Viktor Korchnoi wins Banja Luka 2007

8/17/2007 – Many years ago – in 1979 to be precise – the Soviet Chess Federation sent a 16-year-old boy to play in this world-class event, thinking it was a youth tournament. The unrated lad went, saw and conquered, setting the tone for a world championship career. This year's tournament was won by the oldest player in its history. While Korchnoi took the points, the younger GMs went rafting.

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Korchnoi wins Banja Luka 2007

Pictorial report by IM Vlado Jakovljevic

A tradition has been revived in Banja Luka, and after a twenty-year pause, the eighth Grandmaster Chess Tournament Banja Luka 2007 was held. The long-lasting chess lethargy has been severed by the chess players themselves. An idea was born towards the end of the last year that the tournament should be revived. The initiators of the idea were the following people: IM Dusan Lekic, IM Vlado Jakovljevic, IM Aleksandar Savanovic, IM Dalibor Danilovic, the director of the tournament, and Milivoje Komljenovic, the president of the Banja Luka Chess Club.

Seven grandmasters, two IMs and one FM played in the tournament. The most famous names were Victor Korchnoi and Ulf Andersson. Korchnoi was the winner of the tournament, with 6.5 points in 9 rounds.


The tournament venue in the Music Pavilion


Chess with a view: Ulf Andersson vs Vlado Jakovljevic (draw in 14 moves)


A special area for spectators


The action is visible from inside and outside


Audience watch enthralled in the mild evening air

The tournament took place at the modern Music Pavilion in the center of Banja Luka. The tempo of the matches was 1 hour for 40 moves, 40 moves in 30 min, plus an increment ot 30 sec from move one. All games could be watched live on the official web site as well as on Playchess.com (broadcast room).

On the third day of the tournament, the organizer hosted an unusual trip for the participants of the tournament. Rafting in two boats was organized in the canyon of the river Vrbas. As expected, Viktor Korchnoi waited with a drink for the younger coleagues to arrive at the destination. GM Ulf Andersen was afraid of the sea sickness and decided not to fight against the currents of the river.


Not quite what FIDE had in mind – the tournament dress code in Banja


Getting on the boats


Rafting on the River Vrbas


Grandmaster overboard – a swim in the river is part of the package


Great stuff – this is exactly what we need in Wijk and Dortmund!


Fisching in the river Vrbas, in front of an old castle


Meanwhile Korchnoi and Andersson (right) are perfectly happy to wait...


...for the return of their errant colleagues, who at last join the feast

The rafting lasted some 40 minutes and the participants were also able to enjoy in a good swim. A few photos of this unforgetable experience can be seen below. GM Yuri Solodovnichenko said he was sorry that his wife was not there to enjoy such an exciting trip. Immediately after the ride GM Robert Ruck said it ought to be repeted at least once more during the tournament. The organizer promised similar events to take place next year too.


Back again next year? The beauty of the river landscape in Banja Luka

Memory lane – Garry takes Banja

To refresh our memory, in 1979, a similar GM tournament was played in Banja Luka, and that was the first international tournament for then young Gary Kasparov, who won it outright.

Remember this tournament, Garry? It began on your sixteenth birthday, when you were still an unrated player. We are told that your participation was due to an oversight of the Russian Chess Federation, who thought it was a junior tournament. Didn't they try to hold you back when they discovered their mistake, because they didn't want a budding young chess player to be massacred by these experienced grandmasters? In the end you emerged undefeated and with a two-point lead, which gave you a first (provisional) rating of around 2600. Ah, yes, that's how it all started...

Addendum: Howard S. Sample of Toledo, OH, USA writes:

I'm sorry, but the allegation that Kasparov had been sent to Banja Luka 1979 by mistake because the Soviet Chess Federation had mistakenly thought it was a "youth" tournament, is pretty hard to believe, for at least three reasons.

First, Petrosian played in that tournament and presumably the Soviet Chess Federation knew in advance he'd be participating. Wouldn't that have told them right there that this palpably could not be a "youth" tournament?

Second, this was a full-strength grandmaster tournament, not some minor backwater event where most of the participants would have been relatively little known outside of their home countries. Had this tournament been a latter such case, perhaps such an error could have occurred. (In fact, such a thing apparently did take place back in 1966 or 1967 where a certain teenager named Karpov was sent to an adult tournament by mistake... and he ended up tying for first place, as pointed out in the book World Chess Champions. But that tournament was apparently the type of minor low-profile event just alluded to.)

Third and most important, there was a short article in a 1979 issue of "Chess Life and Review" (which is what "Chess Life" was called back then) about the fact that Korchnoi had wanted to take part in the event but the organizers would not let him because of the ongoing Soviet boycott against him at the time. Apparently, some of the other invited players did not want Korchnoi taking part because that would mean no Soviets would come. So the organizers reluctantly told Korchnoi he could not attend and he, of course, was very distressed about this.

The point? That article, believe it or not, had a list of the players who had already been invited and both Petrosian and Kasparov's names were included, -meaning therefore it was known for months in advance who would be attending. Had the Soviet Chess Federation (and Kasparov) not seen this list back then? If "CL and R" printed the list, it obviously must have been common knowledge then.


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