Boris Spassky

Edward Winter


Boris Spassky, front cover, Chess Life, April 1966

A.B. Boxer (Winnipeg, Canada) tells us that at the grandmaster tourney in Winnipeg in 1967 Spassky said to him:

‘I have no further ambitions for the world’s championship.’

This was the year after his defeat by Petrosian in a title match but, as is well known, Spassky squeezed through to victory against the same opponent in 1969.


The April 1983 Chess Life (pages 12-13) contains an interview with the former world champion Boris Spassky which concludes with the following, perhaps surprising, quote:

‘Personally, I think the best chessplayer of all time was Capablanca – especially because he was very lazy, and I am lazy too. So I can understand him very easily. But he was a real genius.’


William Hartston (Cambridge, England) wrote to us in 1983:

‘I had a conversation with Spassky last year which I think throws some light on C.N. 526 (Botvinnik’s match record). I had always supposed that Botvinnik took his first matches rather lightly, in the knowledge that he had the right to a return match if he lost. Spassky’s explanation was more convincing, bearing in mind what we know about Botvinnik’s meticulous approach. He claimed that Botvinnik had already started his preparations for the return match while the first match was in progress. Indeed, one might even accuse him of using the first match as part of those preparations. The exhausting process of winning through the qualifying tournaments, then beating Botvinnik left Smyslov and Tal too exhausted to put up a fight in the “serious” match which followed. With that gloss on chess history, we should perhaps be less impressed with the achievements of Bronstein and Smyslov in 1951 and 1954 in “only” drawing with a man who was just sizing them up for the big fight. Spassky said that he once told Botvinnik of his conclusions; the old man just glared at him and said, “You are very clever”.’


The March 1987 Europe Echecs (pages 159-164) has a terrific interview with Boris Spassky, by Jacques Le Monnier. The former world champion talks candidly about all of his main opponents, singling out Keres as a particularly kind and gentlemanly colleague. The last chess artist was perhaps Larsen, the game having now moved towards a phase of chess ‘killers’. Spassky says that he is still in contact with Fischer: ‘He is poor … it’s tragic. It greatly saddens me to think of his fate; he became world champion and then suddenly everything collapsed’. Fischer ‘will never return’.

Although Spassky will perhaps one day publish a book of his games, he has stopped annotating because it brings in little money. ‘I have written only one book, on my 1977-78 match in Belgrade against Korchnoi’, over which he has been ‘maltreated and defamed’. For six years he could not bring himself to speak to Korchnoi.

We are unclear as to the publication details of this book, and would welcome information. It will be recalled that during the ‘Chess Crisis’ of 1977-78 journalists were almost without exception for Korchnoi; hardly a word was heard in favour of Spassky. As we know from the Termination Affair, the chess press prefers to play its controversies by intuition rather than by serious investigation and analysis.



Boris Spassky (Palma de Mallorca, 1969 tournament book)

A photograph of Spassky from the Russian book by Boleslavsky and Bondarevsky (Moscow, 1970) on the previous year’s world championship match against Petrosian:


C.N. 1379 asked for information about a book by Spassky on his 1977-78 match against Korchnoi. The former world champion gives an excellent interview to Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam on pages 36-42 of the 7/1988 New in Chess:

‘I wrote two books. One about my loss to Karpov and the second book about my loss to Korchnoi. I called this latter book ‘The Dramatic Match’. I sent it to Schmaus, the publishing house, and they didn’t publish it and I am happy they didn’t publish it. But they still have the manuscript.’

Spassky also states (though how seriously it is difficult to guess) that he is still writing a book on his match against Fischer:

‘I would like to publish this book after my death, because it contains certain memoirs, certain ideas. There is no sense in writing such a book for the money, because it is very poorly paid. Nobody is going to pay you decently for it. If you want to write a good quality book you need time. I have many recollections from my chess career, I met many interesting people, but I wouldn’t like to write a book like, for example, Kasparov did [Child of Change]. This is not a book, I could only read two or three pages of it, this is garbage. As champion of the world I would pay at least one million dollars to get rid of such garbage. A shame: First of all, if you write a book as champion of the world, you should write it personally, without any journalist.’



Since Spassky’s side of the story regarding the 1977-78 match against Korchnoi has received little attention, his comments in Europe Echecs are reproduced below:

‘Quant à moi, je n’ai écrit qu’un livre. A propos de mon match contre Kortchnoï en 1977-78 à Belgrade. Il fut considéré comme un match très mystérieux; Kortchnoï m’a accusé d’utiliser des rayons X, les services du KGB etc. Mais à cette époque je me battais pour les droits des joueurs professionnels; personne n’a le droit de gêner un joueur quand c’est à son tour de jouer, quand sa pendule marche. C’était mon principal souci.

... Kortchnoï a presque retourné le problème. Il a spéculé; il m’a accusé d’être le perturbateur pendant la partie.

Personnellement je le respecte beaucoup comme lutteur et comme joueur; il a beaucoup travaillé, il est toujours à la recherche de la nouveauté, il étudie les Echecs très profondément. Je le connais depuis quarante ans. Mais en fin de compte ce qui arriva fut très important. On réalisa que j’avais raison; dans la suite du match on installa des boxes qui protégeaient des influences extérieures. Mais Kortchnoï changea complètement; dans ce cas j’étais l’agresseur. C’est contre cela que je protestais. Après tout peu importe puisque maintenant cela fait partie de l’histoire.

... Le tennis m’a donné un autre bonheur dans la vie. Quand j’écrivais mon livre à propos de mon match contre Kortchnoï, vous savez que j’ai réuni beaucoup de matériel, tant il y eut de bassesse pendant ce match, tant de spéculations.

... Le comportement de Kortchnoï ... Je n’ai pas pu lui parler pendant six ans. Maintenant c’est possible. J’écrivais ce livre et c’est le tennis qui m’a permis de supporter et de le terminer; j’avais pris l’engagement vis-à-vis de moi-même de décrire ce qui s’était passé, de dire la vérité. Non seulement j’avais été maltraité mais, comme on dit en anglais, diffamé. Toute ma vie, j’ai été honnête. Aussi ai-je joué au tennis contre un mur pendant une heure. J’étais trempé, je me reposai et je recommençai à écrire. C’est comme cela que j’ai pu finir mon livre. Je le devais, luttant contre ce moulin à vent. Ce genre de procès fut sans doute le plus difficile et le plus dur que j’ai supporté dans ma vie. Pour moi ce fut en quelque sorte la ruine de toutes mes illusions sur les droits de l’homme.’

There follows a list of the books about Spassky in our collection:

The illustration below shows Spassky’s signature on our copy of the Weltgeschichte des Schachs volume.


This is the famous ‘red book’ so often mentioned at the time of the 1972 world championship match. The opening titles of the film Searching for Bobby Fischer include footage of Fischer studying it, and we note that the game he was analysing is identifiable as Spassky v Langeweg, Sochi, 1967.


Additions to the above list:

The Damsky book was drawn to our attention by Vitaliy Yurchenko (Uhta, Komi, Russian Federation).

An interview of fine quality appeared in ‘Portrait of a World Champion’ by Leonard Barden on pages 7-13 of the January 1970 issue of Chess Life & Review. Much of the interview (conducted in 1966) is quotable, but here we focus on some of Spassky’s comments on other masters:

‘Botvinnik told me that he disagreed with people who like to compare Petrosian with Capablanca. Capablanca, says Botvinnik, was a genius who could always find a new plan in a position. Petrosian doesn’t do that; he begins to maneuver, and this is a great difference, because a chessmaster of the highest class must always be able to find fresh ideas. I feel myself that Botvinnik’s comment is only part of the truth; Petrosian is better than he says. Tal told me that Petrosian is a very careful player; not passive, but a little bit cowardly. He’s a very practical man; a real Armenian. Capablanca was quite the opposite; he was an optimist, and he played very simple and pure chess.’

‘In our time, only when Mikhail Tal appeared did chessplayers see that there could be a different style. Tal has had a great influence on our chess; he stands out in the same way as the old champions. Probably there have been two pure geniuses in chess; Morphy and Capablanca. Tal is also a genius as a tactician, but because he makes a lot of unsound sacrifices this is not pure genius; Morphy and Capablanca hardly ever made tactical mistakes. Perhaps Rubinstein was also a genius of positional chess, and his playing style was also very pure; but he was a bad tactician.’

‘... I believe that the real grandmaster of the super class has to follow the logical course from the beginning to the end of a game. It is necessary to work out all the right tactical decisions which justify your ideas. Sometimes I am too lazy to do this properly, and that is a very, very bad attitude for a grandmaster. I do not believe that Capablanca, Alekhine or Lasker had this particular problem.’

Asked by Barden which of his games had given him the most pleasure, Spassky stated:

‘The game with Keres which I lost, the first of the 1965 match. It was probably my best game, and I made a very good sacrifice, but then I went wrong by playing R-R3 instead of P-Q5, and was crushed. I like this game very much; probably next to that I like the one against Polugayevsky, which I also lost [Moscow, 1961].’

Other interviews:

Below is the most recent Spassky inscription in our collection:


C.N. 8350 invited readers to submit the scores of simultaneous games in which they were involved.

Philip Jurgens (Ottawa, Canada) supplies a photograph taken during his game against Spassky (1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 e5 c5 5 a3 Bxc3 6 bxc3 Ne7 7 Nf3 Nbc6 8 a4 Qa5 9 Bd2 c4 10 h4 Bd7 11 h5 O-O-O 12 h6 gxh6 13 Rxh6 Rdg8 14 g3 Rg6 15 Rh5 Nf5 16 Bh3 Nce7 17 Ng5 Be8 18 Rxh7 Rh6 19 Rxh8 Rxh8 20 Kf1 Bxa4 21 Qc1 b5 22 Kg2 Rf8 23 Bg4 Qc7 24 Qa3 Rg8 25 Qb2 Rg7 26 Rh1 Ng6 27 Bh5 Nfe7 28 Qc1 Qd8 Drawn) in a simultaneous exhibition at the Bayshore Mall in Ottawa on 2 October 1995:


Mr Jurgens mentions that a report on the display on pages 42-44 of En Passant, December 1995 gave two games: Spassky’s draw with Herb Langer and his only loss, to Robert Inkol.


‘Turgid’ is hardly a word applicable to Boris Spassky, but it is a charitable description of the prose in Winning Record against World Champions by B. Spassky and I. Gelfer (Rosh Ha’ayin, 2014). Below, for instance, is the start of the former world champion’s Preface:


The entire humdrum book (which misappropriates a number of photographs from C.N. – see, for example, pages 15, 190 and 203) should obviously have been revised by a writer of English mother tongue.


Thomas Höpfl (Halle, Germany) notes that the Chess in Luxembourg webpage has some fine photographs, including shots of Boris Spassky.


A paragraph from page 332 of Impact of Genius by R.E. Fauber (Seattle, 1992) which we have doggedly approached from every angle without making sense of it:

‘The paradox of Boris Spassky is that it is hard to remember any of the plentiful immortal games he has created. There is to Spassky’s play a lightness, the deft and delicate touch which makes just the right brush stroke. It can never be repeated nor can it be improved upon. This endows it with inconsequentiality. Spassky plays last year’s beautiful spring – gorgeous but past.’



From page 13 of Spassky move by move by Zenón Franco (London, 2015):


And so on. This passage, typical of Franco’s approach to writing, does not state where or when Karpov, Fischer, Kasparov, Spassky and Kramnik made the remarks attributed to them. Why not?

Why can readers of McFarland books expect, or at least hope, to see exact sources for quotations, whereas so many other publishers show no sign of having even considered such a requirement? Why, if McFarland’s overall output is praised for its ‘scholarship’, do reviewers refrain from criticizing other publishers for a lack thereof? In any case, the issue at hand is ‘scholarship’ of a most basic kind. When an author says that someone said something, saying where and when it was said is not a donnish luxury or self-indulgence but an essential service to the reader which should be automatic.


An inscription by Spassky in one of our copies of the Santa Monica, 1966 tournament book, Second Piatigorsky Cup (Los Angeles, 1968):


A photograph contributed by Olimpiu G. Urcan to our feature article William Hartston:


European Team Championship, Bath, July 1973 (Hulton Archive)

Latest update: 9 October 2023.

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Copyright: Edward Winter. All rights reserved.