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Portrait Boris Spassky

Boris Spassky
Born on the 30th January 1937 in Leningrad (St. Petersburg)
Chess World Champion 1969-1972

“I play chess because at the age of nine my endless passion for it was awakened.”

The 1972 world championship in Reykjavik between the title defender Boris Spasski and challenger Bobby Fischer made the headlines worldwide like no other chess event has before or since. At the high point of the cold war, the ‘Match of the Century’ became highly stylised, a battle between the systems of the West and East – with negative consequences for both chess titans. After the loss of the title, Spasski was not allowed to take part in international competitions for nine months, however that did not stop him from again winning the Soviet champion title in 1973 – it was the best occupied tournament for the national championships of all time. Spasski’s friend, Fischer, disappeared from the public domain, gave up his title without a struggle in 1975 and did not reappear until 1992 for a revenge exhibition game with Spasski at the chess table.

Spasski admires Fischer’s chess art to this day. “For me, he counts as one of the absolute greats alongside Paul Morphy, Mikhail Chigorin, Alexander Alekhine and Michail Tal. As an aside, all of us are tragic personalities, apart from Mikhail Tal,” says Spasski.

His youth shows clearly how gifted young players in the Soviet Union were nurtured. At nine years of age, Spasski joined the chess section in the Leningrad Pioneer Palace. His first trainer was Wladimir Sak, a candidate Master and passionate trainer who constantly kept a look out for talented children. Thanks to Sak’s personal efforts, Spasski received a monthly scholarship, “this was a great help for the family.” At 11 years of age he was already a player in the first category; at 18 years of age he won not only the youth championships but the FIDE awarded him the title of Grand Master for his success at the Inter-zone tournament in Gothenburg in 1955.


In 1969 he received the Crown and triumphed over Tigran Petrosjan in an exciting battle for the world championship. “When I was able to save the fourteenth match after an adjournment, I was ecstatic and this was perhaps my loveliest moment at the chess table,” Spasski says.

In his strongest phase, Spasski was feared as an extraordinarily fine offensive player, a passionate and fiery fighter who also dealt with all the other game phases with outstanding precision. The term ‘Universalstil’ was coined in the Soviet Union for his style of playing – the highest award for a chess titan. Spasski himself sees the middle game as being his greatest strength – in particular in the decisive moment.

Hollywood also honoured Spasski. In the James Bond Film ‘Liebesgrüße aus Moskau’ – ‘From Russia with Love’ (1963), the Spectre agent Kronsteen is depicted as being a chess Grand Master. On the chess board, the decisive position from the Spasski-Bronstein match can be seen, in which Spasski made the winning move in the USSR Championship in 1960. However, there was one slight change, the central white pawn did not stand on its original square. “I suspect they wanted to try and avoid any legal problems,” Spasski says.