Before we start we wish to remind you that the great Viktor Korchnoi was born a day after William Shatner, the famed Captain James T. Kirk of the USS Enterprise in Star Trek, and three days before his pointy-eared half-Vulcan first officer Spock, played by Leonard Nimoy. Korchnoi, was born on March 23, 1931 in Leningrad, USSR, which makes him eighty years old today.
Viktor Korchnoi in one of our favourite pictures, taken in Linz, Austria, in 2006
So what does a fledgling octogenarian do to celebrate? Viktor intends to spend the week in his house in Switzerland, sipping a good port wine and relaxing with a good book. You would think. If you did not know the man. From today until Friday he will be playing a Match of Chess Legends against GM Anatoly Vaiser. Here's a video:
After that there Benefit Simultaneous against 30 players, organised by the Rotary Club in the Savoy, with the proceeds going to the victims of mining accidents. On the 26th he will play a clock simul against the Swiss Junior team – at 13:00h in the Festival Hall of the Hotel Savoy Baur en Ville, Paradeplatz, Zurich, Switzerland, against ten players, with GM Lucas Brunner commenting, in case you can attend. At 19:00 hrs there will be a private banquet for Viktor, his wife Petra, Garry Kasparov and family, Mark Taimanov and wife, and other invited guests. As a special gift from the Schachgesellschaft Zürich he requested and received an invitation to the San Sebastian Open, which is to be held from April 16 to 23.
Here, now, is part one of a remarkable interview produced by Europe Echecs.
Happy birthday Viktor Lvovich!
Viktor Lvovich Korchnoi, whose surname is also spelt Kortschnoj, Korchnoy, Kortchnoy, etc., (Russian: Ви́ктор Льво́вич Корчно́й), was born on March 23, 1931 in Leningrad, USSR.
Fischer vs Kortchnoi at the Candidates in Curacao, 1962
Korchnoi was USSR champion four times over, in 1960, 1962-63, 1964-65 and 1970. He won five European Championship titles, two interzonal tournaments for world championship, and two Candidates Tournaments, in 1977 and 1980. The latter led to world championship challenges. Korchnoi played three matches for the title, all against Anatoly Karpov. The first was the 1974 Candidates' Final, which turned out to be the title match when Bobby Fischer did not play the winner (Karpov). The other two were title matches against Karpov in Meran and Bagio.
The 16-year-old Viktor Korchnoi winning the 1947 USSR Youth Championship
Korchnoi learned to play chess at the age of seven. In 1943 he joined the Leningrad Pioneer Palace chess club, in 1947 he won the USSR youth championship, and in 1952 he qualified for the first time for the USSR Championship. He became an IM in 1954 and a Grandmaster in 1956. Next to his chess career he also graduated from Leningrad State University with a major in History.
In the first part of his career Korchnoi's playing style was characterised by aggressive counter-attack, and by tenacious defence. But in his prime he had become a genuine all-rounder in the style of Fischer. He played equally well with or without the initiative, in attack or defence, tactically or positionally, in the opening or in the endgame. Korchnoi had a plus score against the world champions Tal, Petrosian and Spassky, and an equal score against Botvinnik and Fischer.
Viktor Korchnoi in August 1976, just after his defection
In spite of his world-class playing strength Korchnoi was not given enough opportunities to use his talents. In 1976 he defected to the West and became the target of a personal campaign by the Soviet chess establishment. In spite of the pressures brought upon him he managed to qualify for two world championship matches. The first was held in 1978 in Baguio City, Philippines. It involved the use of a parapsychologist named Dr Zukhar by the title holder Anatoly Karpov, and an Indian religious sect by Korchnoi as a counter to this gambit. Karpov took a big opening lead, but Korchnoi fought back and won three out of four games to equalise the match 5:5. Karpov won the next game to take the title for a total of +6 =21 –5 (six wins was required to decide the match).
Korchnoi vs Karpov during the 1974 Candidates matches
The next challenge to Karpov came in 1981. During the match, which was held in Merano, Italy, Korchnoi was preoccupied with the fate of his wife and son, who were still in the Soviet Union. This led to a bad performance, and Karpov easily decided the encounter in his favour. Korchnoi's son was sentenced to two and half years in labour camp for evading army service.
The third game of the 1981 world championship match Karpov vs Korchnoi in Merano. The challenger had lost the first two games but to the surprise of his opponent took no out time before the third game. Karpov, playing black, offered him a draw, and Korchnoi replied: "Citizen Karpov, you must direct your offer to the arbiter!" The term "citizen" (instead of the usual "Comrade") was used at the time by prisoners when they addressed their jailors, a barb not lost on Karpov.
Korchnoi played in the next Candidates cycle, and in its course had to face a young Russian talent named Garry Kasparov. The match was scheduled to be played in Pasadena, California. But the Russian chess federation protested and Kasparov was not allowed to travel to the US, leaving Korchnoi as the winner by default. However Korchnoi of his own accord agreed to replay the match in London. After a good start he was soundly defeated by Kasparov, who had similar troubles with the Soviet chess federation, which favoured Karpov and put obstacles in the way of the younger, outspoken Kasparov.
In 2002 Viktor Kortschnoi was awarded the title of Doctor honoris causa by the University of Moldova.
Viktor Korchnoi is a phenomenon of longevity at the chessboard. He has been playing top-level chess for half a century, and even in his 70s he remained one of the best players in the world.
Viktor with wife Petra attending a ChessBase Christmas dinner in 2005
Viktor Kortchnoi is doubtlessly one of the most electrifying personalities of the chess world. Still playing successful and attractive chess, the former double world championship finalist is also famous for his candid language. Kortchnoi was never one for mincing his words. Now you can experience this chess legend “live”: with the ChessBase DVDs “My Life for Chess”, Kortchnoi has created a vivid memorial to himself and his great chess career.
In Volume 1, he presents eight of his most brilliant effort from the years 1949-1979, among them games against Smyslov, Geller, Tal, Huebner and Karpov. In each case Kortchnoi describes in detail the story around the game, never beating around the bush, sometimes harshly criticizing his opponents, but also lavishing praise on them when this is warranted. A highlight is the game against Karpov from the match for the world championship in Baguio 1978. All in all, “My Life for Chess Vol. 1” offers more than three hours of first-class chess training, plus an extensive interview. A must-have for every chess fan!
Volume 2 features about four hours of “Kortchnoi live”. The great chess legend portraits the second part of his eventful career, presenting among other things his games against Kasparov (1986), Spassky (1989) and Short (1990) in his typical gripping style. Embedded in the game commentaries are many details of Kortchnoi’s biography. For instance, before commenting his game against Spassky, the veteran speaks extensively about his personal relationship towards the ex-world champion. Throughout these lectures you can feel Kortchnoi’s ever-enduring love for chess. Whenever the great master gets to the heart of an opening (King’s Indian, English and French) or shows an astonishing move, one can see the joy sparkling from his eyes. No wonder – hardly any other chess genius has lived chess as intensively as “Viktor the Terrible”.