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He was born in Leningrad.
Spassky was considered an all-rounder on the chess board, his "universal style" became a distinct advantage in beating many top Grandmasters. For instance, Mikhail Tal the legendary tactician, and during their Candidates Final match (Tbilisi, 1965) Spassky managed to steer play into quiet positions avoiding Tal's tactical strength. This lead to his first World Champion match against Tigran Petrosian in 1966. Spassky lost the match, but earned the right to challenge Petrosian again three years later. Again, Spassky's flexibility of style was the key to his eventual victory over Petrosian in the 1969 World Championship - by adopting Petrosian's negative style.
Spassky's reign as a world champion only lasted for three years, as he lost to Bobby Fischer (United States) in 1972. The contest took place in Reykjavik, Iceland at the height of the Cold War and consequently was seen as symbolic of the political confrontation. Fisher won and Spassky returned home to the U.S.S.R in disgrace. Spassky continued to play, winning several championships including the 1973 Soviet championship.
In the 1974 Candidates matches, Spassky lost to the up and coming Anatoly Karpov in Leningrad. Karpov publically acknowledged that Spassky was superior, but after a series of superb games, Karpov garnered enough points to take the match.
Spassky's later years showed a reluctance to totally devote himself to chess. He relied on a superb natural talent for the game, and sometimes would rather play a game of tennis, rather than work hard at the board. In effect, the 1972 World Championship and the 1974 Candidates match against Karpov signalled the end of Spassky's pinnacle of success.
In 1992 Fischer, after a 20 year hiatus from chess, re-emerged to arrange a "Revenge Match of the 20th century" against Spassky in Montenegro and Belgrade - a re-enactment of the 1972 World Championship. At the time, Spassky was rated 106th in the FIDE rankings, and Fischer didn't appear on the list at all (owing to his 20 year inactivity). This match was essentially Spassky's last major challenge, and unfortunately health problems prevented him from putting up a credible challenge.