Zurich Legends: A match of equals!

by Sagar Shah
2/17/2015 – The final two games between Viktor Korchnoi and Wolfgang Uhlmann saw an exchange of blows, with Korchnoi winning the third with the black pieces. But just when it seemed sure he would win the match then he blundered a piece in game four and the match of the legends was drawn 2-2. The event brought particular pleasure to an eleven-year-old chess fan.

Zurich Legends: A match of equals!

The Zurich Legends match between Viktor Korchnoi and Wolfgang Uhlmann was locked at 1:1 after the first two games. Today the masters played the remaining two games and exchanged blows in them. Korchnoi won the third game with the black pieces and it seemed as if he would win the match. But in the fourth game Uhlmann struck back as Korchnoi blundered a piece. This unique four-game match was thus drawn with a score of 2:2.

Uhlmann came to the board today in a chequered suit

On the surface Korchnoi looks quite frail….

… but when the clocks are started he is nothing but a picture of determination

Before we analyse the games three and four of the match, here is a small piece of statistic for the reader. Apart from being in their eighties, there is something else that binds these two great players: both are such firm adherents of the French Defence, and at some point they were both considered the world’s leading experts in this opening. Out of 862 games in which Korchnoi’s opponents went 1.e4, Viktor Lvovich played the French in no less than 373 games.

Wolfgang Uhlmann’s love for this opening was even deeper: he played the move 1.e6 on as many as 642 occasions out of the 667 games in which his opponents began with 1.e4.

Wolfgang Uhlmann: according to Mega Database a French fanatic!

It’s such a tragedy that we cannot witness this opening being played when the two play each other as neither of them opens the game with 1.e4.

Game three

Uhlmann once again played the English with 1.c4 and built up a nice position out of the opening. Korchnoi managed to equalize after an inaccuracy of his opponent. In the complex middlegame the following position was reached:

Korchnoi’s last move, 25…Be6-g4, was a mistake as Uhlmann could have just snapped off the bishop with 26.Qxg4. After 26…Qxc5 the move 27.Bb2 would have finished off the game. Instead Uhlmann continued with 26. Qg5 and that gave Korchnoi the opportunity to fight back into the game.

After his opponent left him off the hook, Korchnoi played well and without making any further mistakes won the game in 44 moves.

[Event "Zurich Chess Challenge 2015 Kortchnoi - "] [Site "Zurich"] [Date "2015.02.16"] [Round "3.1"] [White "Uhlmann, Wolfgang"] [Black "Korchnoi, Viktor"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A29"] [WhiteElo "2322"] [BlackElo "2499"] [Annotator "Sagar Shah"] [PlyCount "88"] [EventDate "2015.??.??"] 1. c4 {Uhlmann sticks to the move that he made in the first game.} e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. g3 {Once again it's four knights. But this time Korchnoi instead of going for Bb4, converts the position into a Reversed Sicilian.} d5 5. cxd5 Nxd5 6. Bg2 Nde7 $5 (6... Nb6 {is considered to be the main move.}) 7. O-O g6 8. b4 a6 (8... Nxb4 9. Nxe5 $16) 9. Rb1 Bg7 10. a4 O-O 11. d3 (11. b5 axb5 12. axb5 Nd4 $11) 11... Nd4 12. Nd2 $1 {White prevents the exchange of knights and aims to push back the knight with e3.} c6 {Blunting the g2 bishop.} 13. e3 Ne6 14. Qe2 (14. Nc4 {was more active and better as} Nd5 {can be met with} 15. Bb2 $1 Nxb4 $6 16. Ba3 $1 $14) 14... Nd5 15. Nxd5 cxd5 {Black has equalised out of the opening.} 16. f4 $5 {An overambitious move. On first sight it seems illogical that White can launch an attack on Black without being fully developed. Yet there are some threats of breaking the kingside pawn structure with f4-f5 and Black has to react accurately.} (16. Bb2 {was better.}) 16... exf4 17. gxf4 Re8 {[%csl Rd3,Re3,Rf4] White's central constellation of pawns can be a strength if set into motion but currently they seem more like a weakness.} 18. Nb3 (18. f5 Nd4 $17) 18... Qd6 19. Qf3 Qxb4 20. f5 (20. Qxd5 Qxa4 $15) 20... gxf5 {Breaking up the kingside pawn structure gives White definite counter chances.} (20... Nd8 $1 {was better and after} 21. fxg6 hxg6 22. Qxd5 Bf5 $15 {Black stands better.}) 21. Qxf5 Nd8 22. Qxd5 Qxa4 23. Nc5 {Suddenly the White pieces look quite active and the black ones look pushed back and clumsily placed.} Qc2 24. Rb6 {The rook also joins in the party } Be6 (24... Bh3 $5 {was an amazing tactical possibility.} 25. Bxh3 Re5 26. Qd7 Qxc5 {When Black regains his piece but White keeps an edge after} 27. Rd6 $14) 25. Qh5 Bg4 $2 {A tactical error which goes unpunished.} 26. Qg5 (26. Qxg4 $1 Qxc5 27. Bb2 $1 {There is absolutely no way for Black to defend himself in this position.} Qxe3+ 28. Kh1 Re5 29. Bxe5 Qxe5 30. Qd7 $18 {with a winning advantage.}) 26... Re5 27. Qxg4 Qxc5 28. Rb4 (28. Bb2 Qxb6 29. Bxe5 Qxe3+ $19 { would be just losing for White.}) 28... Rg5 29. Qf4 Rg6 {Black is a pawn up and to some extent he has fortified his position.} 30. Re4 Qb5 31. Ba3 Rf6 32. Qh4 Rxf1+ 33. Bxf1 Ne6 34. d4 Qb1 (34... Qb3 $1 {Not only attacking the a3 bishop but also threatening to trap the rook on e4 with the move f5.} 35. Bd6 f5 $19 {traps the rook.}) 35. Rg4 Kh8 36. d5 Nf8 37. Be7 $2 {This is the final error of the game. After this Korchnoi is able to finish off his opponent easily.} (37. Qh5 $13) 37... Ng6 $1 38. Rxg6 (38. Qg5 h6 $19) 38... Qxg6+ 39. Bg2 Rc8 40. Qh3 Rc1+ 41. Kf2 Qc2+ 42. Kf3 Qd1+ 43. Kf4 Rc4+ 44. e4 Qxd5 (44... Qxd5 {It could have been possible to prolong the game here with} 45. Qc8+ Rxc8 46. exd5 {But to win this position should not be a difficult task for Korchnoi. }) 0-1

A lead of one point with just one game to go and having the white pieces, Korchnoi definitely was the favourite to win the match. But Uhlmann had some other plans.

Game four

The final game also began with 1.c4 just like the previous three. Soon it transposed into the Maroczy Bind variation of the Accelerated Dragon. With the bishops strongly posted on long diagonals and the weakness of the b5 square, Korchnoi had a firm grip on the position.

Maybe it was tiredness or sheer carelessness which resulted in him incarcerating his bishop on a6 with his move 22.Nb5.

Uhlmann took advantage of this fact and with his powerful move 22…Nb4 and snatched the advantage. Korchnoi did not notice that his bishop was hanging on a6 and dropped the piece after which he promptly resigned.

[Event "Zurich Chess Challenge 2015 Kortchnoi - "] [Site "Zurich"] [Date "2015.02.16"] [Round "4.1"] [White "Korchnoi, Viktor"] [Black "Uhlmann, Wolfgang"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A30"] [WhiteElo "2499"] [BlackElo "2322"] [Annotator "Sagar Shah"] [PlyCount "48"] [EventDate "2015.??.??"] {This was the final game of the match. Uhlmann was trailing by a point and he had the black pieces. Things looked ominous for him. But like a battle hardened player he came back to win and level the match.} 1. c4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 g6 6. Nc2 {Korchnoi retreats his knight to avoid the Gurgenidze Variation of the Accelerated Dragon.} (6. e4 Nxd4 7. Qxd4 d6 { is one of the main lines.}) 6... Bg7 7. e4 O-O 8. Be2 a6 {This is quite an interesting and unusual way to play against the Maroczy setup. Black omits the move d6 and instead focuses on the b5 break.} 9. O-O Rb8 10. Re1 $1 {Latently defending the e4 pawn.} d6 11. Bg5 h6 12. Be3 Bd7 13. a4 {Korchnoi once and for all prevents the b5 break. But the b4 square is weakened and with his next move he clamps down on not only that square but also the c5 outpost for his knight.} a5 $5 14. c5 dxc5 15. Bxc5 b6 (15... Be6 {was much better controlling the central squares.}) 16. Ba3 $14 {[%csl Ga3,Rb5,Ge2]} Be6 17. Bb5 $1 { Korchnoi plays with great precision nurturing his slight advantage.} Rc8 18. Rc1 Bb3 19. Qxd8 $6 (19. Qe2 {was better to maintain the queens and also threaten the move e4-e5.} Bxc2 (19... Qc7 20. e5 $16) 20. Qxc2 Nd4 21. Qd3 Nxb5 22. Qxb5 $16) 19... Rfxd8 20. Ne3 e6 (20... Nb4 $1 $15) 21. Ba6 Rb8 22. Nb5 $2 {[%csl Ra6][%cal Gc3b5] Incarcerating his bishop on the a6 square.} Nb4 $1 23. Rc3 $2 {Now that's tiredness and old age speaking.} (23. Bxb4 axb4 24. Nc4 Bxa4 $17) 23... Bxa4 24. f3 Nxa6 {An anti climax to a very interesting game. Final Score 2:2.} 0-1

One win each with white and black for both the players the match ended with a score of 2:2.

Relaxing after the match: Wolfgang Uhlmann and wife Christine (foreground), Petra and Viktor Korchnoi

At the final reception we saw the octogenarian grandmaster play an informal game
against an eleven-year-old lad named Anatol who was clearly a very enthusiastic chess fan.

After the game, which Uhlmann won (but not effortlessly), the two analysed for half an hour
together, with the GM explaining strategic principles to the boy, who was clearly eager to learn.

Late the same evening we spotted Anatol keenly following the postmortem of
the round three game between Vladimir Kramnik and Levon Aronian

Anatol, by the way, is a fairly strong amateur, but purely a "hobby" chess player. Here's a little puzzle for our readers: what do you think the lad really excels in? We will tell you the solution in a subsequent report. Be prepared for a big surprise. Hint: some creative googling can reveal his field of brilliance.

The organizers of Zurich must be commended for bringing these two legends of the game back to the chess board. Such matches help us to remember the rich history of chess and also the great heroes of the past.

Pictures by Frederic Friedel and Eteri Kublashvili

Both the legendary players have recorded DVDs for ChessBase.


The games will be broadcast live on the official web site and on the chess server Playchess.com. If you are not a member you can download a free Playchess client there and get immediate access. You can also use ChessBase 13 or any of our Fritz compatible chess programs.

Topics Zurich 2015

Sagar Shah is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He is also a chartered accountant and would like to become the first CA+GM of India. He loves to cover chess tournaments, as that helps him understand and improve at the game he loves so much. He is the co-founder of the ChessBase India website.
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FAD FAD 2/17/2015 10:23
Clearly a nice move by Korchnoy to play this match and sustain both players reputation and lifelong efforts for the cause of justice and fairplay in life and on the board.
bronkenstein bronkenstein 2/17/2015 11:22
My hat´s off to Korchnoi, Uhlmann and organizers!