“In all of history you cannot find another player with his long-lived discipline, vigour and ferocity,” Garry Kasparov, writing in Viktor Korchnoi’s autobiography Chess is my Life.
Russian chess grandmaster and four-time Soviet champion Viktor Korchnoi, who is widely believed to be one of the finest players of the twentieth century, died last week in Switzerland. He was 85. Korchnoi was generally regarded as the strongest grandmaster never to have been world champion, in addition to Estonia’s Paul Keres. While both were enduringly consistent, Korchnoi proved quicker in the headlines owing to his 1976 controversial defection to the Netherlands from the Soviet Union.
Korchnoi began his chess career in the 1950s. In the 1960s, he won four Soviet Championships, usually referred to as the most rigorous and testing chess competitions of all time. He also won five European Championship titles, two Interzonal tournaments for the world championship, and two Candidates Tournaments, in 1977, and 1980. Korchnoi was popularly known as “Viktor the Terrible,” largely, it was felt, because of his temper. His playing style was characterized by aggressive counterattack; but he was also tenacious in defence. He was good with one, as with the other. Statistics provided by British newspaper, The Telegraph, disclosed that from 1954 to 1990, Korchnoi contested approximately 70 international chess tournaments and won or shared first place 40 times. He came in lower than third place only seven times in his career, and continued in major grandmaster tournaments way into his old age. He ended his career with having achieved the distinction of being the only septuagenarian in history to remain in the top one hundred players.
During the 1970s, Korchnoi’s unusual mind battles with Anatoly Karpov were memorable. In time, they became legendary. The competitions between the two were the defining epic of the decade. They were underlined as obnoxious duels on the political, psychological and physical levels. It was someplace within the height of the Cold War. Korchnoi tried and failed twice for the world championship title in matches that mirrored the Cold War in international politics at the time. Karpov was the new undisputed world chess champion. The previous world champion Bobby Fischer had refused to defend his title, citing his disgust with FIDE, and the manner in which the organization was managed. In 1978, during the three-month-long and troubled world championship match in the Philippines, Korchnoi claimed that the Soviets had hired a hypnotist to distract him and demanded protection during the match. He insisted the USSR would do anything to prevent him from beating the Soviet world chess champion, and the poster boy of the erudite Soviet establishment. By this time Korchnoi was already residing in Switzerland following his defection from the USSR. His story in part inspired the musical Chess by ABBA star Bjorn Ulvaeus and lyricist Tim Rice which set international chess in the midst of Cold War politicking.
During the match in the Philippines, strange events and behind the scenes machinations attracted huge publicity in the world press as chess lovers followed what was widely billed as a struggle between the Soviet system and western democracy. The Korchnoi camp complained that Karpov was receiving coded advice in the form of various coloured yogurts delivered to him during the games, and filed complaints about the Russians hiring a parapsychologist, Vladimir Zukhar, who sat near the front of the audience glaring at Korchnoi.
Korchnoi countered with mystical advisers of his own and donned specially created glasses to obliterate the stare of the parapsychologist. These bizarre distractions made headlines in Guyana and worldwide. From an almost impossible deficit of a 5-2 score in favour of Karpov, Korchnoi brought the score level to 5-5. The first person to obtain six wins, would leave with the championship title. The chess world was tense and on edge. The next game would decide the world championship. Karpov took a time out. Korchnoi had the black pieces. Karpov played solidly. He rose to the occasion. Korchnoi played an inferior move. Karpov prevailed in Game 32 making the score 6-5 with 21 draws. The match was over, and the chess world was breathing again.
In the waning days of the USSR, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev restored the citizenship of Korchnoi. He was one of 23 persons, including Nobel laureate novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn, to be reinstated.
Former world chess champion of India, Viswanathan Anand summed up his thoughts nicely about Korchnoi when he tweeted: “His struggle both on and off the chess board is what chess history will hold in highest regard. He always admonished me for playing too fast. He was a chess player in its truest sense.”
The games listed hereunder were played at the third annual 2016 Shamkir Chess Tournament in Azerbaijan. The tournament was dedicated to the memory of Vugar Gashimov, a noted chess grandmaster who passed away in 2014.
White: Teimour Radjabov
Black: Yifan Hou
1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 e6 3. g3 c5 4. Bg2 cxd4 5. O-O d5 6. Bf4 Nc6 7. Nxd4 Bc5 8. Nb3 Be7 9. c4 dxc4 10. Qxd8+ Nxd8 11. Na5 Nd5 12. Nxc4 Nxf4 13. gxf4 Bd7 14. Nc3 Rc8 15. Ne5 Bb4 16. Ne4 Bb5 17. a3 Be7 18. Nc3 Bc6 19. Nxc6 Nxc6 20. Rfd1 Rg8 21. Rac1 g5 22. fxg5 Rxg5 23. Kf1 Rc5 24. Ne4 Rxc1 25. Rxc1 f5 26. Nd2 Kd7 27. e3 Bf6 28. b4 b6 29. Rd1 Ke7 30. Rc1 Kd7 31. Rd1 Ke7 32. Rc1 Kd7 1/2-1/2.
White: Anish Giri
Black: Pentala Harikrishna
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. Nc3 c5 5. cxd5 Nxd5 6. e4 Nxc3 7. bxc3 cxd4 8. cxd4 Bb4+ 9. Bd2 Bxd2+ 10. Qxd2 O-O 11. Rc1 b6 12. Bd3 Bb7 13. O-O h6 14. Qe3 Nc6 15. h4 Rc8 16. h5 Qe7 17. Bb1 Rfd8 18. d5 exd5 19. e5 Ba6 20. Rfe1 Qd7 21. Qf4 Ne7 22. Nd4 Rxc1 23. Qxc1 Qa4 24. e6 Qxd4 25. exf7+ Kxf7 26. Qc7 Re8 27. Bg6+ 1-0.
White: Rauf Mamedov
Black: Fabiano Caruana
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. c3 Nf6 5. d3 a6 6. O-O d6 7. a4 Ba7 8. Bg5 h6 9. Bh4 g5 10. Bg3 Ne7 11. d4 Nxe4 12. Nxe5 O-O 13. Nxf7 Rxf7 14. Bxf7+ Kxf7 15. f4 g4 16. f5 Nxg3 17. hxg3 Ng8 18. Qxg4 Qg5 19. Qxg5 hxg5 20. Nd2 Nf6 21. Nf3 Nh7 22. g4 Bd7 23. Rfe1 Rg8 24. Kf2 Nf6 25. Kg3 c5 26. Re2 cxd4 27. cxd4 Bb6 28. b3 Bc6 29. Rae1 Ba5 30. Re7+ Kf8 31. R1e2 Bd8 32. R7e6 Bd7 33. R6e3 Nd5 34. Re4 Nc3 35. d5 Bf6 36. Nd2 Rg7 37. Re1 Nxe4+ 38. Nxe4 Re7 39. Kf3 Kg7 40. Rh1 Be8 41. Nxd6 Bf7 42. Nxf7 Kxf7 43. Rc1 Bd4 44. Rc4 Bb6 45. Re4 Rxe4 46. Kxe4 Ke7 47. b4 Bd8 48. a5 Kd6 49. Kd4 Bf6+ 50. Kc4 Bg7 51. b5 Bf6 0-1.
White: Shakhriyar Mamedyarov
Black: Pavel Eljanov
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. Nf3 b6 5. Qb3 c5 6. Bg5 Bb7 7. e3 O-O 8. Be2 cxd4 9. Qxb4 Nc6 10. Qa3 dxc3 11. bxc3 h6 12. Bh4 Rc8 13. Rd1 Qc7 14. Bxf6 gxf6 15. O-O Kg7 16. Nd4 Ne5 17. Nb5 Qc5 18. Qb4 a5 19. Qxc5 Rxc5 20. Nd6 Ba6 21. Rd4 f5 22. Rb1 Rb8 23. f4 Nc6 24. Rd2 Ne7 25. Kf2 Kf8 26. e4 Nc8 27. Nb5 Ke7 28. Rbd1 Rb7 29. exf5 Rxf5 30. g3 Rc5 31. Na3 d6 32. g4 Rd7 33. h4 Rd8 34. Rd4 Na7 35. Rb1 Nc8 36. Nc2 d5 37. cxd5 Bxe2 38. Kxe2 Rdxd5 39. Kd3 h5 40. Ne3 Rd7 41. f5 hxg4 42. h5 Nd6 43. h6 Rc8 44. Re1 Nb7 45. Rxd7+ Kxd7 46. Nxg4 Nc5+ 47. Kd4 Kd6 48. Ne5 f6 49. Ng6 e5+ 50. Ke3 Rc7 51. Rd1+ Kc6 52. Rd8 Nb7 53. Rc8 Rxc8 54. Ne7+ Kc5 55. Nxc8 Nd8 56. h7 Nf7 57. Ne7 Kc4 58. Ng8 Kxc3 59. Nxf6 1-0.