Very sad news from Moscow, where the seventh world chess champion, Vasily Vasilievich Smyslov has died. He had celebrated his 89th birthday just a few days ago.
Vasily Smyslov was born in Moscow on March 24, 1921 and learned to play chess at the age of six from his father, who was himself a strong amateur player.
At the age of 17, he was champion of his native Moscow and went on to finish second behind Mikhail Botvinnik in the World Championship Tournament of 1948.
Smyslov was one of the best players of the 1940's and 50's, playing three matches for the world championship with Mikhail Botvinnik. The first match in 1954 ended in a draw, with the rules decreeing the champion Botvinnik kept his title.
Three years later, Smyslov again qualified to challenge Botvinnik and this time was successful. Although he only held the title for a year (Botvinnik exercised his right to a rematch the following year), Smyslov continued to play brilliant chess for many decades after his triumph.
At the age of 62, he qualified through to the 1983 Candidates Final (the winner of which would play Karpov for the title), where it took a young genius called Garry Kasparov to stop him.
He kept playing chess until 2001 when deteriorating eyesight forced him to retire.
Smyslov's other love was music. He had a fine baritone voice and auditioned for the Bolshoi Opera in 1950. His love for music remained undiminished throughout his life, and he occasionally gave recitals at chess tournaments.
Smyslov was renowned as an endgame expert, but he also contributed considerably to opening theory, including some variations that still bear his name.
Botvinnik's opinion of Smyslov was clear:
"In the period 1953-58 Smyslov was undoubtedly the strongest tournament player. His talent was universal - he could play subtly in the opening, go totally onto the defensive, attack vigorously or manoeuvre coolly. And this is to say nothing about the endgame - here he was in his element."
Vasily Smyslov was hospitalised earlier this week and died from heart failure on 27 March 2010 in Moscow. The chess world is a sadder and poorer place for his passing.
Rest In Peace