Boris Spassky in critical condition (updated)

The World Champion hospitalized in intensive care

boris spassky

Last Saturday at 11am a call for an ambulance was received from Boris Spassky’s apartment in Moscow. Upon arrival the doctors discovered Spassky lying on the bed in semiconscious state. He had lost control of the left side of his body – arm and leg.

The World Champion was hospitalized urgently in intensive care the 13th hospital. cites the doctors, “He has a cerebral blood clot, the condition is grave.” Rosbalt cites his sources on Spassky’s condition as “irregular cerebral blood flow”. RIA Novosti says the condition of Spassky is grave, but does not specify the cause due to confidentiality.

On October 1, 2006, Spassky also suffered a stroke during a chess lecture in San Francisco, but recovered. In his first major post-stroke play, he drew a six-game rapid match with Hungarian Grandmaster Lajos Portisch in April 2007. In 2008 Spassky participated in a simul during Mtel Masters 2008 (scroll down for video). In 2009 in Elista he played the Battle of Giants against Korchnoi (video below). He is also the oldest former world champion still living.

Boris Spassky interview 19 April, 2009

More information on the sad news coming

Boris Spasski and Viktor Korchnoi analysing during the Battle of Giants in Elista 2009

Video by Eugene Potemkin

Boris Spassky is a Soviet-French chess grandmaster. He was the tenth World Chess Champion, holding the title from late 1969 to 1972.

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 was a part of the Fischer-Spassky chess match in 1972, the most famous chess match in history.

He was born in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) to a Russian mother and father, and learned to play chess at the age of five on a train evacuating from Leningrad during World War II, and first drew wide attention in 1947 at age ten, when he defeated Soviet champion Mikhail Botvinnik in a simultaneous exhibition. His early coach was Vladimir Zak, a respected master and trainer. During his youth, from the age of ten, Spassky often worked on chess for up to five hours a day with master-level coaches. He set records as the youngest Soviet player to achieve first category rank (age ten), candidate master rank (age eleven), and Soviet Master rank (age fifteen). In 1952, at fifteen, Spassky scored 50 percent in the Soviet Championship semi-final at Riga, and placed second in the Leningrad Championship that same year.

Spassky made his international debut in 1953, aged sixteen, at a tournament in Bucharest, Romania, finishing tied 4th-6th with 12/19, an event won by his future trainer, Alexander Tolush. He was awarded the title of International Master by FIDE. In his first attempt at the Soviet Championship final, URS-ch22, Moscow 1955, at age eighteen, he tied for 3rd-6th places with 11½/19, after joint winners Vasily Smyslov and Efim Geller, which was sufficient to qualify him for the Goteborg Interzonal later that year.

The same year, he won the World Junior Chess Championship held at Antwerp, Belgium, with the score of 14/16. Spassky competed for the Lokomotiv Voluntary Sports Society.

By sharing 7th-9th place, with 11/20, at the 1955 Goteborg Interzonal, he qualified for the 1956 Candidates’ Tournament, held in Amsterdam, automatically gaining the grandmaster title, and was then the youngest to hold the title. There, he finished in the middle of the ten-player field, tied 3rd-7th places with 9½/18. At the 1956 Soviet final, URS-ch23, held in Leningrad, Spassky shared 1st-3rd places on 11½/19, with Mark Taimanov and Yuri Averbakh, but Taimanov won the subsequent playoff to become champion. Spassky then tied for first with Tolush in a strong Leningrad tournament later in 1956.

After these early successes, Spassky then went into a slump in world championship qualifying events, failing to advance to the next two Interzonals (1958 and 1962), a necessary step to earn the right to play for the World Chess Championship.

In the 1957 Soviet final, URS-ch24 at Moscow, Spassky finished tied 4th-5th with 13/21, as Mikhail Tal won the first of his six Soviet titles, which began his ascent to the world title in 1960.

Spassky’s failure to qualify for the 1958 Interzonal came about after a last-round defeat at the hands of Tal, in a very nervy game in the 1958 Soviet final, URS-ch25 at Riga. He had the advantage for much of the game, but missed a difficult win after adjournment, then later declined a draw. A win would have qualified him for the Interzonal, and a draw would have ensured a share of fourth place with Yuri Averbakh, with qualification possible via a playoff.

Spassky tied for first place at Moscow 1959 on 7/11, with Smyslov and David Bronstein. He nearly won the title at the next Soviet final, URS-ch26 at Tbilisi 1959, finishing half a point behind champion Tigran Petrosian, in equal second place with Tal, on 12½/19. Soon after Spassky notched a victory at Riga, 1959, with 11½/13. Spassky was in the middle of the pack at the next Soviet final, URS-ch27 at Leningrad, with 10/19, as fellow Leningrader Viktor Korchnoi scored his first Soviet title victory. Spassky travelled to Argentina, where he shared first place, ahead of Bronstein, at Mar del Plata 1960 with Bobby Fischer on 13½/15, defeating Fischer in their first career meeting.

Another disappointment for Spassky came at the qualifier for the next Interzonal, the Soviet final URS-ch28 at Moscow 1961, where he again missed advancing by one place, finishing tied 5th-6th with 11/19, as Petrosian won.

Spassky decided upon a switch in trainers, from the volatile attacker Tolush, to the calmer strategist Igor Bondarevsky. This proved the key to his resurgence. He won his first of two USSR Championships, URS-ch29, at Baku 1961, with a score of 14.5/20. Spassky shared 2nd-3rd at Havana 1962 with 16/21, behind winner Miguel Najdorf. He placed joint 5th-6th at Yerevan 1962, URS-ch30, with 11.5/19. At Leningrad 1963, the site for URS-ch31, Spassky tied for first with Leonid Stein and Ratmir Kholmov, with Stein winning the playoff. Spassky won at Belgrade 1964 with an undefeated 13/17, ahead of Korchnoi and Borislav Ivkov. He was fourth at Sochi 1964 with 9.5/15, as Nikolai Krogius won.

Then, in the 1964 Soviet Zonal at Moscow, a seven-player double round-robin event, Spassky won with 7/12, to advance to the Amsterdam Interzonal the same year. At Amsterdam, he tied for 1st-4th places, along with Tal, Vasily Smyslov, and Bent Larsen, on 17/23, with all four, along with Borislav Ivkov and Lajos Portisch, thus qualifying for the newly-created Candidates’ Matches the next year. With Bondarevsky, Spassky’s style broadened and deepened, with poor results mostly banished, yet his fighting spirit was even enhanced. He added psychology and surprise to his quiver, and this proved enough to eventually propel him to the top.

Spassky was considered an all-rounder on the chess board, and his adaptable “universal style” was a distinct advantage in beating many top grandmasters. In the 1965 cycle, he beat Paul Keres at Riga 1965 with careful strategy, triumphing in the last game to win 6-4 (+4 =4 -2). Also at Riga, he defeated Efim Geller with mating attacks, winning by 5½-2½ (+3 =5 -0). Then, in his Candidates’ Final match (the match which determines who will challenge the reigning world champion for the title) against Mikhail Tal the legendary tactician (Tbilisi 1965), Spassky often managed to steer play into quieter positions, either avoiding former champion Tal’s tactical strength, or extracting too high a price for complications. Though losing the first game, he won by 7-4 (+4 =6 -1).

Spassky won two tournaments in the run-up to the final. He shared first at the Chigorin Memorial in Sochi, in 1965 with Wolfgang Unzicker on 10½/15, then tied for first at Hastings 1965-66 with Wolfgang Uhlmann on 7½/9.

Spassky lost a keenly fought final 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. Spassky also won at Beverwijk 1967 with 11/15 ahead of Anatoly Lutikov, and shared 1st-5th places at Sochi 1967 on 10/15 with Krogius, Alexander Zaitsev, Leonid Shamkovich, and Vladimir Simagin.

As losing finalist in 1966, Spassky was automatically seeded into the next Candidates’ cycle. In 1968, he faced Geller again, this time at Sukhumi, and won by the same margin as in 1965 (5½-2½, +3 =5). He next met Bent Larsen at Malmö, and won by 5½-2½. The final was against his Leningrad rival Viktor Korchnoi at Kiev, and Spassky triumphed (+4 -1 =5), which earned him another match with Petrosian, at Moscow 1969. Spassky’s flexibility of style was the key to his eventual victory over Petrosian in the 1969 World Championship. Spassky won by 12½-10½.

During Spassky’s three-year reign as World Champion, he won several more tournaments. He placed first at San Juan 1969 with 11½/15. He won a quadrangular event at Leiden 1970 with 7/12, ahead of Larsen, Botvinnik and Jan Hein Donner. Spassky shared first at Amsterdam 1970 with Lev Polugaevsky on 11½/15. He was third at Goteborg 1971 with 8/11, behind winners Vlastimil Hort and Ulf Andersson. He shared first with Hans Ree at the 1971 Canadian Open Chess Championship in Vancouver.

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”. The contest took place in Reykjavík, Iceland, at the height of the Cold War, and consequently was seen as symbolic of the political confrontation between the two superpowers. Spassky accommodated many demands by Fischer, including moving the third game into a side room. The Fischer Spassky World championship was the most widely covered chess match in history, as mainstream media throughout the world covered the match. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger spoke with Fischer urging him to play the match, and chess was at its apex. The match could not have occurred without Spassky’s tremendous sportsmanship, accommodating many demands of Fischer, refusing to use these demands as an opportunity to win by forfeit. Chess benefited.

Going into the match, Fischer had never won a game from Spassky in five attempts, losing three. In addition, Spassky had secured Geller as his coach, who also had a plus score against Fischer. However, Fischer was in excellent form, and won the title match convincingly (+7 -3 =11), with one of the three losses by default.

The match could be divided into halves, the first won convincingly by Fischer, and the second a close battle. Before Spasski, Taiminov, Larsen, and Petrosian, had lost convincingly to Fischer, but Spassky maintained his composure and competitiveness.

Spassky continued to play some excellent chess after losing his crown, winning several championships. In 1973, he tied for first at Dortmund on 9½/15 with Hans-Joachim Hecht and Ulf Andersson. A very important victory for him was the 1973 Soviet Chess Championship at Moscow (URS-ch41). He scored 11½/17 in a field which included all the top Soviet grandmasters of the time.

In the 1974 Candidates’ matches, Spassky first defeated American Robert Byrne in Puerto Rico by 4½-1½ (+3 =3); he then lost the semi-final match to the up-and-coming Anatoly Karpov in Leningrad, despite winning the first game, (+1 -4 =6). Karpov had publicly acknowledged that Spassky was superior, but had nevertheless outplayed him. However, Spassky’s chances were badly damaged by the defection of his coach, Geller, to Karpov’s side before the match.

In 1976, Spassky was obliged to return to the Interzonal stage, and he was well short of qualifying from the Manila Interzonal, but was seeded into the Candidates’ matches after Fischer declined his place. Spassky won an exhibition match with rising Dutch grandmaster Jan Timman at Amsterdam 1977 by 4-2. He triumphed narrowly in extra games in his first Candidates’ match over Vlastimil Hort at Reykjavík 1977 by 8½-7½. This match saw Spassky fall ill, exhaust all of his available rest days while recovering; then the healthy Hort, in one of the most sportsmanlike acts in chess history, used one of his own rest days, to allow Spassky more time to recover; Spassky eventually won the match.

Spassky won an exhibition match over Robert Hübner at Solingen, 1977 by 3½-2½, then defeated Lubomir Kavalek, also at Solingen, by 4/6 in another exhibition match. His next Candidates’ match was against Lajos Portisch at Geneva 1977, and Spassky won again, by 8½-6½, to qualify for the final. But at Belgrade 1977, Spassky lost to Viktor Korchnoi by (+4 -7 =7).

Spassky, as losing finalist, was seeded into the 1980 Candidates’ matches, and faced Lajos Portisch again in Mexico. After fourteen games, the match was 7-7, but Portisch advanced since he had won more games with the black pieces. Spassky missed qualification from the 1982 Toluca Interzonal with 8/13, finishing half a point short in third place behind Portisch and Eugenio Torre. The 1985 Candidates’ event was held as a round-robin tournament at Montpellier, France, and Spassky was seeded in as an organizer’s choice. He scored 8/15 to tie for 6th-7th places, behind joint winners Andrei Sokolov, Rafael Vaganian, and Artur Yusupov, but only four players advanced to matches. This was Spassky’s last appearance at the Candidates’ level.

Spassky’s later years showed a reluctance to totally devote himself to chess. He relied on his natural talent for the game, and sometimes would rather play a game of tennis than work hard at the board. Since 1976, Spassky has lived in France with his third wife; he became a French citizen in 1978, and has competed for France in the Chess Olympiads.

Spassky did, however, score some notable triumphs in his later years. He tied for first at Bugojno 1978 on 10/15, with Karpov. He was clear first at Montilla–Moriles 1978 with 6½/9. At Munich 1979, he tied for 1st-4th places with 8½/13, with Yuri Balashov, Ulf Andersson and Robert Hübner. He shared first at Baden, Vienna in 1980, on 10½/15 with Alexander Beliavsky. He won his preliminary group at Hamburg 1982 with a powerful 5½/6, but lost the final playoff match to Anatoly Karpov in extra games (Learn From Your Defeats, by Anatoly Karpov, Batsford 1985). His best result during this period was clear first at Linares 1983 with 6½/10, ahead of Karpov and Ulf Andersson, who shared second. At London Lloyds’ Bank Open 1984, he tied for first with John Nunn and Murray Chandler, on 7/9. He won at Reykjavík 1985. At Brussels 1985, he placed second with 10½/13 behind Korchnoi. At Reggio Emilia 1986, he tied for 2nd-5th places with 6/11 behind Zoltan Ribli. He swept Fernand Gobet 4-0 in a match at Fribourg 1987. He finished equal first at Wellington 1988 with Chandler and Eduard Gufeld. Spassky maintained a top ten world ranking into the mid-1980s.

However, Spassky’s performances in the World Cup events of 1988 and 1989 showed that he could by this stage finish no higher than the middle of the pack against elite fields. At Belfort WC 1988, he scored 8/15 for a joint 4th-7th place, as Garry Kasparov won. At Reykjavík WC 1988, he scored 7/17 for a joint 15th-16th place, with Kasparov again winning. Finally, at Barcelona WC 1989, Spassky scored 7½/16 for a tied 8th-12th place, as Kasparov shared first with Ljubomir Ljubojevic.

Spassky played in the 1990 French Championship at Angers, placing fourth with 10½/15, as Marc Santo Roman won. At Salamanca 1991, he placed 2nd with 7½/11 behind winner Evgeny Vladimirov. Then in the 1991 French Championship, he scored 9½/15 for a tied 4th-5th place, as Santo Roman won again.

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 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. He is also the oldest former world champion still living.

Spassky’s best years were as a youthful prodigy in the mid 1950s, and then again as an adult in the mid to late 1960s. He seemed to lose ambition once he became World Champion. Some suggest the first match with Fischer took a severe nervous toll, but others would disagree as he was the unusual sportsman who seemed to appreciate his opponent’s skill. He applauded one well-played game of Fischer, and attempted to defend Fischer when he faced jailing.

Some might suggest his preparation was largely bypassed by Fischer, but the match saw several important novelties by Spassky. Instead, Fischer was an incredible player in 1972, having won an unprecedented 20 games in a row, and Spassky probably showed he was number 2, and the match saw many enjoyable games. While one suggested he felt the disappointment of his nation for losing the title, others would say he conceived of himself as his own man and after the match took French citizenship. He had the equanamity to appreciate what as the chess event of the century, as chess occupied the spotlight for almost a year.

Never a true openings maven, at least when compared to contemporaries such as Geller and Fischer, he excelled in the middlegame with highly imaginative yet usually sound and deeply planned play, which could erupt into tactical violence as needed.

Spassky succeeded with a wide variety of openings, including the King’s Gambit, 1.e4 e5 2.f4, an aggressive and risky line rarely seen at the top level. Indeed, his record of sixteen wins (including victories against Fischer, Bronstein, and Karpov), no losses, and a few draws with the King’s Gambit is unmatched. The chess game between “Kronsteen” and “McAdams” in the early part of the James Bond movie From Russia With Love is based on a game in that opening played between Spassky and David Bronstein in 1960 in which Spassky (“Kronsteen”) was victorious.

His contributions to opening theory extend to reviving the Marshall Attack for Black in the Ruy Lopez (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0-0 8.c3 d5), developing the Leningrad Variation for White in the Nimzo-Indian Defence (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Bg5), the Spassky Variation on the Black side of the Nimzo-Indian, and the Closed Variation of the Sicilian Defence for White (1.e4 c5 2.Nc3). Another rare line in the King’s Indian Attack bears his name: 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.g3 b5!?

Spassky is respected as a universal player, a great storyteller, a bon vivant on occasion, and someone who is rarely afraid to speak his mind on controversial chess issues, and who usually has something important to relate.

International team results

Spassky played five times for the USSR in Student Olympiads, winning eight medals. He scored 38½/47 (+31 =15 -1), for an outstanding 81.9 percent. His complete results are:

* Lyon 1955, board 2, 7½/8 (+7 =1 -0), team gold, board gold;

* Reykjavík 1957, board 2, 7/9 (+5 =4 -0), team gold, board gold;

* Varna 1958, board 2, 6½/9 (+4 =5 -0), team gold;

* Leningrad 1960, board 1, 10/12 (+9 =2 -1), team silver;

* Marianske Lazne 1962, board 1, 7½/9 (+6 =3 -0), team gold, board gold.

Spassky played twice for the USSR in the European Team Championships, winning four gold medals. He scored 8½/12 (+5 =7 -0), for 70.8 percent. His complete results are:

* Vienna 1957, board 5, 3½/5 (+2 =3 -0), team gold, board gold;

* Bath, Somerset 1973, board 1, 5/7 (+3 =4 -0), team gold, board gold.

Spassky played seven times for the Soviet Olympiad team. He won thirteen medals, and scored (+45 =48 -1), for 73.4 percent. His complete results are:

* Varna 1962, board 3, 11/14 (+8 =6 -0), team gold, board gold medal;

* Tel Aviv 1964, 2nd reserve, 10½/13 (+8 =5 -0), team gold, board bronze;

* Havana 1966, board 2, 10/15, team gold.

* Lugano 1968, board 2, 10/14, team gold, board bronze;

* Siegen 1970, board 1, 9½/12, team gold, board gold;

* Nice 1974, board 3, 11/15, board gold, team gold;

* Buenos Aires 1978, board 1, 7/11 (+4 =6 -1), team silver.

Sources: RIA Novosti,, Wikipedia