Learn from Spassky - Coordination, Attack, Sacrifice
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Mikhail Botvinnik famously characterised Boris Spassky as the first great player with a truly universal style. Experience had taught me that most of the things Botvinnik wrote or said were true, so I will try not to contradict him in any way. I have built up this database around what makes Spassky really unique among his colleagues of several generations, the spine or main principle of his approach to chess.
If I was to describe Spassky's most characteristic trait, I would say that he used to develop his pieces actively and harmoniously and then started to throw them at his opponent's position, no matter if this implied serious material sacrifices.
Of course, this is more of a draft description, which needs a few specifications. For Spassky, harmonious development and harmony were always essential, while the material balance remained some sort of a second rate element when evaluating a position. Spassky stayed calm and objective when having a bad position. For him, it was important to be able to generate a regrouping plan, in order to reach at least partial harmony, and he used to follow these plans with mathematical consequence.
Spassky was impossible to "read". One could not understand how he felt about a certain position by just looking at him. He would never exteriorise emotions and they used to call him "the ice-berg player". Spassky himself confessed that while he may have looked like this from the outside, during the games everything was boiling inside of him.
From all the world champions, Spassky might have been the one who was the least inclined to analyse and train between the tournaments. Karpov wrote that he considered himself a lazy player, but he never thought that things could go so far with him as they did with Spassky! However, Spassky's talent for chess was immense. His feel for "his type" of positions was such that he often did not have to calculate all the variations. If asked how many moves ahead he used to calculate, he might have answered with Capablanca's words: "I do not calculate. I know!" This series describes Karpov as the player, Kortschnoj as the scientist and Tal as the artist. Spassky might be the player. if his games were not so beautiful, artistically. Or he might be the artist, if his attacking mechanisms had not been so scientifically logical. Or he might well be the scientist... Maybe this is what Botvinnik had in mind?
The database includes 35 model games and 20 test positions. The material is divided into 9 thematic sections.
Optimal Coordination - Attack
Spassky was always concerned about the optimal coordination of his pieces. Once he reached a perfect mobilisation, he would gladly start an attack if he saw the slightest weakness in the opponent's camp. He had a very good feel for the best way to put all his pieces to work together in harmony, even when the complications or combinations were impossible to calculate exhaustively.
This section includes 6 model games.
Below, I provide an example:
FLOWING ATTACK - IGNORING MATERIAL
When you walk on a field, you know that it is uneven and you will have to cross cavities and piles. When designing the attacking trajectories of his pieces, Spassky knew that he was not playing alone. In the process of clearing space for each other and reaching the optimal coordination, some of the pawns and pieces should become victims of the enemy forces. But this didn't really worry Spassky. In order to build up his massive attack, he would never mind suffering some reasonable material losses on the way.
In this section, you will find 5 model games.
Let's take a look at one of them.
The Big Radish
When talking about global coordination, we have to mention that for Spassky this included the pawns. It was typical for him that at the critical moment, when everything seemed to be unclear, he threw an apparently modest pawn into the fight, tipping the balance to his favour. In order to illustrate this situation abstractly, I will tell an old Russian story. There was this farmer who one day was delighted to see a huge radish growing in his garden. But when the radish was ripe and the farmer tried to unearth it, the task proved impossible. His wife came to help and then the children and the dog, and even the cat, but still no result. And then a little mouse joined the team and the radish suddenly came out. And everybody said: "The mouse did it!" In this story, the huge radish is the complicated position which needs to be solved. The farmer and his family are the pieces and the mouse is, obviously, the apparently modest pawn arriving to change the evaluation of the position.
This section features 5 model games.
Below, you can focus on one of them.
Confident Play with Material Disadvantage
For Spassky, the material balance did not play the most important part when he evaluated a position. It was more important for him to have a clear plan of action, even material down without immediate threats against the enemy king. He would consistently follow the plan, giving the impression that nothing had happened, even after he lost or incorrectly sacrificed material. Such an approach used to be very effective against perfectionist players, who would try to calculate "everything". The point is that many positions, in which Spassky had a material disadvantage, had an irrational character and required more intuition than calculating skills. No wonder that in this section we find opponents like Geller and Kasparov.
This topic is illustrated with 3 model games.
I provide one of them.
King in the Centre
There is not much to be said about this section. The enemy king's delayed stay in the centre rings a bell for any strong player. For an attacking player like Spassky, this may have been more like waving a red cloth in front of a bull.
In this section, you will find 4 model games.
Spassky not always obtained favourable positions out of the opening. Sometimes he had to endure certain positional pressure. But his global policy remained unchanged in such situations. He would try to improve his coordination without making any major concessions, and then at the right moment, he would start a surprising counterattack.
Let's take a look at one of the 3 model games related to the topic.
Destroying the Structure
Destroying the opponent's structure by means of tactical and positional sacrifices was an approach that Spassky used a lot. This strategy is particularly effective in closed positions.
This topic is covered by 3 model games.
You can take a look at one of them.
Attack - Simplifying
I do not believe that the endgame was Spassky's strongest territory. However, it is interesting to notice that in some games, when the opponents defended stubbornly against his attacks, he was able to dictate the simplifying process from a position of force, reaching a better or just more pleasant ending. This can be considered a transformation of one advantage into another, as it was taught long ago by Steinitz.
In this section, you will find 2 model games.
The King's Gambit
Even though this is not a theoretical article, I could not resist writing a special section on Spassky's games in which he played the King's Gambit. This opening had long been shunned by theoreticians, but in practice, it suited Spassky perfectly well, due to his confidence in positions where, despite a material disadvantage, he knew what he had to do. Spassky played the King's Gambit in almost 50 games, reaching an impressive result of 78%. In many of them, his positions were suspicious, but as we already know, this did not affect his ability to design plans and tactical ideas.
In this section, I provide 4 model games.
Let's look at one of the examples.
In this section, you will find 20 test positions which are taken from the games of Spassky. Solving them will help you apply the key concepts from the database.