Vasily Smyslov, who died last week at 89, never talked about the life-wrenching tragedy that came at the time of his greatest triumph.
Smyslov was 27 when he married his wife, Nadezhda, and adopted her son, Vladimir Selimanov, whose father had been killed in a Stalinist purge. Smyslov, who owed his love of chess to his own father, a strong amateur, became Vladimir’s mentor.
In 1957, the family reached a pinnacle when Smyslov won the World Championship and Vladimir was the Soviet entrant in the World Junior in Toronto.
But Selimanov, then 18, lost in the first round to William Lombardy of New York and in the second to Mathias Gerusel of West Germany. He finished a disappointing fourth.
“At that time, such a performance was viewed almost as treason to the motherland,” wrote an interviewer on the site president.org.ua on March 26, 2008, noting that Smyslov and his wife never talk of what happened to Vladimir next: “Soon after his return, he killed himself.”
In the definitive book on world champs, “Kings of the Chess World,” Isaak and Vladimir Linder wrote that the Smyslovs “bore the tragic death of their son stoically. Chess helped him endure the pain.”