Clash of Champions: Spassky vs. Petrosian

Clash of Champions: Spassky vs. Petrosian

| 16 | Endgames

For the first time since Alekhine, there was a world champion not named "Botvinnik" who was also not merely renting the title for a year. The Armenian named Tigran Petrosian held the title of world champion, with his unusual, "left-handed" style of quiet positional play and sharp tactics.

Petrosian's first challenger, in 1966, was Boris Spassky.

Spassky, born in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) in 1937, had been storming the chess world in the preceding years, after a long period of uneven results. Spassky was considered to have a "universal style" -- he was at home in many different positions, and didn't really have major weaknesses in his style.

A classical player, Spassky like to play open, attacking positions, but he was also at home in positional maneuvering and endgames.

Before the 1966 match, Spassky was seen as the favorite. Petrosian's style of play never found huge numbers of fans among the general public, and he hadn't been dominating tournaments as it was seen that the world champion should.

On the other hand, Spassky had convincingly beaten all of his opponents in the candidate matches and showed an open, smooth style of play. In addition, Spassky had the dignified air of a gentleman about him, and such non-chess factors also affected how the two competitors were perceived.

Spassky via wikipedia

However, Petrosian won the 1966 match by a one-point margin.

After a tough battle in which Petrosian led by one or two points, Spassky finally managed to equalize the match by winning the 19th game. However, Petrosian straight after won two out of the next three games and clinched the match. Thus Petrosian became the first player since Alekhine to win a match while holding the title of world champion (Botvinnik never managed that).

Despite his narrow defeat, the rather melancholic Spassky did not slip into depression, but instead began climbing the mountain of the qualification cycle again, and in 1969 he was again Petrosian's challenger.

In this match, Spassky took an early lead, but lost it by losing the 10th and 11th games, allowing Petrosian to equalize the match score.

However, as Petrosian had done in his match with Botvinnik (and later Kasparov was to do in his aborted match with Karpov), Spassky kept his cool and began making a series of draws in order to regain his composure.

Finally, the match turned at the 17th game, when Spassky won. Again with the white pieces in the 19th game, Spassky won the most famous of the games from their matches, a slashing attacking game against the Sicilian (which, however, does not fit into the "queenless" subject of this column):

In retrospect, switching from the Petroff Defense (which had given Petrosian easy draws so far in the match) to the Sicilian was a tragic decision.

Thus Spassky had a two-game lead with few games left to play. The players traded wins, and this put the match out of reach of Petrosian. Boris Spassky became the 10th world chess champion.

Spassky in 2009 via wikipedia

Let us now see one of the most instructive endgames between these two players, which was played in the first (1966) match. This game deals with a positional theme, which I have not examined yet in my "Without the Lady" column: the strength -- or weakness -- of center pawns in a queenless middlegame.


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