As we are on the eve of another world chess championship match, it seems like a pertinent time to talk about the oldest former world champion still alive, Boris Spassky, who was born in 1937. The reason I find Spassky interesting is because he’s the only world champion I’ve ever played. Before I played him I thought “yes, great player but nothing really more than that”.
Editors note: Danny sent us this article a long time ago, it’s my fault it wasn’t published earlier!
Spassky was always considered perhaps the first great “universal player”. During our analysis I got the distinct impression that his instincts lay in the area of attacking the opponents king, so really to be considered such an all-round talent was a great compliment.
In this article I want to look at some of the earliest games of Spassky, and try and explain how he was able to use these attacking skills at an early stage in the game.
The game was in a team event in France some years ago. At one point in the game he offered me a draw. But it wasn’t the timid draw offer you hear from so many chess players. This was a loud, booming, insistent offer that left no doubt about what he had said. In fact I’ll be surprised if the whole tournament hall hadn’t heard it.
In fact I played on for a few moves and then offered him a draw back a few moves later. Only when we briefly analysed afterwards did it dawn on me that I was in the presence of a great talent. He kept suggesting sacrificial possibilities that didn’t even occur to me in the game, with an abandon and general sense of freedom that was quite inspiring.
In this instructive game Spassky combined a number of attacking elements that I think are worth recalling:
SACRIFICE OF A PAWN TO OPEN LINES. By sacrificing the d-pawn, White was able to open up lines against the Black king and further increase his lead in development.
QUEEN TO THE G-FILE. Queen to g3 or g4 is a typical attacking device for White in the opening- making it difficult for Black to develop his bishop on f8.
In the next game Spassky combined two attributes that are important for successful play in the opening- imagination and visualisation.
As we can see from this game Spassky was still a raw player. But what he had was IDEAS. Chess is an IDEAS game, and Spassky was able to use his great imagination to come up with IDEAS and interesting plans to outfox the opponent.
Watching a video of a Vladimir Kramnik post mortem from a few years ago (which by the way are always highly instructive) I was struck by the way Kramnik was drawn towards central pawn thrusts that could change the very character of the game. Arguably these sudden thrusts are at their most potent at any early stage in the game, as the opponent is unready to react to the sudden change in position.
Perhaps the most important moment of my childhood came when watching the James Bond film “From Russia with Love”. The second scene of the film sees the SPECTRE agent Smersh take on the Canadian player Adams and win with a spectatular combination.
I was so taken with the beauty of this combination it was like falling in love for the first time. When you are old you become cynical about things and certainly that extends to chess as well, but watching this film chess seemed like an exciting game, played by shadowy men in suits.
In fact this combination was modelled on a very famous combination that Spassky used to defeat Bronstein.
To sum up, Spassky played with ambition and imagination. Often it is not easy to understand why strong players are so good, and what separates them from the pack.
Moves like Nbd7! Demonstrate why they are different from the pack. It would be very easy to take back on d4, get ground down later and think where did I go wrong? Players like Spassky had a genius which was indefineable. They sensed the moment, when the critical situation would arise.They had an ability to “smell out” the moves which were great.
However, there are also certain lessons we can learn from his games. For example the importance of time, and the importance of using imagination to think beyond the obvious, that are easily applicable to our own games.
With careful study of the games of players like Spassky and Tal, I believe that a chess player can learn the lessons that he or she can apply to their own games, to score easy wins in the opening.
Danny Gormally is a talented English Grandmaster. He lives in the bustling market town of Alnwick, somewhere near Scotland.