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Spassky’s Best Games by Bezgodov & Oleinikov New in Chess 2023 280pp
This is the second recent offering by New in Chess, which covers the games of a World Champion. The other, Max Euwe’s Best Games by Jan Timman, was reviewed by me here.
While 61 games are included in this volume, the book focuses at least as much on the biography of the champion. The book is separated into two parts. Part I: A brief biography, and Part II: Games.
While there is no doubt that Spassky was one of the best players of his era, his reign as World Champion was nothing special. If I am being honest, I think Spassky would be largely forgotten by today’s players if not for the fact that he is the one from whom Fischer wrested the crown.
Talk to younger or newer players today, and they will recall names from the Soviet era, such as Tal, as his games sparkle with the creativity of sacrificial genius. Sure, he was one of the two “Winter Champions” spoken of by Botvinnik. So-called due to holding the title for a short time before the Patriarch reclaimed it. The other, Smyslov, while the greater overall player, is less well remembered today.
For Spassky, being Bobby’s opponent in 1972 keeps his memory alive. It’s not fair, but it is how life works.
To properly review this book, I also need to split my review into two parts.
Part I: A brief biography
This section of the book is quite well written. It covers Spassky’s first steps with famed trainer Vladimir Zak in St. Petersburg. Then, his training with Tolush once he became too strong for Zak. His professional relationship with Bondarevsky after parting ways with Tolush, etc.
From here, we see Boris gaining strength and winning accolades as he ultimately summits Olympus, only to fall out of favor with the apparatchiks of the communist party after losing to Fischer and his subsequent relocation to France, etc.
Along the way, game fragments show Spassky’s improving strength and skill.
I highly recommend this book for this section alone, alas…
Part II: Games
Here is where I take some exceptions with this book. I have two main quibbles: one minor and one not so much.
The minor quibble is the lack of what I would think is an appropriate number of diagrams and/or oddly placed diagrams.
To show an example:
We get this diagram from Spassky-Nezhmetdinov 1959
From here, we get the following:
White’s idea is founded on the variation 15…f4 16.Nxg5!. White simply has an extra pawn and a winning position: 16…Nxh2 17.Ne6 Qh4 18.Nxf8 Nxf1 19.Bxf1 Kxf8 20.Nc7 Rh8 21.Qd5 Qe7 22.Ne6+ Ke8 23.Rd1.”
OK, I get it. Only two moves played after the diagram, so it’s not hard to reconstruct. But why not have another diagram appear after …Nh6 instead?
It gets worse as we then have:
“16.exf5 Nxf5 17.Bd3
Black’s attack has ended before it begun (sic). Losses, both material and positional, are inevitable.
17…Nd4 18.Be4 a6 19.Nxd4 cxd4 20.Qh5 Rf7 21.Qh6 Kh8 22.Qe6 Rg7 23.b6 with a clear white advantage.”
I would like to see publishers better understand their potential target audiences for a book like this and understand the relationship that online training has with books.
I am by no means a strong chess player. Still, I am reasonably competent (US Chess rating is 1824 right now), and I find it much easier to read a book with a diagram before any analytical variation of more than a few moves. Most people reading this review will understand the pain of being well past some variation only to realize they left a piece on the wrong square for the last several moves. This is largely eliminated by placing diagrams there.
What I would do in the above passage is place diagrams after 15…Nh6 and 17…Nf6 which would help many readers, especially the lower-rated ones, with accurately playing through variations and then correctly setting the position from before the variation.
As for my remark about the relationship that online training has with books, when playing through games in Chessbase or watching a video with some analysis by strong players, there is zero chance that a piece will be on the wrong square after a variation. It can’t happen when playing through electronic content. Since it can happen when playing through games on a board, I feel that publishers would be doing themselves a favor by taking as many steps to eliminate this issue.
This brings me to my less-minor quibble. The overall lack of analysis is sad. Take this position from the 1968 Spassky-Korchnoi Candidates Final. The notes in this case are by English FM Steve Giddins.
This position is after the move 26…Qe6
“White’s attempted ‘attack’ on the kingside is brushed away like a fly, and this illustrates the depth of Spassky’s match strategy. The Korchnoi of those days was well-known as a brilliant defender and counter-attacker, but, by his own admission, was much weaker at seizing and using the initiative. In later years, partly inspired by his match defeat against Spassky, he worked exceptionally hard to broaden his style and become more versatile.”
OK, but why was the attack brushed away? What problem does …Qe6 solve that was not solved up til now? Can we illustrate what White’s threats were with a less accurate move perhaps?
Well, maybe this is just a fluke, right? No. Here is Spassky-Larsen 1978 after 14.0-0-0
“Such things are common at lower levels, but rare at Grandmaster level. White’s advantage can already be assessed as decisive.”
OK. Neat. Why? What could Black have done to prevent this from happening? Why is White’s advantage so decisive? Again, I say these things with the understanding that the publisher is likely as happy with a player rated 1000 buying this book as they are with a player rated 2200+.
It’s not all bad, though. After each game, a brief description of the lesson to be learned is given.
All in all, I’d say this book is a solid 3.5 out of 5. Mostly for the biography, but not completely. Some of the games covered have nice analytical breakdowns; it’s just that it’s the exception rather than the norm.
Til Next Time,