He was born in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) to a Russian mother and father, and learned to play chess at the age of five on a train evacuating from Leningrad during World War II. He first drew wide attention in 1947 at age ten, when he defeated Soviet champion Mikhail Botvinnik in a simultaneous exhibition in Leningrad. His early coach was Vladimir Zak, a respected master and trainer. During his youth, from the age of ten, Spassky often worked on chess for several hours a day with master-level coaches. He set records as the youngest Soviet player to achieve first category rank (age ten), candidate master rank (age eleven), and Soviet Master rank (age fifteen). In 1952, at fifteen, Spassky scored 50 percent in the Soviet Championship semifinal at Riga, and placed second in the Leningrad Championship that same year, being highly praised by Botvinnik.
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