead by Smyslov visited the Malta Federation.

First was over the board...an experience I'll never forget. He was a real gentleman and he kindly analysed the game afterwards.

The second was a few days later in a simultaneous where I managed to draw.

RIP great player.


Oops: same clip as ddd's.

The Rebel website has a track of Smyslov singing Massenet's Elegie, http://www.rebel.nl/smyslov/smyslov.wav, taken from a CD recorded when he was 75(!). The CD liner can be see at the bottom of this page: http://www.rebel.nl/smyspic.htm.

Doesn't work for me, alas.
But listening to the other recording cited here makes me think that chess gained more than music lost by Smyslov's career decision. (Not that it he is a bad singer, mind you, but I doubt he would be have been numbered among the very best of the 20th century.)
Taimanov, by the way, and in my inconsequential opinion, was almost as good at the piano (in duets with his wife) as at the chessboard. I.e. better than Smyslov in one respect, not as good in the other.

Hey Duncan Vella, can you post the 2 games you had against Smyslov?

Hello friends.
It didn't shock me a lot about the passing of #7. What caught my attention was to read this from the TWIC site :"Sadly reports from Moscow suggest that his final years were lived in poverty..."
Chessplayers from around the world....we know we can not make a living from chess (few exeptions of course)It is sad to see the chessplayers of my country (Peru), most of them poor people. Even here in the U.S. I see a lot of "masters" of the game in poor conditions.
What is really great is to see chessplayers that besides moving bishops and knights, they became some type of professionals in other fields.
Mr.Smyslow...Descanse en paz maestro.
Rafael Llanos.
Sherman Texas.

Sorry, that was the first time I've posted here - it appears my punctuation got absorbed into the web addresses. Try these (click on the photo on the first page):


Agreed on the relative abilities in each field - Taimanov was a professional pianist, whereas for Smyslov singing was always a hobby.

One game I always liked:

[Event "Candidates reserve"]
[Site "Portoroz"]
[Date "1971.??.??"]
[Round "3"]
[White "Portisch, Lajos"]
[Black "Smyslov, Vassily"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "A81"]
[WhiteElo "2630"]
[BlackElo "2620"]
[PlyCount "74"]
[EventDate "1971.??.??"]
[EventType "match"]
[EventRounds "6"]
[EventCountry "YUG"]
[Source "ChessBase"]

1. d4 f5 2. g3 Nf6 3. Bg2 g6 4. Nf3 Bg7 5. b3 O-O 6. Bb2 d5 7. c4 c6 8. O-O Be6
9. Ng5 Bf7 10. Nc3 Qe8 11. Qd3 h6 12. Nxf7 Qxf7 13. f3 Nbd7 14. e4 dxc4 15.
bxc4 Nb6 16. c5 Nc4 17. Bc1 Rad8 18. Rb1 Nd7 19. d5 b5 20. dxc6 Nxc5 21. Qc2 a6
22. f4 Bxc3 23. Qxc3 Nxe4 24. Bxe4 fxe4 25. a4 Qd5 26. axb5 axb5 27. Bb2 Rf6
28. Ba1 Qc5+ 29. Kh1 Qxc6 30. Rbd1 e3+ 31. Kg1 Rd2 32. Rxd2 exd2 33. Qb3 Rd6
34. Qc3 e5 35. Rd1 Qc5+ 36. Kh1 Qe3 37. fxe5 Rd3 0-1

Who cares about that old goat?

Dear rdh,
I can't find the games Smyslov played in London in 1982 on the internet. Would you care sharing?

not funny.

A couple of game I like:

[Event "M:URS-USA, Moscow"]
[Site "M:URS-USA, Moscow"]
[Date "1945.??.??"]
[EventDate "?"]
[Round "?"]
[Result "1-0"]
[White "Vasily Smyslov"]
[Black "Samuel Reshevsky"]
[ECO "C82"]
[WhiteElo "?"]
[BlackElo "?"]
[PlyCount "81"]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Nxe4 6. d4 b5
7. Bb3 d5 8. dxe5 Be6 9. c3 Bc5 10. Nbd2 O-O 11. Bc2 f5
12. Nb3 Bb6 13. Nfd4 Nxd4 14. Nxd4 Bxd4 15. cxd4 f4 16. f3 Ng3
17. hxg3 fxg3 18. Qd3 Bf5 19. Qxf5 Rxf5 20. Bxf5 Qh4 21. Bh3
Qxd4+ 22. Kh1 Qxe5 23. Bd2 Qxb2 24. Bf4 c5 25. Be6+ Kh8
26. Bxd5 Rd8 27. Rad1 c4 28. Bxg3 c3 29. Be5 b4 30. Bb3 Rd2
31. f4 h5 32. Rb1 Rf2 33. Rfe1 Qd2 34. Rbd1 Qb2 35. Rd8+ Kh7
36. Bg8+ Kg6 37. Rd6+ Kf5 38. Be6+ Kg6 39. Bd5+ Kh7 40. Be4+
Kg8 41. Bg6 1-0

[Event "match"]
[Site "Ch World , Moscow (Russia) (9)"]
[Date "1954.01.10"]
[EventDate "?"]
[Round "9"]
[Result "1-0"]
[White "Vasily Smyslov"]
[Black "Mikhail Botvinnik"]
[ECO "C18"]
[WhiteElo "?"]
[BlackElo "?"]
[PlyCount "49"]

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 c5 5.a3 Ba5 6.b4 cxd4 7.Qg4 Ne7
8.bxa5 dxc3 9.Qxg7 Rg8 10.Qxh7 Nd7 11.Nf3 Nf8 12.Qd3 Qxa5
13.h4 Bd7 14.Bg5 Rc8 15.Nd4 Nf5 16.Rb1 Rc4 17.Nxf5 exf5
18.Rxb7 Re4+ 19.Qxe4 dxe4 20.Rb8+ Bc8 21.Bb5+ Qxb5 22.Rxb5 Ne6
23.Bf6 Rxg2 24.h5 Ba6 25.h6 1-0

Sure Griphin, here they are.

[Event "Friendly match"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "1991.11.29"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Vella, Duncan"]
[Black "GM Vasily Smyslov"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "A21"]
[PlyCount "70"]

1. c4 e5 2. Nc3 f5 3. d3 d6 4. g3 Nf6 5. Bg2 c6 6. Qc2 Be7 7. Nf3 O-O 8. O-O Kh8
9. b4 Be6 10. b5 Bg8 11. a4 a5 12. e3 Nbd7 13. Nd2 d5 14. Ba3 Bxa3 15. Rxa3 Qe7
16. Raa1 Rad8 17. bxc6 bxc6 18. cxd5 cxd5 19. Rab1 Rc8 20. Qb2 f4 21. exf4 exf4
22. Kh1 Qe5 23. Nb5 Qh5 24. Nf3 Ng4 25. Nbd4 Nde5 26. h3 Nxf3 27. Nxf3 fxg3
28. fxg3 Ne3 29. Qe5 Qxe5 30. Nxe5 Nxf1 31. Bxf1 d4 32. Bg2 Rc2 33. Rf1 Rxf1+
34. Bxf1 Bd5+ 35. Kg1 Ra2 0-1

[Event "Simultaneous exhibition"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "1991.11.29"]
[Round "?"]
[White "GM Vasily Smyslov"]
[Black "Vella, Duncan"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "E98"]
[PlyCount "48"]

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. Nf3 O-O 6. Be2 e5 7. O-O Nc6
8. d5 Ne7 9. Ne1 Ne8 10. Nd3 f5 11. exf5 gxf5 12. f4 e4 13. Nf2 c6
14. Be3 Nf6 15. Qd2 c5 16. Rab1 Kh8 17. b4 b6 18. bxc5 bxc5 19. Rb3 Rg8
20. Rfb1 Qe8 21. Rb8 Rxb8 22. Rxb8 Qg6 23. Bf1 Nd7 24. Rb3 Nb6 1/2-1/2

In the simultaneous final position, another Russian GM was viewing my game and I asked him what he thought if I offered Smyslov a draw. He said he would probably agree....and indeed he did!


Various of Smyslov's game against Sofi Polgar are easily available at chessgames.com

Most of them are clear wins by the ex-WC, but the one you mean is probably this one: http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1305949 with some fantastic tactical shots.

Go on then; never miss a chance to boast about this.

RDH-VS, Lloyds Bank 1981

1 c4 Nf6 2 Nc3 g6 3 Nf3 d6 4 g3 Bg7 5 Bg2 00 6 00 c6 7 d3 e5 8 c5 dxc5 9 Nxe5 Nd5 10 Nc4! (a distinct improvement of 10 Nxd5 which had happened in some Miles-Geller game; naturally I didn't know this and indeed hadn't seen 9...Nd5) Nxc3 11 bxc3 Bxc3 12 Rb1 b6 13 Qb3 Bg7 14 Qa3 Ba6 15 Bf4 Bxc4 16 bxc4 Qe7 17 Rxb6 axb6 18 Qxa8 Be5 19 Bxe5 Qxe5 20 e3 Qc3 21 Bxc6 1/2-1/2

Those were the days, when the likes of VS played punters like me in opens in London. I think Spassky played in one of the LBMs, as well.

Does anyone know if VS published the second book on rook endgames he spoke of in that gmsquare interview?

There's a video here on Russian TV with some footage from Smyslov's funeral, and also clips from his life (I love the way he slams/screws a piece down at one point!): http://www.vesti.ru/doc.html?id=350322

The text of the video is underneath - this is a link to a Google translation:

From Edward Winter's Chess Notes, quoting Stephen Fry (1990):

"My own theory, and I cannot emphasize its worthlessness enough, is that chess is fundamentally a theatrical affair. I first became really interested in the game when I heard about the Smyslov Screw. There was a great Russian world champion, who recently enjoyed something of an Indian summer, called Vassily Smyslov, particularly noted as a master of the endgame. Whenever he moved a piece from one square on to another he had a habit of twisting it, as if screwing it into the surface of the board.

Others might drop their man lightly or bang it aggressively, Smyslov gently screwed it in. The psychological effect of such a move can be devastating. It looks so permanent, so deliberate, so absolutely assured"

What great archival footage from that Russian TV clip. It makes one wonder what other old footage exists of Soviet chess players from Botvinnik through Karpov and Kasparov. Hopefully much of it will continue to trickle down to youtube.

Another icon of chess history. Current pretenders have a long way to go before they reach Smyslov's status.

Thanks, rdh!
And congrats. Quite an accurate draw you played there against an ex-WC!
Cheers. Ray

Did I read the captions in that newsclip correctly: was Yuri Averbakh was speaking at the funeral?

Yes, it was.

Aha! Thanks, Misha. It's a name so resonant, I thought it belonged to an extinct past!

wowowowow ........... thatz nice,
Visit chessmaster

wowowowow ........... thatz nice,
Visit chessmasterbd

This is not me .

ya thatz a nice site.... i am very glad to visit. please for analysis and discuss please visit

"Sadly reports from Moscow suggest that his final
years were lived in poverty and that he had been
ill for some time before his final admission to
hospital." --Mark Crowther, 27.3.10

If I could ask someone who would know, I would ask
if it was true that Smyslov's final years were
lived in poverty.

I wish FIDE would institute a fund that would insure that no World Champion should ever suffer want of any basic need.

I wonder why chess millionaires who owe their popularity to past champions didn't establish a retirement home for impoverished GMs like Smyslov? I don't want to mention names, but I think you know who I mean. I guess things haven't changed since the first official world champion died of starvation.

Because every generation of chessplayers is selfish and thinks that they got where they were solely due to their own ability. Its just like American football, where past players have no healthcare while current players are multimillionaires...when those past players were actually playing, they didn't care at all about those who went before them. Sadly, chess is the same.

It is a pity that the 7th World Champion Vassily Smyslov had passed away. It is a honor to read about such a winner who had been playing chess sets for over thirty years. He was a chess champion which many would remember. I think many who play chess would miss him greatly.

James - http://www.chesssets.co.uk/

I visited this page first time to get info on people search and found it Very Good Job of acknowledgment and a marvelous source of info.........Thanks Admin! http://www.bestphonelookup.com

Your article is very good, read your article, let me benefit a lot, I think I'll certainly want great read your article.

I usually don't comment on blogs but this blog inspired me to make one compliment as I know it's not enough for the meaningful context in your writing as one could understand it easily. Thanks for sharing.

The other day I... uh, no, that wasn't me. I want to know where to find test preis 2012, do you?

Twitter Updates

    Follow me on Twitter



    About this Entry

    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on March 27, 2010 2:49 PM.

    World Championship Runup Begins was the previous entry in this blog.

    MTel 2010 Canceled is the next entry in this blog.

    Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.