Viktor Korchnoi

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Viktor Korchnoi
Korchnoi in 1993
CountrySoviet Union,
TitleGrandmaster 1956
FIDE rating2566 (January 2010)
Peak rating2695 (January 1979)[1]

Viktor Korchnoi [2] (23 March 1931 – 6 June 2016) was a professional chess grandmaster. He was born in Leningrad, USSR (Saint Petersburg). In 1976 he defected to the Netherlands. He lived in Switzerland for many years, and became a Swiss citizen.[3] Towards the end of his life, he was the oldest active grandmaster on the regular tournament circuit. Viktor was at or near the top in chess for half a century.

In all, Korchnoi was a candidate for the World Championship on ten occasions (1962, 1968, 1971, 1974, 1977, 1980, 1983, 1985, 1988 and 1991). Korchnoi was also a four-time USSR chess champion, a five-time member of Soviet teams that won the European championship, and a six-time member of Soviet teams that won the Chess Olympiad.

Matches against Karpov[change | change source]

Korchnoi played three matches against Anatoly Karpov, the latter two for the World Chess Championship. In 1974, he lost the Candidates final to Karpov by the narrowest margin: 11.5–12.5. Karpov was declared world champion in 1975 when Bobby Fischer failed to defend his title. Then, after defecting from the Soviet Union in 1976, Korchnoi won two Candidates cycles to qualify for World Championship matches with Karpov in 1978 and 1981.

1978 match[change | change source]

The 1978 Karpov–Korchnoi World Championship match was held in Baguio, Philippines. It was one of those events where the struggle took place off as well as on the board. Korchnoi's status as a defector and stateless person was exploited to the full by the Soviet delegation.[4] Karpov's team was a dozen strong, and only three of them were chess players. They included Dr Zukhar, Karpov's personal psychiatrist/psychologist, whom (it was claimed) attempted to hypnotise Korchnoi during play.

There was constant controversy off the board, with X-raying of chairs, protests about the flags used on the board, hypnotism complaints and the mirror glasses used by Korchnoi. When Karpov's team sent him a blueberry yogurt during a game without any request for one by Karpov, the Korchnoi team protested, claiming it could be some kind of code. They later said this was intended as a parody of earlier protests, but it was taken seriously at the time.[5] The story of these off-the-board struggles has been reported in detail, from the Korchnoi point of view.[6]

As a sporting contest, it had an exciting climax. The match would go to the first player to win six games, draws not counting. After 17 games, Karpov had an imposing 4–1 lead. Korchnoi won game 21, but Karpov won game 27, putting him on the brink of victory with a 5–2 lead. Korchnoi fought back, scoring three wins and one draw in the next four games, to equalise the match at 5–5 after 31 games. However, Karpov won the next game, and the match, by 6–5 with 21 draws. For the second time, Karpov had won by the narrowest possible margin.[7]

1981 match[change | change source]

Korchnoi won the next Candidates' cycle to again earn the right to challenge Karpov in 1981. The match, held in Merano, Italy, was held in an atmosphere of political tension. Korchnoi's wife and son were still in the Soviet Union. His son was promised that he would be allowed to join his father, if he gave up his passport. When he did so, he was promptly drafted into the Soviet army. In spite of protests, Korchnoi's son was arrested for evading army service, sentenced to two and a half years in labour camp, and served the full sentence. After the release, he was again refused permission to leave the USSR. In 1982, six years after Korchnoi's defection, his son finally succeeded in leaving the country.

In what was dubbed the 'Massacre in Merano', Karpov defeated Korchnoi convincingly by 6 wins to 2, with ten draws.

Later career[change | change source]

1984 Korchnoi–Kasparov match[change | change source]

Korchnoi was due to play the young Soviet Garry Kasparov in the next (1984) Candidates' cycle. He seemed to have great fondness for Garry Kasparov – possibly because he recognized the situation Kasparov was in – a prominent talent blocked by the Soviet bureaucracy.

The match was to be held in Pasadena, California, but the Soviet Chess Federation protested. Possibly this was because Korchnoi was a defector and the match was in the cold-war enemy's backyard, and because of the soon-to-be-announced Soviet decision to boycott the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles). At any rate, Kasparov was not allowed to fly there to play the match. This defaulted the match to Korchnoi.

However, after a remarkable series of events, spearheaded by the British Grandmaster Raymond Keene, Korchnoi agreed to play the match in London. This was a gracious gesture by Korchnoi, since technically he had already won by default. After a good start, Korchnoi was overcome by Kasparov's attacking play and remarkable maturity.[8]

Later life[change | change source]

Viktor continued to play in Europe, living in his adopted country of Switzerland. He represented their Olympiad team on top board. Korchnoi first played for Switzerland at the 1978 Olympiad, held in Buenos Aires, where he took the individual gold medal for best performance on board one.

On the January 2007 FIDE rating list, Korchnoi was ranked number 85 in the world at age 75, by far the oldest player ever to be ranked in the FIDE top 100. The second-oldest player on the January 2007 list was Alexander Beliavsky, 22 years younger than Korchnoi.

In September 2006, Korchnoi won the 16th World Senior Chess Championship, held in Italy, with a 9–2 score. Korchnoi scored 7.5–0.5 in his first eight games, then drew his last three games. This is the first world title Korchnoi had won. Viktor achieved another mark by winning the 2009 Swiss championship in Grächen. He scored 7/9 at the open tournament.

Viktor's style of play was total commitment. He almost always played for a win if at all possible, and rarely took short draws. He was often seen in complex, double-edged positions, where it is difficult to see what is going on.

Death[change | change source]

Korchnoi died at the age of 85 in Wohlen, Switzerland from complications of a stroke on 6 June 2016.[9]

Books[change | change source]

  • Victor Korchnoi (1977). Chess is my life. Batsford. ISBN 07134-1025-6.
  • Korchnoi, Victor (2005). Chess is my life. Olms (incl. CD-Rom with complete games). ISBN 3-283-00406-4.
  • Victor Korchnoi; Zak V.G. (1974). King's Gambit. Batsford. ISBN 978-0-7134-2914-5.
  • Korchnoi, Victor (2001). My best games, Vol 1: Games with White. Trafalgar Square. ISBN 978-3-283-00404-0.
  • Korchnoi, Victor (2002). My best games, Vol 2: Games with Black. Trafalgar Square. ISBN 978-3-283-00405-7.
  • Korchnoi, Victor (2002). Practical rook endings. Olms. ISBN 3-283-00401-3.

References[change | change source]

  1. "Highest FIDE ratings". Retrieved 2008-11-23.
  2. Russian: Ви́ктор Льво́вич Корчно́й
  3. Korchnoi, Victor 2005. Chess is my life. Olms. ISBN 3-283-00406-4.
  4. Korchnoi's citizenship and passport had been withdrawn by the Soviets.
  5. "World Chess Championship : 1978 Karpov - Korchnoi : Yogurt". Retrieved 2008-11-23.
  6. Korchnoi, Viktor & Cavallaro, Lenny 1981. Persona non grata, formerly titled 'Anti-Chess'. Thinkers' Press, Davenport, Iowa.
  7. "World Chess Championship : 1976-78 cycle : 1978 Karpov - Korchnoi". Retrieved 2008-11-23.
  8. "World Chess Championship : 1982-84 cycle : Candidates Matches". Retrieved 2008-11-23.
  9. "Илюмжинов назвал смерть Корчного «уходом эпохи»". Moskovskij Komsomolets (in Russian). 6 June 2016. Retrieved 6 June 2016.