Vassily Smyslov Dead at 89

I am afraid I have been so lax in keeping up with my internet reading that I only just found out that Vassily Smyslov has died. Smyslov was the World Chess Champion from 1957-1958. His rivalry with Mikhail Botvinnik throughout the 1950’s would not be matched until the epic Karpov-Kasparov matches of the 80’s and early 90’s. Smyslov played three matches with Botvinnik. The first ended in a 12-12 tie and featured a string of eight consecutive decisive games, Smyslov winning four and Botvinnik winning the other four. The tied match meant Botvinnik kept the title. Smyslov then won the second match to take the title, but lost the rematch the following year.

Smyslov remained a top player right into the 1980’s, when he made it to the finals of the Candidates Matches to find a challenger for Anatoly Karpov. Smyslov was defeated in that final by Gary Kasparov.

Smyslov was famous for his very graceful, positional play. Upon learning of his death I went looking for a tactical combination to use from one of his games. Alas, my usual references did not seem to have any good ones. So here is a cute endgame study he composed.

White to Play and Draw

My computer was not able to figure this out, at least not very quickly. White draws with 1. Bf6+! exf6 2. f4. White is now threatening to move his king and push his h-pawn. This forces 2. … Rh8+ 3. Kg7!

Only this! 3. Kg6 fails because of 3. … Rxh5 4. Kg7 Rg5+ 5. Kh8 Kh5 6. Kh7 Rg6.

Analysis Diagram

If white now plays 7. a4 then black wins with 7. … Rg5!. White will shortly run out of moves and will be forced to take the rook on g5. Then black wins easily. If instead 7. a3 then black replies 7. … Rh6+ 8. Kg7 a4! and again white is forced to release the black king and rook..

Back to the main line. 3. .. Rxh5 4. a4 Rg5+ 5. Kh8!

Analysis Diagram

Once again, only this. Work out for yourself why 5. Kh7 fails. But now the draw is secured, since no matter how much black struggles, he will never extricate his king and rook from the prison on the g and h files. Very nice!


  1. #1 Michael Kremer
    April 10, 2010

    I don’t know if you want something more simple and snappy, but this is pretty impressive for a “positional” player:

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