Grandmaster Profile: Boris Spassky
Former World Champion Boris Spassky does not need a special introduction.
He reigned in chess between 1969 and 1972 and was one of the world's top players
for many years after. Nowadays he rarely plays chess, but naturally he keeps a
keen interest in the game. Our interview happened in late November, when Boris
Vassilievich visited Kilkenny (he is Honorary President of the Kilkenny Chess
Club). Though it's a bit out of date, we hope that the interview will be of
interest to the chess public. This interview was original published in Chess
Boris Vassilievich, my first question is very
general: obviously chess of the 50s, 60s and the 70s is rather different to the
modern chess. What is the main difference in your opinion?
Nowadays the dynamic element is more important
in chess - players more often sacrifice material to obtain dynamic compensation.
Of course, such players were in my generation too and they existed before (for
example, Alekhine) but then fewer people played like that than now. When I spoke
with Alexander Nikitin (former coach of Garry Kasparov - A.B.), he said that
players of my generation had very good understanding of chess, but the game was
slower then. Nowadays there is more dynamism in chess, modern players like to
take the initiative. Usually they are poor defenders though.
Maybe they prefer to attack exactly because the
majority of modern players are not good at defence?
Perhaps. For example, computer defends well,
but for humans its is harder to defend than attack, particularly with the modern
time control. Time control directly influences the quality of play.
This anticipates my second question: what do
you think of the new time control proposed by FIDE?
It depends how you look at this situation. As
for the quality of play, we should try to keep the 'old' time control. We can
compare classical chess and rapid chess with theatre and cinema - some actors
don't like the latter and prefer to work in the theatre. I think that the World
Champion should try to defend the quality of play more than anyone else.
On the other hand, chess is a mass sport now
and for chess organisers shorter time control is obviously more attractive. But
I think that this control does not suit World Championship matches.
How would you compare the role and place of
chess in the society in the 60s and 70s and now?
The place of chess in the society is closely
related to the attitude of young people towards our game. Nowadays young people
have great choice of occupations, hobbies, etc, so chess is experiencing
difficulties because of the high competition. Now it's hard to make living in
chess, so our profession does attract young people.
Was it not always the case that very few chess
professionals could make a decent living from the game?
It was always hard. The Soviet Union was an
exception, but even there chess players were not rich. Only Fischer changed
that. When we played a Candidate's match with Larsen in Malmo in 1968, the total
prize fund was something like $250! I protested to the FIDE President Rogard
then. But he reasonably replied that it was according to the wishes of the
Soviet Chess Federation, to which he had to listen. The Soviet Chess Federation,
of course, did not care about the players, for the communists chess was only an
Recently there was a match in London and soon
FIDE championship will start in India. Which tournament is more interesting to
The match in London. I followed it closely.
Recently I saw Kasparov and he looked to me as still young and potent champion.
Was happened in the match is a typical case when nerves let somebody down, when
energy is low. Maybe it was just a temporary thing for Kasparov, but maybe it
signalled his decline. The tournament in Wjik ann Zee should show a lot. Of
course, I support Kasparov as I am a monarchist and I was a chess king myself
and know how difficult it to be on the top. I hope he can come back here, as he
did a lot of good to the game over years. But coming back to the throne will be
hard, as Kasparov is 37 and his nerves got a lot of beating. But God gave him a
lot of energy, unlike, say, to me. I was probably the best in chess for about 6
years - sometime before 1965 and 1971. Kasparov was the best for much longer!
How do you follow chess?
I don't play in tournaments, but I follow some.
Sometimes I play through games with computer. From time to time computer comes
up with very interesting moves, some of which even bring aestetic pleasure. But
I think that modern players should learn how to control computer, as otherwise
it would be bad for the game. I also follow chess on the Internet, where
Kasparov's site is very interesting. I am involved with the World Chess Network
I think that in the near future we will see interesting developments there.
Nowadays there are many polls, where people try
to define who was the best player ever. It's hard to compare Capablanca and
Kasparov, but perhaps you can name three best players among those whom you got
Fischer, Karpov and Kasparov. If I were to
extend this list and add people whom I did not meet, I would add Morphy and
Andersen, whom I like a lot. Then Chigorin and Alekhine. And, of course,
Capablanca. Chigorin was probably the first 'computer-like' Grandmaster. He
always gave lots of concrete variations and looked at positions without
What about modern players?
Anand is a good player, of course - with a very
dynamic style. But some years ago I preferred how Adams played. It will be
interesting what will happen of Leko. And I am very curious how Kramnik will
play in the near future. Maybe some new interesting players will emerge too -
like Grischuk and Ponomariov.
Boris Vassilievich, thank you very much for the
This interview was conducted by Alexander
Baburin on the 26th of November 2000 in Kilkenny, Ireland and translated into
English by the author.