Entries in Boris Spassky (9)
This claim, which is also the headline of this article (HT: Jaideep Unudurti), initially struck me as utter poppycock. The 1972 match between world champion Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union and Bobby Fischer of the U.S.A. involved the world's two super-powers, nations that were not only significant in their own right but as the representatives of two very different and radically opposed political systems. India is an up-and-coming (and extremely populous) nation and Norway is a beautiful and prosperous country, but neither plays the sort of role that the USSR or the USA did.
What about the players? Viswanathan Anand strikes me as a more impressive version of Boris Spassky. Both are gentleman and fantastic players in their own right, both were world junior champions and both took a bit longer to become champion than their immense talent and great early results led people to expect. Anand's results and longevity are greater than Spassky's, though on the other hand Spassky's dominance from 1965 to 1970 may represent a longer stretch at the top than Anand's.*
As for Bobby Fischer and Magnus Carlsen, both were dominant players. The distance between Fischer and world #2 Spassky was colossal - 125 points! Carlsen is "only" 69 points higher-rated than world #2 Levon Aronian and 95 points higher than Anand. ("Ouch!" for the champion in any case.) On the other hand, Carlsen has achieved this match and his dominance at an earlier age than Fischer did. Still, Fischer was a far more charismatic and enigmatic figure than Carlsen. Carlsen comes across as a normal, well-adjusted individual, and I suspect that what non-chessplaying people remember most about Carlsen after seeing some program about him is that he is called the "Mozart of chess". (That label was bestowed on him in 2004 by Lubosh Kavalek, and is to me even more cringeworthy** than Hans Kmoch's calling Fischer's 1956 win over Donald Byrne the "Game of the Century".) Further, while Carlsen has received strong coaching every step of the way, Fischer was largely (not entirely) a self-made player. Both are fantastic players with staggering amounts of talent and drive, who made the most of their gifts, but in terms of their "notoriety quotients" Carlsen barely registers as a blip compared to Fischer. (That's not necessarily a bad thing!)
So, as I said, I was inclined to dismiss the organizer's remark as near-nonsense, as a bit of self-serving and self-congratulatory propaganda, and wasn't going to post. But I recognize that my thoughts about this are very likely influenced to some degree by the fact that I live in (what was) Fischer's country, the United States of America. So I ask my European and South Asian friends and readers, especially those who go back to the Fischer era or at least know those who lived through it, to tell me how things seem in your neck of the woods. Could it really be that the upcoming Anand-Carlsen match is making a bigger splash than Spassky-Fischer in 1972 - particularly in the broader culture?
* (Yes, I'm aware that Spassky was world champion from 1969-1972.)
** Kavalek came up with that moniker to meet a deadline, Carlsen himself apparently didn't and maybe still doesn't care for it very much, and the game that inspired Kavalek (Carlsen-Ernst, Wijk aan Zee 2004) was already worked out by Carlsen beforehand, if I remember correctly.
According to Boris Spassky himself, he had spent the past two years or so under what was effectively "house arrest" under his wife, ever since suffering a stroke in September of 2010. With the help of some friends, he escaped their home in France and made it to back to Russia, where he hopes to live out his days. Spassky even thinks someone (he doesn't say who) may have been trying to kill him, at least during the period when he was in the hospital recovering from the stroke.
Quite the story. Whether or not it's true, I hope he finds safety, good health and happiness back in Moscow.
[HT: Brian Karen]
[N.B. There's another big non-chess story featuring a legendary chess player, and I suspect that many if not most or even all of you know already about it. The story seems to me too crude for a blog that I wish to keep kid-friendly; my apologies to those of you who wished to see it on here. Suffice to say that the prominent parties directly involved in the story - but not the chess figure - both behaved disgustingly.]
Their comments about Boris Spassky are fairly brief, but coming as they do from such legends of the game they are noteworthy nonetheless. (HT: Brian Karen)
Apparently the interview was made back in September, but when Boris Spassky's health took a turn for the worse after a stroke its publication was delayed. Now it has been published and translated, and you can read it here. (HT: Brian Karen)
The former world champion is 75 years old today (January 30). For the past couple of decades he has primarily been an elder statesman and goodwill ambassador of the game, but for many years he was a tremendous player, often cited as a model of universality in his style. In his day he was the youngest grandmaster ever, won the World Junior championship, became a Candidate as a teenager (and back then the latter was not the result of the former), won every event in sight, played three world championship matches and all while being liked by everyone (except Viktor Korchnoi, for a time).
Among his many gifts, industry doesn't seem to have been one of them, and unfortunately for chess fans and for his reputation with generations that didn't see him play, he hasn't written a chess autobiography. (And it doesn't seem likely, given his current health, that it will ever happen.) It's a real pity that his best games are so unfamiliar to most of us, so do yourself a favor. Celebrate his birthday by looking up some of his best games online - they're worth seeing!