Upgrade to Chess.com Premium!

Spassky vs. Polugaevsky 1961, with Spassky's autobiographical annotation.

The game was annotated by Spassky somewhere in the 1990s.
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6
I remember the year 1950. I was a small boy back then. The Leningrad team got me to the Russian SFSR players, so that I could play "Chapayev" against Lyova. You know this stupid game: you have to flick the checkers with your fingers and push the opponent's checkers from the board. I was considered a good player, but actually... I played 2 or 3 games against Lyova and then gave up, because he was a pure genius. He blew all my checkers away, leaving me no chance. Our first proper chess game happened after that "event".
My destiny was often curiously interwoven with Lyova's. We were always rivals. I joined the Lokomotiv society, and he did the same. Then, in 1963, I escaped from Leningrad. Igor Zakharovich Bondarevsky told me then: "You know, an inquisitive and charitable organization took a big interest in you. Get away from here as soon as you can." The inquisitive organization was, of course, KGB. And so I moved to Moscow.
At first, I had a room some 40 kilometers away from Moscow, in Ramenskoye, near the train station, so I could literally feel all trains passing by, which caused some stress. Nevertheless, I was happy, because it was my first proper dwelling where I lived alone.
Well, back to me and Lyova. I got that room, then I got a flat in Moscow - across the street from the famous Butyrka prison. I didn't like that neighbourhood, but I had no choice. And, believe it or not, Lyova later moved into that same 1-room flat across the street from Butyrka. Then I moved to France, and eventually Lyova also went there. Strange coincidences. Lyova died recently, I was at his funeral. Very sad...
3. Nf3 b6
I have to say that we've often had a good laugh at Lyova's expence. For instance, we once played billiards, and Lyova parked his car near the gaming hall to see it at all times. We played with Geller. Efim Petrovich (he liked practical jokes) secretly stole the car keys from Lyova's pocket and discreetly asked me to distract him. I distracted him, Efim Petrovich drove the car to another place and then quietly put the keys back into Lyova's pocket. Then we led him to a window. When Lyova didn't see his car, his face fell. That's the kind of stupid jokes we played on him. We were fools, yes. You know, smarts and intelligence has its limits, but stupidity is absolutely limitless, as you can see by our current state of life.
As we got older, I saw that Lyova reminded me of Viktor Lvovich Korchnoi because of his love for chess. I respect, value and love Lyova for that. And I want to tell a story related to me by his widow. Lyova and Korchnoi weren't exactly the best of friends, but every time he saw Korchnoi, he greeted him. Korchnoi never responded. Ira once asked him, "Lyova, how can you still greet him if he doesn't even notice you?" He replied: "You know, Ira, I don't care how Viktor treats me. I respect him as a chess player." What a spirit! It's a very rare thing these days.
He played a match against Judit Polgar and won. After that, I also played a match against Judit and lost - she played very good, I can't say anything in my defence. But at the end of his life, Lyova became the subtlest of all chess critics - and this ought to mean something.
4. Nc3 Bb7 5. Bg5 Be7 6. e3 Ne4
A very well-known position, nothing special here. Now, with computer help, you probably can get 15 000 games with this position, perhaps even more.
7. Nxe4 Bxe4 8. Bf4 O-O 9. Bd3 Bb4+ 10. Kf1 Bxd3+ 11. Qxd3 Be7 12. h4
The king's position at f1 is actually quite good. White are planning to play Ng5, or perhaps even simply g4 and Kg2. They have a development advantage, after all, and Blacks queenside is still undeveloped. But then, Lyova suddenly lost his track. He couldn't find a good plan and started to suffer, though not immediately. He made his first move: 12... f5. This move already smells suspiciously. I think that Black had a more accurate plan: f6, Nc6 and try to exploit the somewhat shaky position of the King at f1. If the King was at a1 or b1, and the Rook was at g1, it'd be a very different position. But here, it just goes on and on, and White gets a very strong attack literally, as Alexander Kazimirovich Tolush would say, "for free money". After this move, White's plan is very simple: to open the g-file with g4. The easiness of this plan gives White clear advantage. So I played
13. Ke2
Yes, the game is very much in the spirit of Alexander Kazimirovich Tolush. You know, there was a slogan "Avanti, Kazimirych!" A whole generation of players played with this slogan.
13... d6 14. g4
Obviously, after 14... fxg4, there's 15. Ng5 - very uncomfortable. Poor Lyova (as Smyslov would say - "Ah, Lyova, Lyova, poor Lyova") became totally depressed.
14... Nd7 15. Rag1 fxg4 16. Rxg4
Black's position is already quite poor: White has an attack on g-file, e6 is weak, h7 is unsafe as well. Lyova, as far as I remember, already had time troubles at this point. And I was playing quite fast back then, I never had any time troubles, I understood positions quite quickly.
16... Nf6 17. Rg5 Qd7 18. h5
The game is totally one-sided. Black has no compensation for g-file pressure and numerous threats. The simplest threat is 19. h6, ending the game immediately. But I have to give Lyova credit when it's due - he was great! He fought persistently, and you'll soon see a miracle.
18... Ne8 19. Rg2
A strange position. White King is stuck in the center, but their position is quite harmonious. Lyova saw that it was indeed pretty bad, and he had only 5 or so minutes on the clock. He'd already suffered much. I can't remember how much time I had at that point, close to an hour, perhaps.
19... b5
Of course, I can capture on b5, but you know, even kids wouldn't capture such a pawn.
20. c5
Here, Lyova made a heroic decision: he chopped on c5. 20... dxc5. Yes, Smyslov would have again said, "Poor Lyova".
21. h6
The main threat is Qxh7+. After 21... g6, the most simple variant is 22. Ne5 Qd5 23. Rxg6+. So Lyova played
21... Rf5
A very courageous move, with his flag already hanging. Now I look at this position with dread: how could I possibly lose it? But sometimes, miracles do happen in chess. I remember how Alexander Kazimirovich Tolush, a real player, would stuff his cigarette with cotton wool and say: "Remember, even if you play against someone who doesn't know chess at all, never be sure in a 100 per cent win, because anything is possible. What if you suddenly have a heart attack, or something? Anything can happen. No player is ever sure in a 100 per cent win." It's a very important advice, not only for chess, but for life in general as well. By God, I could have just captured on g7, but I saw a forced variant and decided to play it through.
22. Be5
22. Ne5 was perhaps the simplest.
22... c4 23. Qe4 Qd5 24. Qg4
You see, Black again can't play 24... g6: 25. Qxg6+ and 26. h7+.
24... c3
Lyovushka's flag was hanging high.
25. b3
No distractions.
25... b4 26. e4 Qb5+ 27. Ke3 Rf7
The only move. I can just capture on e6. Black is in a very, very bad situation. But still, I saw a forced win and I intended to play it.
28. hxg7 Nf6
I had a lot of time. I thought: I'll have 7.5 out of 10, I'm a leader of the qualifying tournament. I was overjoyed when I played this forced variant.
29. Bxf6 Rxf6
There are several winning continuations. For instance, I could have just played 30. e5. Black can't play Rg6 due to Qh5, and after Rf5 I just chop on h7. But, I did see a forced win, and I wanted to give a checkmate, in Tolush's style.
30. Rxh7
This wins as well. No problem. Lyovushka's flag is hanging. He leaned back and made his moves with such a big swing as though it was a tennis serve. He adjusted his hair and blinked several times. Lyovushka's appearance was very colourful.
30... Rxf3+. The only chance, there's nothing else.
31. Kxf3 Qd3+
Forced
32. Kf4 Bd6+ 33. Kg5
Black has no moves. Qb5+ doesn't help.
33... Kxh7
That's the position I wanted, and I saw that there's a very simple win: 34. Kf6 Qxd4+ 35. Kf7, and, as Kazimirych would say, amen to the pies, and it'd turn out very think, in Borisenko's words, but, alas, it didn't happen. After this game, I had a straight road to the Interzonal tournament, and then further... But something terrible happened.
I was haunted by that position for years. Now I'm not - such things happen once in a lifetime. But I wanted to do everything the best possible way, and I saw a one-move win. So I thought, if I have one move, why do I have to get the King to f6 and then f7? So, with 7.5/10 and leadership in mind, I played 34. Kh5.
And you know - I just forgot about the b5 square. Just forgot. Look, in chess, there are some situations when you lose a game, but still get something good out of it. You get useful experience, or you see that you shouldn't play so rashly and calculate more precisely, or something. I lost this game. I didn't lose immediately, I'll show you how I lost it. But this game didn't do any good for me. Only distress, only chagrin, as Kazimirych would say. Perhaps I'm wrong here, because nothing is that simple. Lyova's flag was hanging critically. I remember clearly that I had 15 minutes for my remaining moves. Which move is now?.. Okay, Lyova had 20 seconds for 6 moves.
34... Qb5+
I've started to desperately count the variants: d5, e5, there are no more moves, to be honest.
35. Kh4
Of course, I've already understood that I blundered, and I felt very bad. I was destroyed.
35... Be7+
The moves are still forced.
36. Kh3 Qg5
White aren't lost yet, but, as I said, I've already lost in my mind. I've ruined a very good game. Lyova didn't play particularly well, but it's besides the point: I played good, I seemed to deserve a win - but no.
37. Qxg5. Of course, there's no other move.
37... Bxg5 38. Rxg5 Rd8
Terrible, dreadful, nightmarish! As they say in Odessa, "a nightmare to say", yes. And then I made a very bad move. After 39. f3 Kg8 40. Rc5, I could have probably drawn. I had to protect the e4 pawn. But I still dreamed of something, even though there was nothing to dream about. And there's no sense to analyze it any further.
39. f4 Kg8 40. Rc5 Rxd4 41. Rxc7
You see, if the pawn was at f3, White's position would have been solid enough. The game was adjourned. I was just devastated. My coach, Konstantin Alexandrovich Klaman, also looked gloomy. Our analysis showed that with perfect play, White is doomed. What's next?
41... Rxe4
There are some positions that cannot be saved no matter what: the c3 pawn looks very threatening.
42. Kg4 e5 43. a3 Rxf4+ 44. Kg5 a5 45. axb4 axb4 46. Kg6 Rg4+

If I play Kh6 now, I will win the Rook, but the Black King will make it to the pawns just in time. So I resigned.
This is my most annoying loss that haunted me for 30 or so years. But still, I'm going to include it into the compilation of my best games, because before the blunder, I played very good, consistently, all moves were parts of a single plan. Now I'm old and can't play like that anymore, but at that time, I had a pure style. Serbians even called me "Šahovsky Puškin" - "Pushkin of chess". I just played a natural game, without any tricks, it was elegant. I'm proud of playing many beautiful games, and I'm also proud that I've allowed others to play many beautiful games against me. I've been losing beautifully, after great combinations. For instance, Igor Zaitsev defeated me spectacularly. Tigran Vartanovich [Petrosian] had some awesome games, Misha Tal did as well. So, in this regard, my chess fate was very happy: I created beautiful games, and my opponents created beautiful games against me as well.

Comments


  • 4 months ago

    Alex1968

    Thank you!

  • 4 months ago

    Spektrowski

    Spassky returned to Russia from France in 2012. Recently spoke in support for Ilyumzhinov at the FIDE president elections.

  • 4 months ago

    Alex1968

    Thank you very much!

    Where is Spassky now?

  • 5 months ago

    scorpion2a

    very touching commentary

  • 5 months ago

    thaskaiser

    thanks Spektrowski

  • 5 months ago

    tpe09222012

    I really appreciate the effort that went into translating this, as both the game and the comments have a touch of the elegiac that is entirely appropriate to the subject. Thank you

  • 5 months ago

    alghul

    What a game and story! Thanks for sharing Spectrowski.

  • 5 months ago

    LeeCooper78

    Never ever had chess world seen a world champion who was such a true gentleman - at the board and off it! Stylish, elegant, always up for the smiles... Let's not forget that if there wasn't for Spassky's sportsmanship, Fischer might have never won the crown. Which would be a real shame...

Back to Top

Post your reply: