He was the seventh World Champion, but only reigned for one year due to the vagaries of the system and the stubborn resistance of Mikhail Botvinnik, who held the title for 13 years. Theirs was an epic struggle in the 1950s, stretching across three championship matches and other games. In 1954 they tied 12-12 and thus Botvinnik retained his title. In 1957 he won 12.5-9.5. Then Botvinnik was entitled to a rematch which he won 12.5-10.5. Thus Vasily finished ahead in these encounters and also won an extra game in a short match in the Russian Championship. It can best be compared with the rivalry between Karpov and Kasparov in the 1980s.
Vasily applied to be an opera singer with the Bolshoi Theatre, but failed to get in at a very late stage of the very competitive selection process – opera’s loss and our gain. Even quite late in life he would sing at chess events, often accompanied by GM Mark Taimanov, himself a concert pianist.
Smyslov’s style was one relying on clarity of strategic ideas and great strength in the endgame.
In his latter days I understand he went blind. He was always a majestic, statesmanlike presence at chess events. Vasily was a frequent visitor to England over his long career. He played at Hastings, the Acorn Computer Candidates Semi-finals in 1983 where he beat Zoltan Ribli (only to lose to Kasparov in the final in the US). He also played in the Foxtrot Veterans v Women match that was staged once in London and even the Lloyds Bank Masters. One year he turned up late for the first round and thus had not been paired in that Swiss event. We never considered awarding a win or half point bye or pairing him with his travelling companion, Gavrikov. Thus Les Blackstock played him and lost in the late endgame. Leonard Barden came out of retirement, only to lose to the other Russian. The longevity of his career can only be compared with that of Korchnoi. In one Lloyds Bank Masters he played initially on Board 1, but after drawing a game, was back in the pack and sited accordingly, playing in the middle of a long row. This confused him, as well it might, but he made no complaint.
Our condolences to his wife and other members of the family
- Stewart Reuben