He was born in Leningrad.
He won the 1966 candidate's tournament and the right to challenge the world champion, compatriot Tigran Petrosian in 1966. He lost the match, but earned the chance for a rematch three years later, and this time he beat Petrosian.
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.