by Bill Wall


Vasily Vasiliyevich Smyslov (pronounced “smislLOFF”) was born in Moscow on March 24, 1921.   He learned the game of chess at age 6 from his father, Vasily Osipovich Smyslov, who had once defeated Alekhine in a tournament in 1912.  Smyslov’s father was an Economic Engineer working in the Department for the Preparation of Securities.


In the summer of 1935, at age 14, Smyslov started taking part in local chess tournaments.  He won his first tournament of unrated players at the Gorky Park chess club.  He won two more tournaments that year and was a 3rd Category chess player.


In the Fall of 1935, he joined the Moskvoretsky House of Pioneers.


By 1936, he was a 1st Category chess player.


In 1937, he won the Moskvoretsky House of Pioneers championship with a perfect 11-0 score.


In January 1938, Smyslov won the All-Union boys' championship in Russia.  That same year he tied for first place in the Moscow city championship with Russian master Sergey Belavenets.  He was awarded the Master title.


In the autumn of 1938, he entered the Moscow Institute of Aviation.


In 1939, he took 12th-13th place in the Leningrad-Moscow international tournament.


In 1939-40, he took 2nd-3rd place in the Moscow Championship.


In 1940, he played in the USSR championship and took 3rd place with 8 wins and 10 draws.


In 1941 he played in the Leningrad-Moscow match tournament, also taking 3rd place, behind Botvinnik and Keres, with 4 wins, 12 draws, and 4 losses.


In 1942 Smyslov won the Moscow championship with 8 wins, 5 draws and 3 losses.


In 1944 Smyslov took second place, behind Botvinnik, in the USSR championship.


In 1944-45 Smyslov won the Moscow championship.


In 1945 Smyslov twice defeated Sammy Reshevsky in the USSR vs. USA radio match.


At Groningen 1946 took third place, behind Botvinnik and Euwe, with a score of 7 wins, 11 draws, and 1 loss.


The world chess federation, FIDE, sponsored a world championship match tournament at The Hague and Moscow in 1948 to determine the next world champion.  Smyslov took second place, behind Botvinnik.


In November, 1949 Smyslov tied for first place with David Bronstein in the 17th USSR championship with 9 wins, 8 draws, and 2 losses.


Smyslov's other interest was music and in 1950 tried out for the Bolshoi Opera


At the 1950 Budapest Candidates tournament, Smyslov took 3rd place, behind Bronstein and Boleslavsky, with 5 wins, 10 draws, and 3 losses.


In Neuhausen-Zurich 1953, Smyslov won the second Candidates tournament with 9 wins 18 draws and 1 loss, two points ahead of the rest of the field.


In March, 1954 Smyslov began play with Mikhail Botvinnik for the world championship title in Moscow.  He drew the match with 7 wins, 10 draws, and 7 losses, but Botvinnik retained the title.


Smyslov won at Zagreb 1955 with 10 wins and 9 draws. He then won the Amsterdam Candidates tournament in 1956 with 6 wins, 11 draws, and 1 loss.


At the first Alekhine Memorial in Moscow, 1956, Smyslov tied with Botvinnik for first place with 7 wins and 8 draws.


In April 1956 Smyslov won the Candidates tournament held in Leewarden, Netherlands.


Smyslov again became the challenger to Botvinnik in the world championship match of 1957 in Moscow.  This time, Smyslov defeated Botvinnik with 6 wins, 13 draws, and 3 losses to become the world chess champion.


A return match for the world championship was held a year later in Moscow in 1958.  Smyslov lost his title after winning 5 games, drawing 11 games, and losing 7 games. He had been world champion for one year and 12 days.


Smyslov was a Candidate in 1959, but Mikhail Tal prevailed and won the right to meet Botvinnik a year later.


Smyslov won Moscow 1960, won Moscow 1963, won the Capablanca Memorial in Havana 1965 (ahead of Fischer), won Hastings 1968-9, won Monte Carlo 1969, 3rd at Moscow 1971, 2nd at Teesside 1975, 2nd at Buenos Aires 1978, and 2nd at Moscow 1981.


In 1965 Smyslov lost to Yefim Geller in the quarter-finals of the Candidates matches.  Boris Spassky eventually won the Candidates matches that year.


In 1976 Smyslov played at Lone Pine, California, won by Tigran Petrosian. 


In 1982 at the age of 61, Smyslov took second place (behind Ribli) at the Las Palmas Interzonal with 6 wins, 5 draws, and 2 losses.  He thus became the oldest player to qualify as a Candidate.


Smyslov drew his quarter-final match with Robert Huebner with 1 wins, 12 draws, and 1 loss at Velden, Austria.  The tie-breaker was a spin at the roulette wheel and Smyslov came up the winner. Smyslov's color was red and Huebner's color was black.   When the roulette wheel was spun the first time, it came up 0 and on green (another tie).  On the second spin, the ball landed on red 3.


In the semi-finals, Smyslov defeated Zoltan Ribli of Hungary with 3 wins, 7 draws, and 1 loss.  He lost to Garry Kasparov in the finals.  Smyslov had been a Candidate for the world championship longer than anyone else, 33 years from 1950 to 1983.


In 1991 Smyslov won the first Senior World Championship, held in Bad Worishofen, Germany.  He was 70 years old.


Smyslov retired from competitive play after the 2001 Veterans vs. Ladies Tournament in Amsterdam.


Smyslov died of heart failure in Moscow on March 27, 2010, three days after his 89th birthday.


In Chess Olympiad play, Smyslov won 69 games, drew 42, and only lost 2 games.


In world championship play, Smyslov has won 24 games, drawn 44 games, and lost 21 games.  His peak rating has been 2690.


Smyslov has played over 1600 games, with a winning percentage of over 60 percent.  He has had more 2600-plus performances than any other player.


Smyslov - Prins, Helsinki 1952

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.g3 d5 4.Bg2 c5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.O-O Be7 8.e4 Nf6 9.e5 Nd7 10.dxc5 Bxc5 11.Bf4 h6 12.Nc3 g5 13.Be3 Bxe3 14.fxe3 Ndxe5 15.Nxe5 Qxd1 16.Bxc6+  1-0