The early reviews of my Smyslov book

The early reviews of my Smyslov book

| 7

There is nothing more exciting - and at the same time nothing more scary - than to read the reviews of your own book. "The Life and Games of Vasily Smyslov: Volume I - The Early Years: 1921-1948" has been published a few months ago, and I am really happy to say that the reception so far has been quite positive. I decided to compile a list of the reviews and reactions that I have seen so far in a single post. Who knows, maybe it will convince you to buy a copy

The most extensive review of the book so far appeared in the February 2021 issue of Chess Life. It is an extensive, two-page article, "World Champion Takes Flight", written by the famous chess author IM John Watson. It starts with a perfect summary of my motivation in writing this book:

...surprisingly little has been written about Smyslov’s life and games. His own two-volume work Smyslov’s Best Games (the English version published by Moravian Chess in 2003) is extremely readable, but has little biographical information and the annotations are rather superficial and limited by modern standards. 

There has long been a need for another book to do justice to Smyslov’s career, and the Russian FM Andrey Terekhov has devoted years of study and research to the task. Vasily Smyslov, Volume I: The Early Years: 1921-1948 is the first installment of what the author says will very likely be more than three volumes. The first volume has already vastly expanded our historical understanding, since Terekhov has unearthed countless previously unknown games and biographical facts from the pre-war and war years. 

The review then presents two of Smyslov's famous victories (his first published game from 1935 with Gerasimov and the game with Reshevsky from the 1948 world championship match tournament), and concludes with a deep observation on the benefits of studying the chess biographies for the up-and-coming players: 

It’s worthwhile in and of itself to see the history of our game preserved, but a book like this can also constitute an important role in one’s chess education. Although I suspect that young players aren’t frequently examining the games of the old masters, they would be well served by taking a break from opening theory and studying these. During the years covered in this volume, Smyslov was perfecting his game and rising from an inexperienced and flawed player to parity with the best players of the world. To my mind, that’s a process worth reflecting upon and trying to learn from.

The full text of John Watson's review has been since made available on US Chess Federation web site, and I definitely encourage everyone to read it from the beginning to the end, it's very insightful. 

At the end of February another review of my book appeared here on, in the blog post by Ivan Nieves Kamalakanta, former champion of Puerto Rico. It must be the most glowing review that I have seen so far, but then it might be due to the positive bias towards a fellow blogger In any case, I can't help but quote it:

This book is a masterpiece! Where do I start?

Every chapter in Smyslov's chess journey is divided into two parts:

1) a detailed description of events happening in Smyslov's life and tournaments-

This section includes so much! From articles about Smyslov in the magazines of the time, to critical issues in Soviet society at that time, tournament tables, as well as extracts from some key games and moments in his chess battles.

2) selected games from that period.

The games are fully annotated, and also include information about each opponent! We get to know, in a paragraph or two, some details about who Smyslov is playing in that game! I find that enriching and special! Some opponents died in the Great War; others pursued chess only for a few years; others yet became prominent Masters and even Grandmasters!

In short, this is a book that I highly recommend.

An interesting feature of this review is that you get to know what are the other biographical books that Kamalakanta holds in high regard - one about Lasker, and another about Kramnik.

Another review that I cherish has been written by the "living history" of chess, British master Leonard Barden, in his chess column in The Guardian newspaper (12 March 2021). The first part of the column deals with the tournament struggles of the current world champion, Magnus Carlsen, before delving into the discussion of two books about the past world champions:

The early years of world champions are always interesting to examine for clues to special factors sparking a surge in form which their later followers can try to emulate. Bobby Fischer and His World by John Donaldson (Siles Press, 644 pages, £26) and Vasily Smyslov: The Early Years 1921-1948 by Andrey Terekhov (Russell Enterprises, 556 pages, £33) are highly readable books based on impressive research, and both highlight such critical moments.

I guess that IM John Donaldson's latest book on Bobby Fischer and my book on Smyslov will be compared or at least mentioned in the same sentence for a long time, as they appeared almost simultaneously. It is, of course, a great company. Donaldson has been one of my favorite chess writers ever since his two-volume book on Akiva Rubinstein, and his latest book on Fischer is very popular. 

Leonard Barden draws interesting parallels between Fischer and Smyslov. I was also very pleased that he has chosen the ending of a little-known Ragozin-Smyslov game that was analyzed in my book as a diagram for his column! 

In early April a review of my book by GM Hans Ree appeared on the website of the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad. My Dutch is non-existent, but fortunately automatic translation made huge strides recently, so I was able to read the article with the apt title Brilliant simplicity.

GM Ree makes great observations about Smyslov's career and playing style. I especially liked the following metaphor - I wish I came up with it myself!

According to Terekhov, Smyslov had never played chess outside his parental home before he was fourteen and he compares him to the computer program AlphaZero, which taught chess by playing millions of games against itself. You can also think of the goddess Athena, who at her birth entered the world in full armor from the forehead of her father Zeus.

GM Ree concludes the article with one of Smyslov's earliest studies that I quoted in the book and the inevitable Gerasimov-Smyslov game.

I hope that you enjoyed these reviews as much as I did.

If you read my book and liked it, consider writing a short review, or simply rating it on, or Goodreads, or any other platform of your choice. There is nothing else that brings as much joy to the authors - except for buying their books in the first place, of course!