World Chess Champion. Noted for his calm demeanor in a high-pressure endeavor, he held the crown for a year after beating the legendary Mikhail Botvinnik. Learning chess from his father at around six, he decided in his early teens to make the game a career; following his success in local events, including winning the Moscow championship in 1938, he was one of six finalists in a 1948 tournament to choose a successor to deceased World Champion Alexander Alekhine, with Botvinnik eventually taking the title. Smyslov was Soviet champion in 1949 (actually scoring an "equal first"), and was named a Grandmaster in 1950. He won a 1953 Candidates tournament in Zurich, though Botvinnik was to retain the championship in a 12-12 tie. Smyslov became World Champion (for which he was awarded the Order of Lenin) with his win over Botvinnik in April, 1957, but his reign was short, as the long-time title holder was to capture the rematch a year later. He continued tournament play, and, perhaps due to his unflappable manner, remained a formidable competitor well past the age at which most Grandmasters have left the stage; in 1984, at 63, he beat two world-class opponents to reach the finals of a World Championship Candidates tournament, losing in the end to Garry Kasparov. Smyslov won the first World Senior Championship in 1991, and only gave up competition in the early 2000s due to failing vision. A fine baritone in his youth, he reached the finals of auditions for the Bolshoi Opera in 1950; at chess matches, he was frequently to give recitals, often accompanied on the piano by fellow Grandmaster Mark Taimanov. Smyslov published two books, the technical work "Rook Endings" in 1957, and his autobiography, "In Search of Harmony", in 1979. Living his final years in reduced financial circumstances, he remained mentally sharp to the end, and died of heart disease. Of his approach to a chess game, he said, "I will play 40 good moves; if you play 40 good moves, we will draw".
Bio by: Bob Hufford