Review: Spassky Move by Move, by Zenón Franco.

By Davide Nastasio

I bought Anand Move by Move, because I consider the books written by GM Zenón of the greatest quality for the serious student.  I also believe we are lucky to have, between us amateurs, these South-American players, great professionals, who wish to donate their wisdom to us.

GM Zenón correctly points out that Spassky is one of the world champions who has written less. This in relation to the fact that generally GM Zenón prefers to work on the ideas expressed by the champion, and re-write them in a way that they is more accessible to the amateur. But in this case, GM Zenón, like many other GMs from South America, has played against Spassky!



Boris Spassky



And again, we have another of the greatest South American GMs of all time, GM Zapata, who also battled against Spassky:




We are blessed to have these South-American GMs living amongst us, because we can ask them how  it was to fight against these legends. For example, once I was learning the Alekhine Defense, and I saw a game played by GM Zapata against Tal.  I had the opportunity to ask him what happened in that game, and he entertained me with the story behind the game.  Knowing more about the game allowed me to understand even better how formidable Fischer was in being able to beat the Soviet system of chess. It also allowed me to appreciate how difficult it was to prepare against the various masters, such as Tal, Petrosian, Smyslov, etc. because they had formidable theoreticians working for them full time!

The book begins with a short account of Spassky’s career, and follows with a discussion of Spassky’s style.  Then there are nine chapters, composed of 40 games deeply analyzed.  I’d like to give the reader of this review a taste of what I’ve seen, with the games which I have admired most.

This book is important, because some of the phrases which describe Spassky can make us look through his games with a better appreciation, which in turn can help us to improve our game too!  Spassky is described as being able to use the whole board and never enter into complications without having all the pieces developed. I do spend time in my games just doing that, asking myself if it is the right moment to attack, or if I should have all my pieces out before attacking.  I must admit that Spassky’s way is the best. Here is an example.




Chapter 1: Universal Style

While for today’s players it may be common to be labeled as universal, in Spassky’s time it meant to be able to use completely different openings like 1.e4, and 1.d4 with ease.  This is what Spassky did throughout his career, with good success for both opening systems.

Chapter 2: Initiative and Attack

In this chapter it is made clear how all the champions of that era had a coach who would define them and make them grow as players. For example, it is mentioned that the influence of the first trainer, Zak, likely made Spassky quite solid and cautious in his games.

But another author, Jan Van Reek, in his book Grand Strategy: 60 Games by Boris Spassky, has a different opinion on Zak’s training, and I quote: “Zak made him familiar with some sharp openings.”
While in Zenón’s work we understand that the latest trainer, Tolush, made Spassky an attacking machine! And then it is mentioned how in 1961 Spassky began training with Bondarevsky, and with him he obtained his greatest successes!

Spassky, in some interviews in the last years of his career, tried to diminish the role of his coaches.  Let me digress a bit and show you who Bondarevsky is, so you can decide for yourself if the role of the coach to influence a growing player toward a more aggressive style was significant or not.

This is an example of the combinative genius Bondarevsky had.  On the following board, Black to move: try to see if you can find the correct sequence to win the game, as Bondarevsky did.






Now I’d like to show a game played by Bondarevsky against Botvinnik, in order to show how important his influence was on Spassky.  Thanks to Bondarevsky’s coaching, he was able to win the world championship.

Notice how easily Botvinnik is outplayed in this game.




Returning to the content of this chapter, I believe this is one of the most famous attacking games played by Spassky:




Spassky’s opponent in this game was Yakov Estrin, the Correspondence World champion for the years 1972-1976.




The following game has also appeared in the book Attack against the King, by Neishtadt, and has been mentioned in the book The Nimzo-Larsen Move by Move, written by IM Lakdawala.  Clearly the way Spassky disposes of Larsen shows how strong he was in that period.



Chapter 3: The Ruy Lopez

This chapter recounts some of the bloodiest matches Spassky had to survive–and win–in order to become a challenger to Petrosian, the then world champion. Three of these veterans Spassky had to defeat in order to achieve the first match with Petrosian were Keres, Geller, and Tal. The most difficult match was the one against Keres.  Once more we discover that one cannot become a world challenger without knowing the intricate labyrinths of the Spanish.

Here is a beautiful game from one of the matches. We not only witness the opening part in action, but equally important, the endgame, since Spassky’s technique can be used as an example of triangulation, which forced Tal in zugzwang.



Chapter 4: The Sicilian Defence

This chapter begins to describe a bitter period of Spassky’s life, when he missed twice the goal of qualifying for the Interzonal.  Such a special tournament was held to determine the candidates to the world championship. Game 22 described in this chapter between Spassky and Polugaevsky is really special, but I will turn my eyes to some games Spassky played against the Sicilian which are interesting too!

This game shows Spassky at the top of his career:




I write reviews because I think some books can definitely enlighten the amateur. But the amateur reading this review needs to do his homework too!  The following game by Spassky is brilliant (so consider how many hours I’ve spent reviewing Spassky’s games in order to write this review, with a minimum of understanding)  Without using an engine (otherwise the exercise is useless, and one cannot learn anything), try to prove with analysis why Black resigned, and how the game would have continued.




Chapter 5: The Exchange Variation Against the Grunfeld Defence

In this chapter we come to know how Spassky won a good number of games using this variation.    GM Zenón tells us that three games from the tournament in Beverwijk 1967 are absolutely brilliant.   Even though they don’t employ this opening, I thought to include two of them in the review in order to learn more about Spassky:

In this game White is outplayed by Spassky Bishop pair advantage.




The following is one of the best pyrotechnical games played by Spassky, with double sacrifices!  Pay attention to move 22 and move 24. One thing we must notice is that  Spassky likely played his best games between 1964 and 1969, because, like every champion, after winning the world title the spark that drives one to win disappears.



Chapter 6: The Saemisch Variation Against the King’s Indian Defence

This game has also been used in the book Attacking the King, by Neishhadt.  But what impressed me of Zenón’s writing style is the amount of research he did for this book.  He quotes comments from different authors and the ideas they had, plus the analysis.  A real masterful work.




Chapter 7: The Queen’s Gambit

With this chapter, we begin to make sense of the entire book.  GM Zenón is using Spassky’s pet lines to make us understand such a complex universal player.  Then we also begin to know from whom Kasparov got his choice of openings in one of the endless matches against Karpov. Here a typical example of a game where Spassky converts the advantage.




Chapter 8: The King’s Gambit

Spassky won a famous game against Fischer with the King’s gambit, but he was also successful as Black against the King’s gambit.




This is a game everyone studying Spassky should know:




And of course, famous is the scene from one of the early James Bond movies.


from_russia_with_loveFrom Russia with Love_chess_scene


The final position shown in the movie comes from Spassky vs Bronstein 1960 USSR championship.




In the movie they removed the pawns D4 and C5, because the producers believed that there was a copyright on chess games.  Here instead we can see the final position of that game, a classic evergreen everyone should study:




Chapter 9: The Leningrad Variation Against the Nimzo-Indian Defence

The following game, also used in the book, is a classical example for someone who wants to learn this variation. GM Zenón’s commentary of this game is terrific!




In conclusion, this is a great book to learn from.  Clearly GM Zenón has made a synthesis reading all the materials which treat Spassky that makes this book unique.  In the beginning, I thought 40 games would not be sufficient to describe Spassky.  At the end of the book, however,  I feel overwhelmed by the amount of material shown.  I believe this book will be the new standard for writing on Spassky for quite some time.


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