Raymond Keene

Three titans

Three titans
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The Dutch grandmaster Genna Sosonko specialises in biographies of the greats of the Soviet era. His earlier forays covered the careers of David Bronstein and Viktor Korchnoi; the latter is my choice of book of the year for 2018. Now Sosonko, a Soviet émigré himself, has turned his focus on Vassily Smyslov, world champion from 1957 to 1958, who also made history as the oldest world championship contender of all time in 1984 when he reached the Candidates final in his mid-sixties.

Smyslov won the supreme title in 1957 and came close to retaining it in the revenge match a year later. The final turning point came in this week’s puzzle, where Smyslov could have caused Botvinnik’s resignation in a crucial game, but faltered and went on to lose.

This week’s game was the first published by the young Smyslov and he regards it as the win of which he is most proud.

Gerasimov-Smyslov: Moscow 1935; Colle System

1 d4 d5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 e3 e6 4 Bd3 c5 5 b3 In this variation, developing the queen’s bishop to b2 has the idea of posting a knight on e5 and launching an attack on the kingside. 5 ... Nc6 6 Bb2 Bd6 7 0-0 Qc7 8 a3 b6 9 c4 Bb7 10 Nc3 a6 11 Re1 11 dxc5 bxc5 12 cxd5 exd5 13 Rc1, going after his opponent’s hanging pawns, would have been more energetic. 11 ... cxd4 12 exd4 0-0 13 Na4 Bf4 14 Ne5 dxc4 Opening up the a8-hl diagonal for the light-squared bishop. The reply is forced due to the threat of b5. 15 bxc4 Nxe5 16 dxe5 Qc6 (see diagram 1) Suddenly, the danger of a mating attack looms over the white king. White should have forced a transition into an endgame with 17 Qf3. With queens on the board, Black’s attack soon becomes unstoppable. 17 Bf1 Rfd8 18 Qb3 Ng4 19 h3 Rd3! (see diagram 2) The start of a nice combination. Clearly, White can’t capture the rook with his bishop. If 20 Qxd3 then 20 ... Bh2+ 21 Kh1 Nxf2+ follows, winning the queen. 20 Qxb6 Rxh3 Shifting the rook to the kingside is the point of this combination. 21 Qxc6 doesn’t work because of 21 ... Bh2+ 22 Kh1 Nxf2 mate. White attempts to protect f2, fending off the mating threats; however, a windmill tactic proves to be the White queen’s downfall. 21 Bd4 Bh2+ 22 Kh1 Bxe5+ White resigns If 23 Kg1, then 23 ... Bh2+ 24 Kh1 Bc7+ followed by 25 ... Bxb6 is decisive.

Smyslov on the Couch by Genna Sosonko is published by Elk and Ruby. This new book is primarily a character sketch of Smyslov. For a selection of his best games I recommend Smyslov’s own 125 Selected Games, published by Everyman.