Vasily Smyslov (24 March 1921 – 27 March 2010) remains an under-appreciated player. He was World Champion from 1957 to 1958 and a candidate eight times (1948, 1950, 1953, 1956, 1959, 1965, 1983, and 1985) and twice equal first in the Soviet Championship (1949, 1955).
In his two world championship matches against Botvinnik in which they
played 69 games, Smyslov scored +18 -17 =34.
He only lost the second match because of his horrific start; he inexplicably
lost the first three games and 0-3 deficit was simply too much to overcome.
When one thinks of the greatest players of all time, Smyslov’s name rarely
comes to mind but according to True Chess rankings, based on the best year
results, No. 1 ranked is Fischer in 1968 with Anand at No. 2 in 2006. Tied for third and fourth places are Kramnik
(1992) and Smyslov (1976). As the site points out these rankings are based on
samples too small to give accurate results.
Ten year result rankings are: 1=Fischer 2=Capablanca 3-4=Kasparov &
Kramnik 5-8=Capablanca, Botvinnik, Smyslov and Karpov.
In their book Warriors of the Mind Keene and Divinsky considered games played between
sixty-four of the strongest players in history, and rated Smyslov in ninth
place. (Kasparov, Karpov, Fischer, Botvinnik, Capablanca, Lasker, Korchnoi,
Spassky, Smyslov and Petrosian.
A computer method was tried in 2006 by the Department of
Computer and Information Science of the
University of Jjubljana in which they compared the player’s moves to those of a
chess engine. This can’t be considered too accurate though because the engine
they used was Crafty which was not the strongest. A similar project was also
conducted in 2007 using Rybka 2.3.2a Players
with fewest average errors using this method were Capablanca, Kramnik, Karpov,
Kasparov, Spassky, Petrosin, Lasker, Fischer, Alekhine and in tenth place,
In any case, by any ranking system, Smyslov rates among the best who ever
lived; a little appreciated fact these days. As for
Botvinnik, he was probably one of the five best players of all time but after
1948 he was, as Botvinnik himself put it, the first among equals.
Enjoy Smyslov’s Queen sacrifice!