The Greatest Player Never to Become World Champion

9/11/2004 – He has been an active grandmaster for 50 years, in the world's elite for 40, and a three-time challenger for the world championship title. It is not impossible that, at 73, Viktor Korchnoi may yet win the title that has so far eluded him. In his Monday night lecture our Playchess.com trainer Dennis Monokroussos shows us a brilliant Korchnoi game from 1981.

Dennis Monokroussos writes: There are a few candidates for this double-edged honor, and it’s not completely impossible that our featured player might yet win the FIDE world championship if the knockout events continue. Nevertheless, even if Viktor Korchnoi never does win the title, there are precious few players in history whose resume can even begin to compare with his. He has been an (extremely) active grandmaster for 50 years, in the world’s elite for more than 40 years, a 2 or 3-time finalist for the world championship (depending on how one interprets his 1974 Candidates’ Final with Karpov), a 10-time Candidate (not counting the FIDE knockout events – he was in three of those, too), a 4-time Soviet champion (a tremendous accomplishment that could have been greater had he not defected from the USSR in his prime), and… the list of his accomplishments just goes on and on! Even now at the age of 73, he is still fighting – and succeeding! – in very strong tournaments. Truly a living legend.

After all that, his opponent for this game, Robert Hübner, may seem like a rank amateur by comparison, but that would be terribly unfair. A very strong grandmaster in his own right since the early 70s, Hübner is also a many-time candidate (though not as many times as Korchnoi) though perhaps best-known for his terrifyingly deep analyses. (How deep? In the mid-90s he wrote a 416-page book featuring just 25 of his games, and its length was not due to intermittent narrative.) Such a career would be a source of great pride to many, but as if that weren’t enough Dr. Hübner is also well-known papyrologist!

We won’t cover their game from Johannesburg 1981 in Hübnerian detail, but we will examine it with some care. The opening is a quite instructive Queen’s Indian; instructive not so much for its theoretical subtleties but because of the very important and common queenside pawn structure issues that arise. Hübner plays the opening a little passively and Korchnoi develops a serious advantage. What makes the game of particular interest, however, is what Korchnoi chose to do with that advantage: rather than calmly utilizing his extra space, Korchnoi makes a speculative piece sac, completely out of character from his reputation as someone who loves to accept rather than offer sacrifices. Korchnoi won quickly, but Hübner could have defended with accurate play, as we shall see.

All in all, a very interesting game, and as an added bonus, we’ll add another installment to our growing collection of grandmaster endgame follies. See you Monday!

Dennis Monokroussos' Radio ChessBase lectures begin on Mondays at 9 p.m. EDT, which translates to 02:00h GMT, 03:00 Paris/Berlin, 13:00h Sydney (on Tuesday). Other time zones can be found at the bottom of this page. You can use Fritz or any Fritz-compatible program (Shredder, Junior, Tiger, Hiarcs) to follow the lectures, or download a free trial client.

Dennis Monokroussos is 38, lives in South Bend, IN (the site of the University of Notre Dame), and is writing a Ph.D. dissertation in philosophy (in the philosophy of mind) while adjuncting at the University.

He is fairly inactive as a player right now, spending most of his non-philosophy time being a husband and teaching chess. At one time he was one of the strongest juniors in the U.S., but quit for about eight years starting in his early 20s. His highest rating was 2434 USCF, but he has now fallen to the low-mid 2300s – "too much blitz, too little tournament chess", he says.

Dennis has been working as a chess teacher for seven years now, giving lessons to adults and kids both in person and on the internet, worked for a number of years for New York’s Chess In The Schools program, where he was one of the coaches of the 1997-8 US K-8 championship team from the Bronx, and was very active in working with many of CITS’s most talented juniors.

When Dennis Monokroussos presents a game, there are usually two main areas of focus: the opening-to-middlegame transition and the key moments of the middlegame (or endgame, when applicable). With respect to the latter, he attempts to present some serious analysis culled from his best sources (both text and database), which he has checked with his own efforts and then double-checked with his chess software.

Here are the exact times for different locations in the world

Abu Dhabi Tue 05:00 Halifax * Mon 22:00 New Orleans * Mon 20:00
Addis Ababa Tue 04:00 Hanoi Tue 08:00 New York * Mon 21:00
Adelaide Tue 10:30 Harare Tue 03:00 Odesa * Tue 04:00
Aden Tue 04:00 Havana * Mon 21:00 Oslo * Tue 03:00
Aklavik * Mon 19:00 Helsinki * Tue 04:00 Ottawa * Mon 21:00
Algiers Tue 02:00 Hong Kong Tue 09:00 Paris * Tue 03:00
Amman * Tue 04:00 Honolulu Mon 15:00 Perth Tue 09:00
Amsterdam * Tue 03:00 Houston * Mon 20:00 Philadelphia * Mon 21:00
Anadyr * Tue 14:00 Indianapolis Mon 20:00 Phoenix Mon 18:00
Anchorage * Mon 17:00 Islamabad Tue 06:00 Prague * Tue 03:00
Ankara * Tue 04:00 Istanbul * Tue 04:00 Rangoon Tue 07:30
Antananarivo Tue 04:00 Jakarta Tue 08:00 Reykjavik Tue 01:00
Asuncion Mon 21:00 Jerusalem * Tue 04:00 Rio de Janeiro Mon 22:00
Athens * Tue 04:00 Johannesburg Tue 03:00 Riyadh Tue 04:00
Atlanta * Mon 21:00 Kabul Tue 05:30 Rome * Tue 03:00
Baghdad * Tue 05:00 Kamchatka * Tue 14:00 San Francisco * Mon 18:00
Bangkok Tue 08:00 Karachi Tue 06:00 San Juan Mon 21:00
Barcelona * Tue 03:00 Kathmandu Tue 06:45 San Salvador Mon 19:00
Beijing Tue 09:00 Khartoum Tue 04:00 Santiago Mon 21:00
Beirut * Tue 04:00 Kingston Mon 20:00 Santo Domingo Mon 21:00
Belgrade * Tue 03:00 Kiritimati Tue 15:00 Sao Paulo Mon 22:00
Berlin * Tue 03:00 Kolkata Tue 06:30 Seattle * Mon 18:00
Bogota Mon 20:00 Kuala Lumpur Tue 09:00 Seoul Tue 10:00
Boston * Mon 21:00 Kuwait City Tue 04:00 Shanghai Tue 09:00
Brasilia Mon 22:00 Kyiv * Tue 04:00 Singapore Tue 09:00
Brisbane Tue 11:00 La Paz Mon 21:00 Sofia * Tue 04:00
Brussels * Tue 03:00 Lagos Tue 02:00 St. John's * Mon 22:30
Bucharest * Tue 04:00 Lahore Tue 06:00 St. Paul * Mon 20:00
Budapest * Tue 03:00 Lima Mon 20:00 Stockholm * Tue 03:00
Buenos Aires Mon 22:00 Lisbon * Tue 02:00 Suva Tue 13:00
Cairo * Tue 04:00 London * Tue 02:00 Sydney Tue 11:00
Canberra Tue 11:00 Los Angeles * Mon 18:00 Taipei Tue 09:00
Cape Town Tue 03:00 Madrid * Tue 03:00 Tallinn * Tue 04:00
Caracas Mon 21:00 Managua Mon 19:00 Tashkent Tue 06:00
Casablanca Tue 01:00 Manila Tue 09:00 Tegucigalpa Mon 19:00
Chatham Island Tue 13:45 Melbourne Tue 11:00 Tehran * Tue 05:30
Chicago * Mon 20:00 Mexico City * Mon 20:00 Tokyo Tue 10:00
Copenhagen * Tue 03:00 Minneapolis * Mon 20:00 Toronto * Mon 21:00
Darwin Tue 10:30 Minsk * Tue 04:00 Vancouver * Mon 18:00
Denver * Mon 19:00 Montevideo Mon 22:00 Vienna * Tue 03:00
Detroit * Mon 21:00 Montgomery * Mon 20:00 Vladivostok * Tue 12:00
Dhaka Tue 07:00 Montreal * Mon 21:00 Warsaw * Tue 03:00
Dublin * Tue 02:00 Moscow * Tue 05:00 Washington DC * Mon 21:00
Edmonton * Mon 19:00 Mumbai Tue 06:30 Wellington Tue 13:00
Frankfurt * Tue 03:00 Nairobi Tue 04:00 Winnipeg * Mon 20:00
Geneva * Tue 03:00 Nassau * Mon 21:00 Zagreb * Tue 03:00
Guatemala Mon 19:00 New Delhi Tue 06:30 Zürich * Tue 03:00

* indicates that the place is currently observing daylight saving time (DST)


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