GM Vasily Smyslov

Full name
Vasily Smyslov
Mar 24, 1921 - Mar 27, 2010 (age 89)‎
Place of birth
Moscow, Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, Soviet Union


Vasily Smyslov was the seventh World Chess Champion (1957-1958). He is the record holder for most Chess Olympiad medals, with 17 total medals, and was also a 2 time Soviet Champion (1949, and 1955).  Smyslov played at the highest level of chess for over 4 decades, and was a candidate in the world championship cycle in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and then again in the 1980s.

Smyslov was known for his strong positional style, and machine-like technical skills in the endgame.  He was not a single dimensional player, as he could also pull out spectacular tactical combinations in his games as well. Here is an example of Smyslov defeating former World Champion, Anatoly Karpov, using a mixture of positional and tactical themes:

Vasily Smyslov learned to play chess at 6 years old from his father, who was also an accomplished chess player.  Unlike most world champions, Smyslov didn’t begin to play in tournaments until he was 14 years old, but he developed rapidly.  At the age of 17, he won the USSR Junior Championship, and tied for first in the Moscow City Championship.

Smyslov continued to grow into a world class player, and in 1948 he was one of the five players selected to play in the 1948 World Championship tournament.  He finished second in this tournament (behind World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik).  In 1953, Smyslov won the international Zurich tournament, allowing him to face Botvinnik for the world championship.  In 1954, Botvinnik and Smyslov tied their 24 game match with a 12-12 score, which meant that Botvinnik would retain the title.

Vasily Smyslov plays Mikail Botvinnik world championship
Smyslov (right) plays Botvinnik (left) for the World Championship in 1957. Photo: Dutch National Archives, CC

In 1956, Smyslov again won the candidates tournament in Amsterdam.  This meant that he and Botvinnik would meet again for another world championship match in 1957.  In their second meeting on the largest stage, Smyslov defeated Botvinnik to become the seventh World Champion.  Here is a classic Smyslov victory versus Botvinnik during their 1957 match:

In 1958, Smyslov lost the return match to Botvinnik. Although he was World Champion for only one year, he didn't give up and stayed in the elite class of players for several more decades. He was a candidate in 8 championship cycles - an incredible feat.  In 1984, he reached the candidates' final round - the winner of this match would face world Champion, Anatoly Karpov, in 1985 for the world championship title. Smyslov (age 62 at the time) lost to 21-year-old Garry Kasparov in the candidates final.

Karpov Smyslov Euwe 1977
Karpov (left), Smyslov (right), and Euwe(seated) in 1977. Photo: Rob Croes/Dutch National Archive, CC

Smyslov's long career also includes 17 chess olympiad medals, the most in history.  In 1991, Smyslov became the World Senior Chess Champion. After his final tournament in 2000 (at the age of 79), his official FIDE rating was 2494.  His legacy as a champion and player are marked by his positional style, brilliant endgame technique, and his numerous contributions to chess theory (most notably in the Ruy Lopez, Sicilian, English, and Grunfeld openings).  Smyslov is best described by the term "Chess Legend".

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