Boris Spassky new interview. "Lokomotiv Society Saved Me Twice"
Original here. Interview conducted by IM Igor Lensky.
Lokomotiv Society Saved Me Twice
On July 19th, it's been 50 years since the legendary grandmaster, Honoured Master of Sports of the USSR and tenth chess world champion, Boris Spassky, received his most unusual award: the Honorary Railway Worker badge. In the coming fall, Boris Vasilyevich together with the Russian Chess Federation starts a new youth chess project in the Central Railway Workers' Culture House. In the eve of the Railway Worker's Day (first Sunday of August in Russia), Spassky, 79, remembers the connections of his long and illustrous career with railways in an exclusive interview to the Gudok newspaper.
Boris Vasilyevich, how did you decide to join the Lokomotiv sports society?
In Leningrad, there was a man, Mikhail Yurievich Cherkes, the head of the Oktyabrskaya Railway (the railway between Moscow and Leningrad). In the late 1950s, he wanted to create a strong chess team in the city. He invited all the Leningrad grandmasters: me, Tolush, Bondarevsky and, as far as I remember, Korchnoi. After my failure at the 1958 USSR Championship in Riga, where Misha Tal won an important game against me, Cherkes became my patron in Leningrad. In the same year 1958, I found a Lokomotiv boxing section in the city. My sparring partner used to beat me regularly. I was stronger physically, but his technique was better. In sport, particularly in chess, you often need technique more than strength.
You decided to become a journalist?
I didn't as much decide as life itself led me to. At first, I enrolled into the mechanics and mathematics school of the Leningrad State University. I studied there for about a year, and then had to transfer to the philological school, because I took a lot of extended leaves for chess tournaments. You can't do that with mathematics. At the philological faculty, I received a permission to go to tournaments and training camps from the university's rector, Dr. Alexandrov, one of the world's best geometrists. So, I've had my share of adventurers while studying.
Why did you move to Moscow?
My chess career was twice saved by the Lokomotiv society. The first time was when they gave me a one-bedroom flat on the outskirts of Leningrad, in the Schemilovka district, and I moved away from my ex-wife. She started to file delations against me. In 1963, my affairs in Leningrad became quite shaky. My coach Igor Bondarevsky told me, "You know, KGB are rather interested in you here, go away." It's easy to say, but where could I go? And Lokomotiv saved me again! They gave me a one-bedroom flat near the Fabrichnaya platform (in the town of Ramenskoye, Moscow Region), and so I became a member of Lokomotiv Moscow.
I've started to play for Lokomotiv, visited their training camps together with my coach Bondarevsky. The strongest line-up of Lokomotiv in the Soviet team championship was Boris Spassky at board one, Lev Polugaevsky at board two, Nikolai Krogius at board three, Igor Zaitsev at board four, and Igor Platonov at board five. The Moscow Railway executives also helped us.
What can you remember about the Central Railway Workers' Culture House?
My first tournament in the CRWCH was the 1955 Soviet Championship. I was 18 at the time. Mikhail Botvinnik, the strongest chess player in the world at the time, suddenly decided to play. He rarely played in the Soviet championships, thinking it was too burdensome for him. Yet there he was. I sat against him, played very energetically, sacrificed something, even started to attack his King. Botvinnik was quite scared and... offered a draw. What should have I done? If a world champion needed a draw from a young man, how could I refuse?
It was always a pleasure to play in the CRWCH, I feel like at home here. Even back in 1955, I felt that the Moscow public was supporting me, a Leningrad player, and it was good. Back then, I was the youngest player in the Soviet Championship, winning an International Master title not long ago in Bucharest. The 1955 Soviet Championship was also a qualification for the Interzonal, and I managed to qualify for the first time.
Since then, I love that hall. I also became a Soviet Champion there in 1973, in a very strong tournament with Tal, Smyslov, Keres, Geller, Petrosian, Karpov, Polugaevsky and Korchnoi.
Did you know any heads of the Soviet railway industry personally?
After defeating Tigran Petrosian in the 1969 World Championship match, I was introduced to the Soviet Minister of Railways, Boris Beschev; shortly before, I also got to know the head of the Moscow Railway, Leonid Karpov. I can't forget the audience with Boris Pavlovich after the match ended. He congratulated me warmly with winning the world championship, gave me a gift - I think it was a ministerial wristwatch. Leonid Anatolievich Karpov was encouraging our team before the 1972 match with Fischer in his office at the Krasnoprudnaya street.
During my Soviet chess career, I've only had two sponsors: Lokomotiv (and, by extension, the Ministry of Railways), and the Russian SFSR Sports Committee. These two organization always supported me, no matter what happened.
You played against Bobby Fischer in Reykjavik. Were there problems during the preparation?
I brought four kilograms of caviar to Iceland, to make the American player happy. Shortly before the match, I received a three-bedroom flat at the Vesnin street, right across the road from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' skyscraper at the Smolenskaya square. The order was given to me by the Mossovet chairman, Promyslov.
The world championship win in 1969 took a heavy toll on me. I've had troubles with my vater, as I called him - my coach Bondarevsky. Before the decisive 17th game, Bondarevsky decided to have a serious chat with me, which was a rare event: "Either you listen to me, or I leave you." I argued that I needed to prepare for the game on my own, to "walk into" the mood, to be one on one with myself - I can concentrate better this way. Bondarevsky didn't back away: "You should listen to me." I also didn't give up, "I'll do as I deem necessary." He disliked that, very much. I told him, you know my opinion, now it's up to you to decide what you do. And so, during the 17th game, Bondarevsky was rooting for... Petrosian.
Bondarevsky wanted Petrosian to punish me for my disobedience. When I won that game, despite his wishes to the contrary, Bondarevsky pretended that nothing happened and he was never going to quit. Thankfully, I had another coach in my team at the time, GM Efim Geller. He helped me tremendously. Geller's help was invaluable, he was a very good psychologist. He had a real psychological talent, intuition, he felt everything! All subtle nuances at the board and around it, all people. Geller was a very smart man. In the decisive moment of the Petrosian match, Efim Petrovich just told me, "Forget about everything, think only about chess, play chess!" This was his most valuable advice.
At the time of my 1972 match against Fischer, I had enough prizes and royalties to establish my own "currency fund", so I could pay my seconds from my own pocket. I didn't need to ask the Sports Committee and my club for help at all occasions.
Is it true that Bondaresvky didn't go to Iceland with you (many people think that it was the main reason of your defeat) because of Geller's scheming?
No, Geller had nothing to do with it. There's another reason. Bondarevsky was a very good coach when he felt that I had a reserve of strength - in chess preparation, in form, in health. He was good at directing me, pushing me to develop my own ideas and then present them to him for evaluation. When Bondarevsky felt that I had a reserve of strength, for instance, during the 1968 Candidates' match against Korchnoi in Kiev), he worked wonders. But when everything was hanging by a thread, Bondarevsky couldn't find optimal, best decisions. In such a critical situation, he would offer second-rate, substandard decisions. And so I understood that in the most important moments, Bondarevsky would maneuver, he wouldn't support me. And I needed a very reliable man for my match against Fischer. That reliable man was Geller.
When we discussed the line-up of my team for the match against Fischer, I excluded Bondarevsky from the list at the preliminary talks. I've never once regretted not including Bondarevsky in my team - neither during the Fischer match or after it.
Who made your list then?
The list was very solid - very loyal people, in full contact with the Soviet Sports Committee. For instance, Melentyev, deputy chairman of the Russian SFSR Sports Committee, Vera Tikhomirova, the chairman of Russian SFSR Chess Federation, my personal translator Grigory Vats. And at this crucial moment, the Soviet Sports Committee suddenly decided not to support me! If my list was approved, I wouldn't have faced such enormous problems during the match.
I think I had to insist on taking my whole team with me. Before my departure, I visited the propanganda department of the CPSU Central Committee, headed by Alexander Yakovlev, the future ideologue of Gorbachev's perestroika. We discussed the Fischer match. I asked to be included in the talks - how and where to play, on which conditions. And Yakovlev even supported me. But nobody included me in any talks. The Soviet Sports Committee couldn't forgive me for going over its chairman, Sergey Pavlov's, head.
Which chess players did you invite?
I could have invited almost any Soviet chess player, for instance, Paul Keres - I think I should have invited him. I believed in Geller; he understood Fischer very well and fully justified my expectations. I didn't include Krogius in my list, but he wanted to go to Iceland with me very much. I didn't disagree, since Krogius did help me in my match against Petrosian. Ivo Nei from Estonia turned out to be a spy: during the Fischer match, he was feeding information to the Americans, he practically worked for Robert Byrne who was writing a book about the match. So, during the match, he was ousted from the team.
What mistakes did you make before going to Iceland?
I regret not taking inspiring music with me to Iceland. My favourite performers - Caruso, Shalyapin, Russian and Romani romances. When I became a chess professional in the West, I would always take music with me. And a tennis racket. During the Fischer match, I would also play tennis regularly.
And what mistakes did you make during the match?
I made a huge mistake before the third game. At the moment, Fischer was ready to forfeit the match: he lost the first game after a dubious Bishop sacrifice, then no-showed the second game, so I led 2-0. Fischer had a quarrel with the organizers about noisy video cameras. He started to pester the arbiter, Lothar Schmid, and managed to alienate almost everybody.
And so, I believed that Fischer wanted to disrupt the match. That was my mistake. Fischer didn't want to disrupt the match. He wanted various perks and privileges for himself, he wanted to get on my nerves and create tensions - but not to drive me away from Reykjavik. His chief ideologue was his coach Bill Lombardi, who would "inspire" him for scandals. And Fischer followed his coach's advice with great punctuality.
So, did you relax after 2-0?
No, I didn't. But I thought, if Fischer was so mad, perhaps I should make some small concessions? So I agreed to play a game in a reserve room, without spectators. Nothing bad happened here, we player a normal, combative game. But Fischer managed to win. It was very important for him, because it was his first ever win against me. (Before the match, I had a 3-0 score against him.)
And Fischer immediately perked up. But still, by Lombardy's advices, he continued to file protests, like, the birdies stopped singing over the Reykjavik bay today, and this was obviously caused by the schemes of Spassky, his team and Soviet embassy. He would come up with all sorts of stuff, even though all conditions were agreed upon, and everyone bent over backwards to meet his demands.
Did you make any purely chess mistakes?
I think that my preparation against Fischer was good. Our opening work was very satisfactory. In the fourth game, I surprized my opponent with a sharp novelty in the Sicilian, and he barely managed to draw with White!
Both Geller and me knew Fischer well. During the match, of course, we both made mistakes, but they are inevitable from both sides. There was nothing catastrophic.
So, Fischer just played stronger than you in 1972?
I think not. He didn't. But he won some important games when he got the advantage outside the board. You know, Fischer was always afraid of me. And he was weaker than me in the middlegame. In the opening, Bobby was always superb. But in the middlegame, with the pendulum swinging back and forth, Fischer would get confused. In critical moments, he would concede. My games were marred by time troubles, which I often had. Fischer also had some time troubles, but that was much rarer.
Before the 11th game, which I won, I didn't go to the restaurant. I went to some students' cantina, ate something simple, and, you know, I started to fly as a bird. I was in a very happy, light mood, and this helped with my game.
Fischer won the match. What did you talk about after that?
Right after the end, Fischer said that we would surely play another match. Because Fischer thought that the world champion should have the right for a return match. He gave his word, and he acted on it: 20 years later, we did play a match in Yugoslavia, on the Sveti Stefan island, and Fischer won again.
Boris Vasilyevich, are you religious?
Even chess have a goddess, Caissa... I wouldn't call myself 100% religious. Sometimes I call myself a half-believer. Because I don't go to church, don't observe the rites. But I do think that somewhere high in the sky, there's a supreme judge.
What do you think about computerization and informatization of chess? In many mainstream openings, there are some forced 25-move or 30-move variations. Doesn't that mean that memorizing openings becomes all-important?
I don't think that it's a problem. In World Championship matches, the games aren't won in the opening, they are won in the middlegame. Of course, you have to transition from the opening into the middlegame and avoid early defeat. After the opening, you should find a plan and stick to it, and then feel a crisis coming. After the crisis, there's a new struggle. There can be several crises in one game.
I think that computers helped chess big time. Computers allow you to quickly prepare for games, to learn about your opponent's opening preferences. Many assumptions about the game were refuted by computers. In the endgames, for instance. Computers know everything about every endgame with five pieces or less and their results. It's interesting to compare various chess engines. It's especially interesting when one engine evaluates a complicated position with many pieces one way, and another engine gives an opposite evaluation. There will come a moment when the rules of chess will be changed, and both players would be allowed to use computer help. Why not? Memory always played a major role in chess. But many world champions didn't have an ideal memory. Games are won because of other qualities. And I think that computers didn't change anything in that department.
In the chess of my era, psychology was very important: knowing your opponent, their strengths and weaknesses, knowing yourself - Alekhine wrote about that. I value Alekhine very highly. I actually don't see much difference between modern chess and old classical chess.
If you're offered a choice to travel by train or plane, what would you choose?
I'm limited to ground travel, so I'll choose trains: fast and comfortable. But most often, I'm travelling by car - it's my primary and crucial means of travel now.
Do you still take part in the Russian chess life?
Since 2004, I was an editor of the Shakhmatnaya Nedelya (Chess Week) newspaper, sponsored by RZD. At a banquet after the 2014 Carlsen - Anand match in Sochi, I was introduced to Vladimir Putin. We had an interesting talk.
Now, my most important work is a school in the Urals, in the town of Satka, Chelyabinsk Oblast, sponsored by the Magnesit Group. The Spassky School in Russia exists for more than 10 years. I give homework to the kids, dabble in chess composition. I also give talks at chess events and work on my autobiography. There are two manuscripts ready for print, in my archive that still remains in France. Saving the archive is my main objective.