Boris Spassky turns 75

| 0 | Chess Event Coverage

Today is the 75th birthday of 10th World Champion Boris Vasilievich Spassky. Taking over the title from Tigran Petrosian in 1969, Spassky lost his title in the famous "Match of the Century" against Bobby Fischer in 1972. Spassky is the oldest living former World Champion.

Spassky at the 1984 Thessaloniki Olympiad | Photo Gerhard Hund

Spassky was born in Leningrad (now St Petersburg) on January 30, 1937 and learned to play chess at the age of five on a train evacuating from Leningrad during World War II. He first drew wide attention at the age of ten, when he defeated Soviet champion and later World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik in a simultaneous exhibition.

Spassky won the Soviet Chess Championship twice outright (1961, 1973), and twice more lost in playoffs (1956, 1963), after tying for first during the event proper. He was a World Chess Championship candidate on seven occasions (1956, 1965, 1968, 1974, 1977, 1980, and 1985). He played seven times for the Soviet Olympiad team and won thirteen medals. Spassky won dozens of international tournaments.

In the 1965 Candidates Matches, Spassky beat Paul Keres 6–4 and Efim Geller 5.5–2.5, both in Riga. Then, in his Candidates' Final match against Mikhail Tal in Tbilisi, Spassky lost the first game but won the match 7–4, qualifying for his first World Championship match.

Spassky lost a keenly fought match in Moscow, with three wins against Petrosian's four, with seventeen draws, though the last of his three victories came only in the twenty-third game, after Petrosian had already ensured his retention of the title. A few months after the match, however, Spassky finished ahead of Petrosian and a super-class field at Santa Monica 1966 (the Piatigorsky Cup), with 11½/18, half a point ahead of Bobby Fischer.

As losing finalist in 1966, Spassky was automatically seeded into the next Candidates' cycle. In 1968, he beat Geller again, in Sukhumi, and then defeated Bent Larsen in Malmö with 5.5-2.5. The Candidates final was against his Leningrad rival Viktor Korchnoi and in Kiev Spassky triumphed 6.5-3.5. In the "return match" in Moscow, 1969, Spassky defeated Petrosian 12.5-10.5.

We took this photo at the 2008 Chess Olympiad, where Spassky was guest of honour. In his top years, he was considered an all-rounder on the chess board. His adaptable "universal style" was a distinct advantage in beating many top grandmasters.

Spassky's reign as world champion lasted three years, as he lost to Fischer of the United States in 1972 in the "Match of the Century" in Reykjavik, Iceland. However, he maintained his composure and competitiveness and continued to be active in the World Championship cycle and international tournaments.

In 1992, Bobby Fischer, after a twenty-year hiatus from chess, re-emerged to arrange a "Revenge Match of the 20th century" against Spassky in Montenegro and Belgrade; this was a rematch of the 1972 World Championship. At the time, Spassky was rated 106th in the FIDE rankings, and Fischer did not appear on the list at all, owing to his inactivity. This match was essentially Spassky's last major challenge. Spassky lost the match with a score of +5 −10 =15. Spassky then played young female prodigy Judit Polgár in a 1993 match at Budapest, losing narrowly with 4.5–5.5.

Spassky continued to play occasional events through much of the 1990s, such as the Veterans versus Women series.

On October 1, 2006, Spassky suffered a minor stroke during a chess lecture in San Francisco. In his first major post-stroke play, he drew a six-game rapid match with Hungarian Grandmaster Lajos Portisch in April 2007. In subsequent years, Spassky was a welcome guest and commentator at top events such as the Mtel Masters in Sofia and the FIDE Grand Prix tournament in Nalchik.

On September 23, 2010, Russian media reported that Spassky had suffered another stroke while in Moscow, and was taken to hospital. After that he returned to France (where has lived since 1976) for a long rehabilitation programme.

The German Chessbase published an interview today with Spassky, conducted by Dagobert Kohlmeyer, where it says that the 10th World Champion is celebrating his birthday at home in Paris. Spassky is not in a good condition. However, in his characteristically optimistic and jovial tone, he says that according to the circumstances, he's doing well.

The stroke has only caught one brain hemisphere. Thought and speech are still working. Above all, the side that is responsible for chess work, is still reliable!

Boris Spassky was a special guest at the 2008 Chess Olympiad in Dresden, Germany, There we recorded the following press conference, hosted by Susan Polgar. Highly recommended!

We used Wikipedia for this article.

Update 17:06 CET

FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov sent the following message to the 10th World Champion:

Dear Boris Vasilievich!

It is my great pleasure to most cordially and sincerely congratulate you on the occasion of your 75th birthday, on behalf of the leadership of the International Chess Federation (FIDE), me personally and millions of your fans in all parts of the globe.

There are plenty of remarkable mementoes in your sportive chess career. You have demonstrated on many occasions your ability to concentrate and impeccably perform under very complicated circumstances. Your ability to play and your will to win is a true example for a young generation of chess players.

Thanks to you, in 1972 after your World Championship match with Bobby Fischer, the entire world learnt what chess is. Then, only due to your noble position, a chess crown was taken by Fischer. For the whole chess society and not only you are a model of decency and nobility.

Your professionalism, enthusiasm, highest level of loyalty, honesty and culture as well as your modesty and kindness towards people make everyone who works with you and know you, respect you immensely.

After the termination of the active sports activities, you pass your experience to the younger generation. A chess school in Satka, Cheliabinsk region of Russia, is proudly named after you and for 10 years is a center of an active chess live in the Urals Federal district, where chess is cherished and loved. Hundreds of children in the remote places of Russia thanks to you got to know the wonderful world of chess.

I believe that these temporary health difficulties will not interfere with your future creative activities for the benefit of chess, and you will keep delighting us with your worldly wise advice and scintillating commentaries.

In my capacity as FIDE President, it is my pleasure to extend an invitation for you to be my representative at the World Chess Championship match between Viswanathan Anand and Boris Gelfand, this May.

Dear Boris Vassilievich, on this wonderful day, I would like to wish you further success, good luck, the best of health. We hope you will be always in the best of spirits and your energy will have no end. Let peace and balance always stay in your heart!

With best wishes,

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov

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