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A look at Spassky, a Russian bear who can still bare his teeth

Former world champion Boris Spassky is a great favorite on the tournament circuit. The memory of his epic match with Bobby Fischer remains vivid 15 years later and will continue to do so. Moreover, the courteous Spassky is an amiable extrovert who often delights the company with his witty reminiscences; his imitations of Fischer, Anatoly Karpov, or Mikhail Botvinnik; and his shrewd judgments in post-game analysis. But nowadays across the board, Boris is often content to play a few routine opening moves and, if there is nothing special in the position, to extend his hand and offer a draw - after which he is soon seen ambling off to the tennis courts. Sometimes Boris reminds me of a friendly bear. If you let him alone, he will not harm you, but if you threaten him he is capable of tearing you apart. Today's game, taken from the 1986-87 Reggio Emilia tournament in Italy, is a case in point. The Dutch grandmaster John van der Wiel, known for his aggressive style, challenged Boris in an old-fashioned slugfest that provoked a display of Spassky's still-immense talent. Though Spassky was undefeated in the tournament, which was won by Zoltan Ribli of Hungary with 6-4, this game represents his sole victory. Spassky, who left the Soviet Union several years ago and now lives in Paris, scored 6-5 to share runner-up honors with GM Vlastimil Hort (formerly of Czechoslovakia and now playing out of West Germany) and Soviet GMs Vassily Smyslov and Alexander Chernin. Two Knights Defense Van der Wiel Spassky 1. P-K4 P-K4 2. N-KB3 N-QB3 3. B-B4 N-B3 4. N-N5 P-Q4 5. PxP N-QR4 (a) 6. B-N5 ch P-B3 7. PxP PxP 8. Q-B3 (b) P-KR3 (c) 9. N-K4 N-Q4 10. QN-B3 PxB 11. NxN B-N2 (d) 12. N-K3 Q-Q2 13. O-O N-B3 14. P-Q3 O-O-O (e) 15. P-B3 P-N3 16. P-QR4 P-N5 17. N-B6 Q-K3 18. N/B-Q5 P-B4 19. P-B4 N-Q5 20. Q-R3 P-N4 21. R-K1 R-N1 22. Q-R5 P-N5 (f) 23. N-B1 (g) N-B7 24. B-B4 NxQR 25. RxP Q-KN3 26. R-K7 (h) R-Q2 27. R-K8 ch R-Q1 28. R-K7 RxN (i) 29. R-B7 ch K-Q1 30. Q-R4 ch K-K1 31. PxR R-N2 32. N-K3 N-N6 33. P-R3 N-Q5 34. K-B1 RxR 35. BxR B-K2 36. Q-N3 P-B5 37. QxNP QxP ch 38. K-N1 PxN


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A.Every tyro knows that 5.... NxP is inadvisable, as White has two attractive retorts: (1) 6.NxBP, KxN; 7.Q-B3 ch, K-K3; 8.N-B3, when Black's exposed king offers White full compensation for the knight; the line is called the ``fried liver'' attack, as the Black king slithering across the board resembles the liver in a frying pan; (2) theory also grants White a big edge without risk after the simple 6.P-Q4.

B.More usual is 8.B-K2, P-KR3; 9.N-KB3, P-K5; 10.N-K5, B-Q3, with Black's good development and initiative compensating for the gambited pawn.

C.This seems to be a worthwhile innovation. Usual is 8.... R-QN1, when 9.BxP ch?, NxB; 10.QxN ch, N-Q2! yields Black what is probably a winning initiative. 9.B-Q3 is playable, however, with a tough game in prospect.

D.Certainly not 11.... QxN?; 12.N-B6 ch, winning the Black queen.

E.This is very well judged. Though the Black king is somewhat exposed, his active pieces and space control make it difficult for White to attack. Since Black intends to advance his own kingside pawns, he judiciously places his king on the other wing.

F.Black threatens the maneuver ...R-N4, P-B5, N-B4, encircling the White queen.

G.An ingenious bid for counterplay, which might very well have ensnared a less wily opponent, is initiated by this move.

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H.Hoping for 26.... BxR?; 27.NxB ch, when White wins, or 26.... QxQ?; 27.R-B7 ch, K-N1; 28.R-Q7 ch, drawing by perpetual check.

I.Black declines the tacit offer of a draw by repetition and stays a piece ahead with the text, which prepares the Q1 flight square for his king. As his king soon escapes from check, the rest of the game merely requires a modicum of care. Boris is more than equal to the task.

International Grandmaster Arthur Bisguier is a former US champion and has won or shared the US Open title five times.