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Grandmaster Profile: Boris Spassky

The 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 Though it's a bit out of date, we hope that the interview will be of interest to the chess public.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 Today.

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 instrument.

Recently there was a match in London and soon FIDE championship will start in India. Which tournament is more interesting to you?

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 to play?

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 pre-justice.

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 interview!

This interview was conducted by Alexander Baburin on the 26th of November 2000 in Kilkenny, Ireland and translated into English by the author.

All text Copyright Alexander Baburin unless otherwise noted