It was at the height of the Cold War. The year was 1973. October. The tournament: the prestigious 41st Soviet Championship final, without a doubt the strongest tournament of the year. What is more, the Soviet chess federation had insisted that all of the top players participate…making the tournament the strongest in more than a decade. Not less than 4 former World Champions, 6 former Candidates and the future World Champion (Karpov) were amongst the 18 invited. Not less than 6 players were favourites for the coveted title.
But it was 36-year old Boris Spassky who rose to the occasion, deservedly winning the tournament, playing some of the best chess of his life. Game after game Spassky tried to demonstrate that he was still at the top of his game. The Soviet authorities had punished Spassky immediately following the embarrassing fiasco at the hands of Bobby Fischer the year before in Reyjkavik.
The 41st Soviet Championship was Boris’ opportunity to rise from the proverbial ashes…today’s tactical showcase is from his game against the talented young Moldavian IM Orest Averkin who, curiously, had worked closely with Spassky in the preparation for his match with Fischer the year before…
POSITION AFTER 25 MOVES:
We have here a sharp and complex fight on both sides of the board, typical of the Sicilian defence. In such positions tactical skill is the most important quality. Here it would be premature for White to attack directly on the Kingside with 26. Bh6?!, hoping for 26… Bf8? 27. Rxg7+! Bxg7 28. Qg3 winning, as Black has the precise 26…g6! 27. Qe5 f6 28. Qh5?! Kf7! with the better game for Black!
Black had also been hoping to lure Spassky into another subtle trap. If the former World Champion now tries to simplify the game and use his Queenside majority in the ending he will be unpleasantly surprised: 26.NxB QxQ+ 27.RxQ RxN 28.b3?! Bh4! winning the exchange. No better would be 28.Re2? Rf5! or 28.Rb1?! Rc2!
But Spassky saw thru this trap, and being at the top of his game, had seen much more than his young rival…
Averkin had not seen this strong move, which wins an exchange.
26… Rxc7 27. Qe5!
The point! A double attack. The next moves are more or less forced
27… g6 28. Qxc7 Bh4 29. Rf3 Be8
Black is in bad shape, his pieces scattered and lacking coordination. However, given the dynamic imbalance (Bishop pair and assymetrical pawn majorities), if Black should get a breather, he will be able to get back into the fight! The former World Champion, however, is relentless:
(Note that 30.Qc8 Kf8 31.Rxf7+! is basically the same theme) Spassky’s brilliant move -the second tactic so far–is a nasty surprise for his opponent. White threatens to mate starting with 31.Rg7+.
30… Bxf7 31. Rf1!
Black’s Queen and Rook are just passive spectators!
31… Be8 32. Qc8 Kg7 33. Qxe8
Threatening mate in one move!
Black is going to lose atleast a piece. If now 33…Qb4 (covering f8) then 34.Rf7+ Kh6 35.Qh8! Kg5 36.Rxh7 is completely crushing. Averkin tries another defence…
The Bishop can not move. If 34…Qb5 35.QxQ RxQ 36.RxB Rxb2 37.Kg1 is child’s play for a grandmaster to win.
Averkin throws in the towel. After 35…RxN 36.Qe7+ wins the Rook and keeps the attack going at the same time.
A great lesson on tactics by Spassky!