Kasparov pays tribute to Korchnoi

by Albert Silver
6/8/2016 – At age 85, and seriously enfeebled as any could see even in photos or videos, one would think Viktor Korchnoi's death would be no great shock, and yet it was. The reason is that he had long seemed living proof age was only a number, not a reality. In print and online everywhere, players are writing tributes and testimonies. Here is Garry Kasparov's, one of his biggest admirers.

The first and foremost tribute and testimony comes from the 13th World Champion Garry Kasparov, whose admiration and respect for Korchnoi went far beyond the usual. These are not idle claims either. Consider Garry Kasparov's magnum opus, the five-volume series "My Great Predecessors". The fantastic work is a detailed analysis of all the world champions that preceded him, from Steinitz up.

The five volumes are more than a lovely addition to any library or coffetable, they are also
wonderful to read casually and to study. You will notice that all five volumes only have pictures
of actual world champions, except volume five, where Viktor Korchnoi was given special due.

Naturally, one cannot analyze a world champion without context of the rivals of their day, so one will see games of the other greats throughout chess history, but Korchnoi is the one exception. In the final fifth volume, two players are covered in the nearly 500 pages: one is Kasparov's greatest rival, Anatoly Karpov, and the second before him is.... Viktor Korchnoi.

Mind you, we are not talking about a quaint tribute of X pages to him, but a massive chapter spanning 200 double-column pages with 49 deeply annotated games. Whereas all the previous chapters followed a scheme of titles such as Lasker the second, or Boris the tenth, Korchnoi's was appropriately 'Viktor the Terrible'.

Kasparov justifies his exceptional decision in the first pages: "This chapter is fully comparable in size with some of the chapters devoted to world champions. Here it is a question not only of the unique length of Korchnoi’s chess career, but also of his rare inventiveness, and his tireless attempts to find something new in seemingly exhaustively studied positions. All his life he has been at the leading edge of chess thinking and he has made a valuable contribution to the development of the game. It was this fact that induced me to devote a large section to the original play of Viktor Lvovich, and to focus attention on his most important and vivid features."

The chapter on Korchnoi in volume five effectively starts at page 7 and ends on page 206

Needless to say, as a proud owner of the five beautiful hardcovers, I can only recommend it to any chess lover. There is more than just deeply analyzed games by Kasparov, which would be enough to justify the price of entry, there is a wealth of information and analysis of the players themselves. Consider this snippet from the chapter on Viktor, in which the grand old warrior casts an unflinching look at his own history and failure to become world champion:

"Later he bitterly lamented that he had lost a great deal of time in his youth, that he had not been taught to play correctly, to fight fiercely for the initiative: ‘I realised that I had to re-learn, that my play was littered with deficiencies, and that I was frequently unfamiliar with the rudiments of grandmaster chess. And for a good ten years I endeavoured to master these rudiments. In the end when, fully armed with my knowledge and understanding of chess, at the age of forty plus I was ready to battle with anyone for the title of world champion, I had already exhausted much of my God-given energy. Therefore I did not in fact manage to become world champion ... ’"

Upon learning of Viktor Korchnoi's death, Kasparov posted on his Facebook the following tribute and story:

This is the Facebook tribute and testimony posted by Garry Kasparov,
and reproduced below with kind permission

Garry Kasparov: 

"The great Viktor Lvovich Korchnoi passed away today in Switzerland at the age of 85. His longevity as a top-level player and his fighting spirit were such that it was easy to hope that he might trick Death himself in a rook endgame and live forever! Instead, we have our memories of “Viktor the Terrible” and his unmatched lifetime of games that will indeed live forever. I’m sure there will be many detailed obituaries of him, so I will limit myself here to a few personal anecdotes and impressions.

I first played against Korchnoi in 1975 when I was 13 and faced him in a clock simul in Leningrad, a traditional competition that pitted teams of youngsters against top Soviet Grandmasters. [photo] But I wouldn’t say I really met him then, since he had little time for chit-chat with young upstarts, even those, or especially those, who drew against him as I did! Korchnoi was as legendary for his irascible character and sharp wit as he was for his chess. Born in Leningrad in 1931, a survivor of the Great Siege, Korchnoi had already had a worthy chess career before becoming a repeat world championship challenger and an infamous (from the Soviet perspective) defector to the West in 1976.

I saw Korchnoi play against Karpov in 1974, during my first visit to the Hall of Columns in Moscow—where I would later play a world championship match of my own against Karpov. I was visiting with a group of coaches and students from the Botvinnik School. It was game 21 of what would retroactively become a de facto world championship match when Bobby Fischer refused to defend his title against Karpov in 1975. (I remember being shocked when Karpov missed the tactical blow 13.Nxh7!, quickly spotted by my classmates and I, and lost in just 19 moves.) Korchnoi narrowly lost that match, and then two bitter world championship matches in 1978 and 1981, a period that earned him the bittersweet title of the strongest player never to win the world championship.

Korchnoi’s energy and uncompromising search for the truth at the chessboard impressed me greatly as a teen. I recall following his 1977 candidates match with Polugaevsky with my trainer Nikitin and being amazed that such a strong player as Polu could be dominated like that. The score was 6-1 for Korchnoi after seven games!

There are too many great Korchnoi games to choose from, and I wrote about many of them in the fifth volume of the “My Great Predecessors” book series, but I will single out his fantastic endgame play against Karpov in game 31 of their 1978 match. That win also brought Korchnoi even with Karpov and a win away from the title. But Karpov won the very next game to take the match."

Viktor Korchnoi - Anatoly Karpov (1978 WCh, Game 31)

[Event "World Championship 29th"] [Site "Baguio City"] [Date "1978.10.12"] [Round "31"] [White "Kortschnoj, Viktor"] [Black "Karpov, Anatoly"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D36"] [WhiteElo "2665"] [BlackElo "2725"] [PlyCount "141"] [EventDate "1978.07.18"] [EventType "match"] [EventRounds "32"] [EventCountry "PHI"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "1999.07.01"] 1. c4 e6 2. Nc3 d5 3. d4 Nf6 4. cxd5 exd5 5. Bg5 Be7 6. e3 O-O 7. Bd3 Nbd7 8. Nf3 Re8 9. Qc2 c6 10. O-O Nf8 11. Bxf6 Bxf6 12. b4 Bg4 13. Nd2 Rc8 14. Bf5 Bxf5 15. Qxf5 Qd7 16. Qxd7 Nxd7 17. a4 Be7 18. Rfb1 Nf6 19. a5 a6 20. Na4 Bf8 21. Nc5 Re7 22. Kf1 Ne8 23. Ke2 Nd6 24. Kd3 Rce8 25. Re1 g6 26. Re2 f6 27. Rae1 Bh6 28. Ndb3 Bf8 29. Nd2 Bh6 30. h3 Kf7 31. g4 Bf8 32. f3 Rd8 33. Ndb3 Nb5 34. Rf1 Bh6 35. f4 Bf8 36. Nd2 Nd6 37. Rfe1 h6 38. Rf1 Rb8 39. Ra1 Rbe8 40. Rae1 Rb8 41. e4 dxe4+ 42. Ndxe4 Nb5 43. Nc3 Rxe2 44. Rxe2 Bxc5 45. bxc5 Rd8 46. Nxb5 axb5 {[#] In the fifth volume of "My Great Predecessors", Kasparov dedicates over six pages to this endgame alone, such is his admiration and fascination.} 47. f5 gxf5 48. gxf5 Rg8 49. Kc3 Re8 ({Without trying to go into much detail on this position, suffice it to say the (brilliant) point of this line is that after} 49... Rg3+ $2 50. Kb4 Rxh3 {White now wins with the utterly fantastic} 51. a6 $3 bxa6 52. d5 $3 cxd5 53. c6 {and all lines work in White's favor.}) 50. Rd2 Re4 51. Kb4 Ke8 52. a6 bxa6 53. Ka5 Kd7 54. Kb6 b4 55. d5 cxd5 56. Rxd5+ Kc8 57. Rd3 a5 58. Rg3 b3 59. Kc6 Kb8 60. Rxb3+ Ka7 61. Rb7+ Ka6 62. Rb6+ Ka7 63. Kb5 a4 64. Rxf6 Rf4 65. Rxh6 a3 66. Ra6+ Kb8 67. Rxa3 Rxf5 68. Rg3 Rf6 69. Rg8+ Kc7 70. Rg7+ Kc8 71. Rh7 1-0

"Korchnoi had a direct impact on my life beyond his chess. We were scheduled to face each other in a 1983 Candidates match slated to take place in Los Angeles. A great deal of controversy and provocation by the international and Soviet sports authorities around which site would host the match led instead to my being forfeited. It is impossible to say what would have happened had anyone but Viktor Korchnoi been my opponent, but there is no doubt he did what he could to make sure our match was decided at the board, not the boardroom. Despite being 32 years my senior and an underdog in our match, winning without playing was unacceptable to Korchnoi. He was a man who enjoyed picking fights, not dodging them! And if he could antagonize the hated chess authorities of the USSR and Karpov in the process, more the better. (He had defected in 1976 and was non grata in the USSR and blacklisted by the Soviets. The political struggles for him and his family are well documented.)

We met to negotiate at the 1983 Nikšić tournament, when organizers later held a blitz event in Herceg Novi that broke the blacklist by including Korchnoi. (The audience even applauded when he and I shook hands at the board.) I remember Korchnoi telling me that now that I was playing in the West, I had to get better shoes, that you could always tell a Soviet man by his shoes! After negotiations to reschedule our match in London succeeded, I wanted to thank Korchnoi but he was having none of it. This wasn’t a present to me; he was planning to beat me! He was returning to form and also wanted revenge for a wild loss to me two years earlier at the Lucerne Olympiad. Indeed, he won the first game of our match in excellent fashion, showing as he would for another few decades that he wasn’t strong only for a player of his age, but damned strong period!

His run at the world championship was soon over, but the great Viktor would continue to take top-level scalps well into his sixties and seventies. Viktor Korchnoi loved chess like no one else before or since, and chess was lucky to have him for so long."

Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications.
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ledgar ledgar 6/8/2016 09:27
D36 : quelle superbe finale de tours !
Jan Boot Jan Boot 6/8/2016 09:36
I read it on text tv and silence came over me,now he,s gone too Johann Cruyff,Mohammed Ali .The Greats of the past they are passing away.I have met and played Viktor once in my life,it was in 1988 He was giving a simul against club champs organigenized by a newspaper.Viktor offered a bishop for two paws I defended well and he offered me a draw,wich I accepted.That was my only incontro with him I kept it in my and will keep it in my heart.Viktor,rest in peace.Jan Boot Cesano Maderno Italia.
elmerdssngalang elmerdssngalang 6/8/2016 09:55
Mikhail Botvinnik regarded Chess foremost as a science, Eduard Gufeld treated it principally as art, Viktor Korchnoi considered it primarily as sport! He was driven by an unrestrained competitive spirit.
Horrible Stench Horrible Stench 6/9/2016 12:30
Can’t Kasparov ever write any article without bragging about himself??
(I drew against him when I was 13)
(where I would later play a world championship match of my own)
(I quickly spotted the winning move, missed by Karpov)
(He wanted revenge for loss to me two years earlier)
Does he ever stop “campaigning”??
genem genem 6/9/2016 01:08
Viktor's choice to disregard the forefeit and arrange to play Kasparov over-the-board in 1983, loosely reminds me of Pal Benko's decision to step aside so that Bobby Fischer could compete in the 1970 Interzonal tournament.
Even reminds me of Emanual Lasker's reluctant choice to play against Capablanca in 1921, instead of sticking to
Lasker sticking to Lasker's 1920 claim that Lasker had resigned the match world title. The 1921 match helped to preempt any tiny argument that Capa would have otherwise been something less than full champ.
There is some honorable behavior in the chess world, honoring great players and the game itself.
Bobon1 Bobon1 6/9/2016 01:32
Jim Hollingsworth advises "How dare Kasparov make a tribute!!". Kasparov needs to get permission from Korchnoi's family before a tribute can even be suggested! Hollingsworth advises that Kasparov is unwise to think that his own opinion IS equal to Hollingsworth's opinion. Jim Hollingsworth advises it's TOO SOON for Kasparov to be making tributes to Korchnoi. How dare Chessbase be complicit in allowing tributes to be made to this great chessplayer!
Bertman Bertman 6/9/2016 05:22

Personally, I think that considering a draw against Korchnoi in a *simul* as an item of pride isn't a brag, but a badge of respect and humility. After all, didn't Carlsen hold Kasparov to a draw in a one-on-one rapid game at age 13?


Heavygeardiver Heavygeardiver 6/9/2016 07:20
A fine tribute from a great champion to another great champion.
lajosarpad lajosarpad 6/9/2016 10:08
Korchnoi was a great chess player, who deserves eternal admiration.
Silumelume Silumelume 6/9/2016 04:12
Kasparov is so full of himself. I prefer humble Carlsen. Hats off to Korchnoi!
Hal Bogner Hal Bogner 6/9/2016 07:07
As the youthful chief organizer of that unplayed match in Pasadena (Los Angeles), 1983, it was a great privilege and pleasure to host Viktor in the preceding weeks, and throughout the US Open Championship which he won (along with GM Larry Christiansen) ahead of 840 players. Our story, too, has remained untold for decades, but our organizing committee intended only to hold this most important event, and not to affect the future of chess through political acts. Therefore, when FIDE president Florencio Campomanes informed us that he had arranged for Hungarian GM Zoltan Ribli to be waiting in western Europe, ready to fly to California and seal the forfeits he had declared of Kasparov and of former world champion Vasily Smyslov, we absolutely refused to host such a match. Besides yourself, Garry, few could have been happier than our group in California when the Candidates cycle was reset and your match with Viktor took place in London.

Hal Bogner, California, USA
Queenslander Queenslander 6/10/2016 01:20
A wonderful tribute from Kasparov. Viktor also achieved a notable scalp - when he was 80 - against Caruana.