Vasily Smyslov's 75th birthday interview, 1996

Nov 6, 2013, 3:35 AM |

Recorded by Yakov Damsky.


Talent in chess... I think it's the feeling of harmony. How quickly the player understands the position, how well is their intuition developed. This can be said about any profession, and in chess, it's determined by how quickly and correctly can the player create an appropriate plan. Of course, much depends on education, you have to be able to work, but I think it's directly dependent on the program that's inside the player. The one who's destined to become a world champion is moving forward like a battering ram. He doesn't think about the future, he just hears the destiny's call and does his duty. Luck accompanies him.

If we ask ourselves why not all the talented chess players become world champions - it's destiny. Everyone has their own fate, and if we draw parallels, for instance, with music or literature, then we'll see that not all talented musicians and writers have become legends like Shakespeare, Pushkin or Mozart. It's very hard to analyze... It's just destiny! By the way, Mikhail Moiseevich Botvinnik once compared Capablanca with Mozart - by the "tone" of their talents. Yes, I can feel the predestination here. So when I think about Bronstein, or Reshevsky, or Keres - all of them great chess players worthy of being World Champions - I'm sure that they weren't destined to be. Everyone has their own path.

This man or woman may not even know their predestination, choose some different occupation - Mark Twain described that in one of his short stories. So, there are probably some chess players that could have achieved much more in different walks of life. The contrary must also be true. But in any case, you should study chess fanatically, give your all, dedicate yourself fully, learn many things - and only then you can clearly see your destiny, only then your talent will emerge.

I was also a chess fanatic. When I was young, I spent days and nights at the board, studied everything that was created, all stages and twists of theory and chess history. My knowledge was encyclopedic. And then - also for hours, very intensively - I studied music. These are two things that I love. Music gave me rest, a special state of mind, and opportunities to connect with people emotionally (chess are more of a struggle). I think that's why I never refuse to sing if asked - unlike other musicians, who (laughs) are more professional than me.

Chess demands a certain kind of concentration. My friend Georgy Yakovlevich Levenfish once said that it's impossible to win a game without some kind of experience. No win comes easily, especially against a good partner. If you achieve this victory in a beautiful way, you value it especially. But this can't happen every day! In my book, I've published only a tenth of my games. I still play some harmonious, integral games, but there are less of them than in my heyday...

There are some players that consider their opponents enemies during games. I've even had breakdowns during the games against those players who made it a point to show their hatred. This unsettled me a great deal, but I very quickly understood that you have to treat your opponent without much emotions. If he openly demonstrates his unfriendliness, I have to find the strength, concentrate, keep calm and harmony in my soul and in my game. I've also come to understand that evil is a boomerang that always returns to its owner. I've had some sort of revelation, so now I can't even wish anything bad to anyone in my thoughts. This doesn't mean that I like everyone, but I'm very reserved in those matters.

That's how I live now. A long time ago, my struggles were much more intense - I've been playing for World Championship, training longer and harder. Now, unfortunately, I can't study all the necessary theory, but I think that if I had to, I'd mobilize myself and train harder. But no matter how much I wanted to win, I've always been correct and seen my partner only as someone who plays a good game against me. Because if you only think about the result, this hurts both quality of your playing and your chess career as a whole. A human soul expresses itself in creativity. This was stated by many old philosophers, for instance, Vladimir Soloviev, and so the creative content of my games is very important for me. I have dedicated my latest works, Chronicles of Chess Creativity and The Art of Endgame, to the best things I've managed to create since 1935, when my career started, up to the most recent times. Though I did create something new since the book was finished. Life is continuous, sometimes you don't even notice how the years pass, how one tournament follows another, and they are all different. But, of course, the matches against Botvinnik were the highpoint of my career. And the second highpoint was a quarter-century later, when I played in the Candidates' matches again and finished third. Was I happy? (Pause) You feel happy when nothing makes you unhappy. I remember one visit to Dnepropetrovsk, when someone asked me, "How can you still play successfully after becoming 60?" I answered that good mood was a big factor in that. There was a university rector in the hall, a great scientist, academician, and I was told that he shared that thought with his colleagues and added, "That's a great advice, but how do we follow it?!" Yes, life sometimes puts us through great trials, as though testing the man's strength, and any human (I've studied theology, you know) has a life cycle that they have to complete. And upon completion, they may receive some additional years that allow them to do something more in the current life, something that adds even more value to their life. And so they get an opportunity to perform actively for some more time, to live actively. And to try to reach for new heights. Another question is whether they are able to complete their cycle in their lifetime - anything can happen. The alternation between successes and failures is a common phenomenon. There's even some philosophical importance in it: the human should never think that they achieved everything, and should always give everything they got. Because when they believe they have already achieved everything, their fall is inevitable. All in all, the main goal of human life is knowledge. Knowledge of the God, if you will.

Of course, trials are inevitable. My greatest tribulation came when my eyesight failed me so much that I couldn't, say, drive a car anymore, to which I've been used for years. But I still can see the board and pieces, and I'm grateful for that. If only I had a support group... Many chess players now use computer data and benefit greatly from that. But such help may also impoverish their own creative potential, because when so much is predetermined, there's much less choice over the board.

And considering the efforts to "free" chess from that predetermination by introducing "Fischer chess", "King chess" etc, I'd say that.

I respect Fischer, I respect his manner of thinking, but I personally prefer the classical chess. There's still no proof of the theorem "White play and win". Or don't win. This formula will presumably be never proved, so we still can play! This game fits the human nature perfectly - the search, the mistakes... And the chess players also should keep in line with chess. In their appearance, as well. We perform on stage, and there are some certain obligations. Being on stage means observing a certain ritual. And singers should be even more strict about their appearance.

Of course, I'm not so strict with my everyday clothes. Especially in the country - you feel much more free and relaxed there. Formerly, I loved skiing, I gathered mushrooms while my eyesight still allowed me, I still swim a lot, but now the frequency of country visits depend on my general condition. In the earlier days, I've been to the country much more often.

I also prefer the red wine now. It warms the chest, makes the voice better than any other drinks. And in food, I like everything that's served on my table: [wife] Nadezhda Andreevna is a great cook!


As a bonus: a couple of endgame studies that Smyslov composed in 1999, already being almost blind.