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1960 Leningrad - Spassky vs. Bronstein
Every Move Explained

This game was played in 1960 between Boris Spassky and David Bronstein during the USSR Championship at Leningrad. Spassky had the White pieces, Bronstein the Black.


Boris Spassky (b.1937) is best known to the non-chess playing public as 'that Russian player who lost to Bobby Fischer in 1972'. This is a terribly unjust reputation for a man who beat three of the world's strongest players (Keres, Geller, and Tal) in the 1965 Candidate Matches on his way to losing a close 1966 World Championship match against Tigran Petrosian (1929-1984), then again beat three strong players (Geller, Larsen, and Korchnoi) in the 1968 Candidate Matches before winning the chess world's biggest prize in a 1969 match against the same Petrosian.

David Bronstein (1924-2006), his opponent in this game, was himself a World Champion challenger. He won the very first Interzonal tournament at Saltsjobaden (Stockholm) in 1948, tied for first in the 1950 Candidates Tournament at Budapest, beat co-winner Boleslavsky in a playoff match, then played a drawn match with Mikhail Botvinnik (1911-1995), where he was ahead by one point with two rounds to go.

The Soviet Championships of the 1950s and 1960s were often the strongest chess tournaments in the world in a given year. As a group, Soviet players were head and shoulders above any collection of non-Soviet players and, except for World Championship qualifying events, rarely travelled in significant numbers beyond the borders of the Iron Curtain. The 1960 Soviet Championship, the 27th in the series, was won by Korchnoi, a half-point ahead of Geller and Petrosian. Spassky and Bronstein finished near the middle of the 20 player field.

This game was used for the chess scene in the 1963 James Bond film From Russia with Love.

Next move: 1.e4 • For more about White's first move, see our tutorial Chess Openings - Initial Position.


Spassky had a universal playing style. He was comfortable both on attack and defense, skilled in both open positions and closed positions, and handled the three phases of the game -- opening, midgame, and endgame -- equally well.

Although he had a preference for opening 1.e4, he opened 1.d4 in about a third of his games, and also used 1.c4 and 1.Nf3 from time to time.

Next move: 1...e5 • For more about Black's responses to 1.e4, see our tutorial Chess Openings - King's Pawn Openings.


Bronstein was known as an artist of the chess board. He was the author of several excellent books on chess, including the classic Chess Struggle in Practice, about the 1953 Candidate's Tournament at Zurich, where he finished tied for 2nd-4th behind Smyslov. He published 200 Open Games in 1970, which was translated into English in 1974. The book was devoted to his adventures on both sides of the 1.e4 e5 opening. It started with the position shown in the diagram, of which he said

The position is like an empty canvas standing on an easel. If you have any aptitude, talent or, no less important, desire, then boldly take up your brush and paints, decide upon the necessary color and embark upon your creative work. - 200 Open Games

The book included 24 King's Gambits, 21 where he played the White pieces. The 1960 game with Spassky was one of the three games he played as Black. He wrote,

It was the devil that prompted me to reply 1...e5. The fact that Spassky, like Spielmann in the last century, very much likes to play the King's Gambit had gone completely out of my head. And when it was too late to take my first move back, I remembered that about 100 years ago Anderssen, playing Neumann, had tried to construct a defense around ...Bd6 and ...Ne7. - 200 Open Games

Next move: 2.f4 • For more about White's responses to 1...e5, see our tutorial Chess Openings - Open Game.


The diagram shows the initial position for the King's Gambit. It reached its peak popularity in the 19th century, the age of romantic chess. It sees a revival in popularity from time to time, but is considered speculative. Leading players almost always prefer 2.Nf3 against the Open Game.

Both Spassky and Bronstein were experts in the theory and handling of the King's Gambit. In games which opened 1.e4 e5, Spassky continued 2.Nf3 in about 80% of the time, 2.f4 in a little more than 10%, and 2.Nc3 (the 'Vienna Game') in the rest.

The move 2.f4 is necessarily played before Ng1-f3. It sacrifices a Pawn, which makes it a true gambit, unlike the Queen's Gambit (1.d4 d5 2.c4), where Black can't keep the Pawn for long.

The objectives of the King's Gambit are to weaken Black's foothold in the center by eliminating the strong point on e5 and to open the f-file, bringing White's Kingside Rook immediately into play after White castles O-O. With the Pawn missing from e5, White will have an easy time playing d2-d4, when the Bishop on c1 will threaten to recapture the Pawn on f4.


Since in many branches of the King's Gambit both Kings often, right in the opening, find themselves in the very thick of a seething skirmish, both players feel the desire (and there is foundation for it) to try and win not by collecting a material tax from the physically weakened enemy, but by using the strength of their own imagination. - 200 Open Games

Next move: 2...exf4 • For more about Black's responses to 2.f4, see our tutorial Chess Openings - King's Gambit.


Black accepts the gambit challenge. If White tries to recover the lost Pawn, Black can defend f4 with the moves ...g5 and ...Bd6.

Eleven years after the current game the same players repeated the opening in another encounter. On that occasion Bronstein continued 2...d5, the most popular move when refusing the gambit, a variation known as the Falkbeer Counter Gambit.

Next move: 3.Nf3


This is the most popular move against the King's Gambit Accepted. It was Spassky's preferred continuation, although he occasionally played 3.Bc4 or 3.Nc3.

Along with developing the Knight to its best square, the move 3.Nf3 prevents a Queen check on h4. It brings the Knight one move closer to attacking Black's sensitive f7 square.

Black has many possible continuations. The great favorite of the 19th century players was 3...g5, leading to the Kieseritzky Gambit (4.h4 g4 5.Ne5), used by Fischer in Spassky - Fischer, Mar del Plata 1960, the first game against his future historical adversary and won by the Russian. The loss prompted Fischer to analyze the opening in depth and to publish A Bust to the King's Gambit, which recommended 3...d6. Other popular moves are 3...Be7 (The Cunningham Gambit), 3...Ne7, and the move played in the game, 3...d5.

Next move: 3...d5


The two most popular continuations after accepting the gambit are Fischer's 3...d6 and the move played in this game, 3...d5. Black essentially offers a Pawn, opening the diagonal for the light squared Bishop and the two center files for the eventual use of the Rooks.

White is practically forced to capture the Pawn. The move 4.e5 allows 4...g5, when the White Knight no longer has the e5 square available. Protecting with 4.Nc3 makes recovering the f-Pawn problematic after 4...dxe4. Protecting with 4.d3 allows 4...dxe4 5.dxe4 Qxd1+, which is contrary to White's objectives in playing the gambit.

Next move: 4.exd5


Now we come to the first major deviation from theory in the game. The popular continuation in the diagram is 4...Nf6, known as the Modern Defense. In 1952, Bronstein lost a well known game playing White against World Champion Botvinnik, the player against whom he had tied the World Championship match the previous year. The players continued 5.Bb5+ c6 6.dxc6 bxc6 7.Bc4 Nd5, where Black's last move became known as the Botvinnik Variation.

Why didn't Bronstein want to play the same move that Botvinnik had used successfully as Black against him? He undoubtedly suspected that Spassky had prepared an improvement during the intervening years.

Next move: 4...Bd6


Bronstein's move develops the Bishop and defends the extra f-Pawn. It also prepares an alternate development of the Kingside Knight by ...Ne7 instead of ...Nf6.

Most importantly, it takes Spassky away from any prepared analysis. Psychological factors often play an important role in the opening phase of games between top grandmasters.

Next move: 5.Nc3


Forced now to think for himself, Spassky develops the Knight to its natural square, protecting the d-Pawn at the same time. Another good idea was 5.d4 followed by 6.c4, building a strong central Pawn position.

Less attractive was 5.Bb5+ c6 6.dxc6 bxc6, which helps untangle the Black Queenside currently controlled by the Pawn on d5.

Next move: 5...Ne7


The move 5...Ne7 continues Black's plan in playing 4...Bd6. The King's Knight might go to g6, protecting the f-Pawn. The Queen's Knight, prevented from moving to c6, will go to f6 via ...Nd7 and ...Nf6, settling on the square normally occupied by the King's Knight.

If 5...Nf6, White could try 6.Bb5+ Bd7 7.Qe2+ Qe7 8.Qxe7+ Kxe7 9.Bc4, where the d-Pawn continues to cramp Black.

Next move: 6.d4


White continues with classic development. The move 6.d4 opens the Bishop's diagonal, discovering an attack on f4. At the same time it prepares for a timely Nf3-e5, cutting off the protection of the f-Pawn by its own Bishop.

Weak would be 6.d3, blocking the Kingside Bishop's diagonal. Pawn moves in the opening are usually played with an eye on the development of both Bishops.

Next move: 6...O-O


Black completes Kingside development by castling. The Rook will soon move to the open e-file.

Castling O-O-O was not an option. All three Queenside pieces would need to move first. Even if this could be accomplished, the King would sit uneasily on the Queenside, facing a mobile 5-3 Pawn majority for White.

Next move: 7.Bd3


Of the four squares available to the Bishop, White chooses the square which offers a clear path to the Black King. Both 7.Be2 and 7.Bc4 would be too passive, giving the Bishop no attacking scope.

Why didn't Black play 7...Bf5 now? We can't know for sure, but Bronstein probably reckoned that he had time to play the move later.

Next move: 7...Nd7


Black continues with the plan to bring the Queen's Knight to the Kingside. The Knight blocks the light-squared Bishop, but this is only temporary. When it moves to f6, the Bishop will be unblocked.

Next move: 8.O-O


White gets the King out of the center and develops the Rook on the f-file. The Black Pawn on f4 is a temporary obstruction that won't survive longer than a few more moves. If White could move now, Nf3-e5 would threaten to win the Pawn immediately.

The logical continuation for Black would now be ...Nf6. The Knight would defend the weak point h7 and attack the Pawn on d5 a second time.

Next move: 8...h6


This is the sort of grandmaster move that is difficult to explain, because it is not a grandmaster move. Since it weakens the castled Kingside, especially the point g6, it is not even a good move.

Perhaps Black was concerned about Nf3-g5-e4, establishing a strong Knight in the center. Perhaps he was preparing an eventual ...g5.

In his notes to the game, Bronstein criticized himself for having 'spent a pointless tempo on the mysterious ...h6'. In a double edged tactical game, every tempo is important.

Next move: 9.Ne4


Bronstein: 'Spassky's strong reply (showing why Black's Knight should be on f6), immediately gave White a decisive advantage.' This means that Bronstein considered his position to be lost after playing only eight moves!

Now ...Nf6 is out of the question. After Ne4xf6, Black would have tripled f-Pawns and a shattered castled position.

The move 9.Ne4 sacrifices the Pawn on d5, but this Pawn has already served its purpose in disrupting the normal development of Black's Queenside. Black is forced to accept the sacrifice. Otherwise the c-Pawn marches forward to f5.

Next move: 9...Nxd5


Black accepts the Pawn sacrifice. The Knight move also creates a retreat square on e7 for the Bishop in the event of c2-c4-c5.

The Knight 'threatens' to continue on to e3, forking White's Queen and Rook. The fork is not a real threat, because the undeveloped Bishop on c1 also controls e3.

Next move: 10.c4


The advancing c-Pawn kicks the Knight out of the center. It also threatens to continue to c5, knocking the Bishop back to a less active position. A more subtle aspect of 10.c4 is that it clears the c2-square, giving White space to build a battery on the b1-h7 diagonal.

If Black plays 10...Nb4, the Bishop will retreat to b1. The Knight on b4 will be forced back after a subsequent a2-a3. Then the Queen will be free to move to d3, threatening major damage on h7.

Next move: 10...Ne3


The Knight gives itself up in exchange for White Queen's Bishop. Black hopes that removing one potential attacking piece from the board will reduce the pressure on the Kingside.

Next move: 11.Bxe3


White must capture the invading Knight, which forks the Queen and Rook. The Bishop, making its first move of the game, takes a piece which has already moved three times, letting White win two tempi on the exchange. Even so, it isn't the loss of time which renders Black's game difficult; it is the Kingside weakened by the unnecessary move ...h6.

The move 11.Bxe3 also clears the back rank of minor pieces, making way for the Queen's Rook to enter the game.

Next move: 11...fxe3


Black must recapture the piece or end up losing material. There are no interesting intermediate moves.

Next move: 12.c5


White plays a forcing move that opens the a2-g8 diagonal for the Queen and the remaining Bishop. That diagonal is now another open line aimed at the Black King.

If now 12...Bf4, White continues 13.g3 Bg5 14.Nfxg5 hxg5 15.Qh5 and Black is in big trouble. If 13...f5 instead, White makes immediate use of the newly opened diagonal with 14.Qb3+.

Next move: 12...Be7


Black must move the Bishop away from the Pawn's attack. Since 12...Bf4 creates new problems, Black has only one move.

Next move: 13.Bc2


White continues to place forces on points that menace the Black King. The Bishop move prepares Qd1-d3, with a battery on the b1-h7 diagonal.

White could have constructed a battery immediately by leaving the Bishop on d3 and playing 13.Qc2, but the Queen and Bishop would be in the wrong sequence to achieve the maximum effect. A Bishop check on h7 will cause little damage to Black. A Queen check on h7 is potentially devastating.

The best way for Black to meet the looming threat on the diagonal would be to play ...g6. That move is problematic with the h-Pawn already on h6.

Next move: 13...Re8


The Rook moves to the open file, but the real purpose behind the move is defensive, not offensive. The Rook vacates the f8 square for the use of the Knight. After ...Nf8 the Knight will defend h7 against an invasion by the White Queen.

Next move: 14.Qd3


White continues with the plan initiated on the previous move. All of the White pieces, except the Rook on a1, are now in positions that menace the Black King.

If it were now White's move, Ne4-g5 would threaten checkmate in two moves by Qh7+ and Qh8 mate. The Bishop on e7 prevents the King from escaping further than the f-file.

Next move: 14...e2


Black sets up a diversion, attacking the Rook on f1 and hoping that White will play 15.Qxe2. This would give Black two moves -- the Queen moving off the b1-h7 diagonal and then moving back -- to organize a defense against the check on h7.

Here's Bronstein again:

With 14...e2 Black set White the tricky question: 15.Rf2 or 15.Nd6? I had no doubt at all that the clear 15.Rf2 would follow, since the more elegant choice, 15.Nd6, allowed the Black King in certain variations to escape the impending troubles.

As spectacular as White's next move is, Bronstein did not overlook it. Top players are always on the lookout for combinations, for themselves and for their opponents, especially when there are as many tactical factors as in the position shown in the diagram.

Next move: 15.Nd6


White ignores the attack on the Rook and uncorks a beautiful move, sacrificing a second piece. Bronstein:

When Spassky plunged into the whirlpool of complications I committed my final error: I trusted, in spite of my preliminary calculations, that my opponent had found a clear-cut mating finish after 15...Bxd6, and I avoided it in favor of something worse, which I still regret today.

The line Bronstein regretted not having played is rather long. It is, however, straightforward, with few branches. If you have trouble visualizing the moves in your head, set up the position on a chess board.

The full sequence given by Bronstein is 15...Bxd6 16.Qh7+ Kf8 17.cxd6 exf1=Q+ 18.Rxf1 cxd6 19.Qh8+ Ke7 20.Re1+ Ne5 21.Qxg7. Now Black is still in the game after 21...Rg8 22.Qxh6 Qb6 23.Kh1 Be6 24.dxe5 d5. White has compensation for the exchange and several attractive moves, none of which win immediately.

Instead of 15.Nd6, Spassky could have played the less complicated 15.Rf2, a path that many strong players would have followed. It might have won the game, but it would not win the brilliancy prize.

After 15.Nd6 Bxd6, White should be careful not to go astray with 16.cxd6. This lets Black off the hook after 16...exf1=Q+ 17.Rxf1 and then 17...Nf6 (or 17...Nf8).

Next move: 15...Nf8


After this inaccuracy, Black will discover that there is no further defense. Bronstein: 'To everyone his due. The blue bird soaring in the clouds, that is, the brilliancy prize, was won in this way by the future World Champion.'

Next move: 16.Nxf7


White sacrifices the Rook a second time, again with the additional offer of the Knight. The Knight can't be taken by 16...Kxf7, which allows checkmate by 17.Bb3+ Kf6 18.Nh4+ exf1Q+ 19.Rxf1+ Kg5 20.Qg3+ Kh5 21.Bd1+ Bg4 22.Qxg4 mate.

Removing the Pawn on f7 completes the opening of the a2-g8 diagonal.

Next move: 16...exf1=Q+


White can meet the Queen check in three ways, capturing with the King, Queen, or Rook. Taking with the Rook is the only move that continues the attack. The other moves would lose.

Next move: 17.Rxf1


Counting the material on both sides shows that Black has a Rook more. The extra Rook is, however, sitting uselessly on a8, unable to participate in the defense against White's attack, where all of the pieces are participating.

Since the Knight on f7 is attacking the Black Queen, Black's most pressing problem is to defend the Queen.

  • Capturing the Knight by 17...Kxf7 allows checkmate after 18.Ne5+ Kg8 19.Qh7+ Nxh7 20.Bb3+ Kh8 21.Ng6.
  • Moving the Queen to safety by 17...Qd5 runs into 18.Bb3 Qxf7 19.Bxf7+ Kxf7 20.Qc4+ Kg6 21.Qg8. Black can still resist for some time, but White should ultimately prevail.

The Queen is attacked, but the attacker can't be captured and the Queen can't run. The only other option is the move played, a counterattack on White's Queen.

Next move: 17...Bf5


Black ignores the attack on his own Queen and counterattacks the White Queen. The idea is to gain enough time to activate the Queen and Rook.

Next move: 18.Qxf5


White doesn't let Black interfere with the battery on the diagonal. Any other move would lose.

Next move: 18...Qd7


This Queen move shows Black's idea with the Bishop sacrifice on the previous move. Black is still ahead in material and now has time to offer the exchange of Queens.

White has no useful checks because the Knight on f8 guards both g6 and h7. The Knight also protects the Queen on d7. Unfortunately for Black, one super Knight is not enough to save the game.

Next move: 19.Qf4


White doesn't allow the exchange of Queens, which would kill the attack immediately. The Queen moves away instead, keeping the protection of the Knight on f7 at the same time.

Next move: 19...Bf6


Black cuts the protection of the Knight by the Queen, threatening ...Qxf7. Along with the next move played, White could win by 20.Nxh6+ gxh6 21.Qxf6.

Next move: 20.N3e5


The King's Knight has been ready to attack f7 since the third move and now carries out its primary mission. The move defends the Knight on f7, opens the f-file to the White Rook, and attacks the Queen on d7.

Black could now try 20...Bxe5 21.Nxe5 Qe7, but 22.Qe4 continues the attack.

Next move: 20...Qe7


The Queen moves away from the Knight's attack, maintaining contact with all of the Black forces that protect the King.

Next move: 21.Bb3


With multiple routes to victory, White chooses a route based on discovered attacks by the Bishop. Both 22.Nxh6+ (double check) and 22.Ng5+ (discovered check) are now threats.

Next move: 21...Bxe5


Black sets up another discovered check, hoping that White will choose the wrong one.

Next move: 22.Nxe5+


The Knight move discovers check by the Bishop, leaving five legal moves for Black. All moves are equally hopeless. The move 22...Kh8 would fail to 23.Qe4, when the Black King and Queen are vulnerable to a Knight fork on g6.

Next move: 22...Kh7


Black escapes the check and avoids the Knight fork on g6...

Next move: 23.Qe4+


...but it makes no difference. If 23...Kh8, the 23.Rxf8+ forces checkmate whether Black recaptures with the Queen or with the Rook. Black resigns.

Next move: 1-0

For all games in the 'Every Move Explained' series, see
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