Paying homage to Viktor

by Albert Silver
6/11/2016 – All over the world, obituaries, eulogies, tributes and testimonies have been written on behalf of a legend whose longevity and passion were an inspiration even for world champions. Here are some of the words that have been said by players such as Anand, Short, and Nakamura, as well as special tributes sent by Judit Polgar, Kavalek, Speelman, Benko, and more...

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Anand shared his eulogy over a series of tweets. The full text is below.

The chess world loses its greatest fighter. R.I.P. Viktor Korchnoi. We learnt so much from you. Just being in Baguio where he played Karpov was the first time being world champion crossed my mind. I had the privilege of playing against him. He would never give up & would explain the position in depth to us. His struggle both on and off the chess board is what chess history will hold in highest regard. Was lucky to see him in Zurich this year. He always admonished me for playing too fast. He was a chess player in its truest sense without parallel. Petra is in our thoughts and prayers. She has always been such a source of inspiration. The chess world will miss Viktor. Personally I will miss his characteristic laughter and his love for chess.

- Five-time World Champion Vishy Anand

In a lengthy farewell to Viktor on his Facebook page, two-time Brazilian champion
IM Herman Claudius van Riemsdijk explained that over the course of his career he
had had the pleasure of meeting Korchnoi many times, starting with the 1971 Hoogovens
tournament in Holland. The photo above with Viktor in front of the board on the left and
the lanky Herman opposite him, was from a simul in 1979 in the São Paulo Jockey Club.

Judit Polgar, the greatest female player ever, posted the above on Twitter and wrote us:

Judit wrote us: "I first played against Korchnoi when I was 13, which ended in a draw. I admit I was bursting with pride. He was very famous for his fanaticism in chess, the strong character to fight. I have never seen a person who was so focused on the game of chess: he always wanted to improve, to solve problems, his whole brain was centered on chess. I played tons of games against Viktor and some of them were huge fights. What an exceptional character he was. I remember playing together with Viktor in Madrid, Spain, and he explained to me, already aged 64, " I have to win the tournament so people will remember me"... and he won! For sure I will never forget him, and what a great player, unique person, and tireless fighter he was!"

Grandmaster Jonathan Speelman, former Candidate and author of the column Agony and Ecstasy wrote:

The death of the great Victor Korchnoi marks the passing of an era. He played Grigory Levenfish (born 1889) twice at the beginning of his career (one win apiece) and defeated the fourteen-year-old Magnus Carlsen in 2004, doing battle by his own reckoning with six generations of chess players. And battle it was. Surely marked forever by the terrible experiences of his youth when he survived  the Siege of Leningrad, Victor was a true chess warrior and in later years quite magnificently grumpy though certainly not without a sense of irony - I would urge readers to enjoy his wonderful self parody in the milk advert linked here.


He never became world champion but was within an ace of it and was undoubtedly one of the very strongest players never to win the supreme title. I first played Victor in 1980 and went on to have about 18 games with a small minus score but nothing terrible. I was also, after turning up at the Montpelier Candidates in 1985 as the first reserve, briefly his second before... I can't remember the details... he fired me. Nevertheless we maintained  perfectly good relations and during the first few London Classics when he held court in the VIP room - with John Nunn and I as chief subsidiary pundits during Julian Hodgson's commentary. Victor was superb, especially in excoriating his special unfavoured opening the King's Indian.

Victor loved the space advantage the King's Indian can afford White and aimed for total control. He was a superb gritty defender who never made the mistake of believing his opponents and as a result had a serious plus score against Misha Tal. In the endgame, his technique was fantastic. With the passing of the author of "Chess is My Life" we have lost one of a kind.


John Nunn wrote us: Sad about Korchnoi. A really great player and always entertaining in conversation. I liked and admired him even though I was on the wrong end of his tongue more than once!

Grandmaster Krikor Mekhitarian shared his sorrow and awe of Korchnoi, who was 80
years old in the image above, facing Fabiano Caruana in 2011 at the Gibraltar Masters

Above is Viktor Korchnoi, aged 80, finishing off his opponent in a blitz game

Chess grandmaster Lubomir Kavalek, a former Top Ten player, and columnist of the Huffington Post, wrote:

Viktor Korchnoi was the ultimate chess warrior, the strongest without the world title. I had the honor of playing against him during the last half century. In 1966, he won the tournament in Bucharest with a big margin. It was my first tournament as a grandmaster and I was lucky to witness his craft first hand. I was naive enough to think that I could achieve success by imitating his style, only to find that it was an impossible task: His play was as complex and puzzling as his life.

Chess did not come easily to him. During the games he was in creative pain: he would sighed, grimace, and twist his body. Chess was a struggle and you could see it in his eyes. He played with energy and vigor. We admired his will to win, fighting for every single point. He was tough, combative and didn’t mince words.

No matter how hard his life was, chess was his refuge and he always felt safe there. History now has a permanent place for him among the greatest chess players.

Here is an excerpt of a documentary from 1981 with Viktor Korchnoi at the peak of his powers

Grandmaster Emil Sutovsky and president of the ACP posted this in his Facebook

Grandmaster, trainer, and ChessBase author Mihail Marin pays homage

Anish Giri tweeted this, sharing a screenshot of a favorite: Korchnoi's DVDs

Although I never had the privilege of meeting Viktor Korchnoi, we had a small thing in common that I took pride in, as silly as it might seem: the same birthday March 23rd. With so many strong players, there is always a chance we will share our birthday with one, but like so many, I had the deepest admiration and respect for this tireless warrior for whom the word 'enough' seemed devoid of meaning. That said, I need to say that Giri could not have chosen a better image. Some years ago, before I joined ChessBase, I was in a period of disillusionment with chess, and my spunk seemed to have dried up some. I had received a couple of DVDs by Korchnoi, the very same ones that Frederic Friedel describes in his own eulogy, but had not watched them in spite of having received them some two months earlier. My birthday was coming up, and I remembered them, and popped one in my computer. There I saw this 70+ year old player not just analyzing his game, but explaining his desire to win with such enthusiasm, he was literally bouncing in his chair. I stared in slight disbelief, and then in spite of myself, I cracked a grin. I watched the whole first DVD, mesmerized, while his infectious energy seeped (flooded) into me, all the while as he presented great games with his incredibly balanced approach, and ceaseless will to fight. Since then, and to this day, I will unabashedly promote his two DVDs, not just for the fantastic chess content, but for that enthusiasm that will overwhelm even the most disinterested viewer. Viktor, you set the standard, thank you.

- Albert Silver

An excerpt from the Korchnoi DVDs. See for yourself. It is great stuff.

Grandmaster Pal Benko, former Candidate (1959 and 1962) and author of wonderful endgame studies and problems, wrote:

Viktor Korchnoi was as great a fighter in his old age as he was in the Candidates tournament in Curacao 1962. Neither he nor Tal ever agreed to draws before the tournament started unlike Petrosian, Keres, and Geller. We never had any problem
at the board. Rest in peace.

- Pal Benko

Grandmaster Vladimir Chuchelov, a renowned trainer who was the coach for Anish Giri for four years, Fabiano Caruana for five, Radjabov, Hou Yifan, and others, sent us this eulogy:

It was a very sad news, and Viktor Korchnoi is no longer with us. The last time I saw him was in Zurich last year. He wasn't in a great shape, but that isn't what comes to mind when remembering. I first met Viktor, as everyone called him, in Hamburg in 1995. Our game was a quick draw, but I remember we discussed it briefly, and he told me that in my place he would have played on. Even then, everyone knew that after a game you could expect to hear a few "nice words" from Viktor, and as such, I felt very relieved. Another time was in Amsterdam, during the "Youth against Experience" event. At the time I was already working as a trainer for the Dutch Federation and accompanied Erwin L'Ami. We prepared well and it was a very smooth win for Erwin in the final round. Of course Viktor was no longer in his prime, but still it was clearly an achievement to beat him. To our great surprise he invited us in to his suite to analyze his lost game!

He felt he had misplayed the position, but wasn't sure when. That same day he refused to take a photo near young Fabiano to whom he thought he had lost "unfairly". Viktor Korchnoi will always be remembered as someone who cared passionately for the game throughout his life. His dedication to chess, his hard work and his remarkable career will serve as a great example for generations of young players.

Rest in peace.

IM Sagar Shah, the enthusiastic writer and founder of ChessBase India, shared this:

It was 22nd of August 2014. I was playing the tournament of my life in Dresden. Eight rounds had been completed and I had already made my maiden GM norm with one round to spare. But I hardly cared about that. I was running towards the Frauenkirche area in the heart of Dresden. The reason: Viktor Lvovich Korchnoi had come there for a Veterans exhibition match. A huge crowd had gathered and my eyes scanned the entire area just to see him in person and get his autograph.

After moving through the crowd and pushing many people I came near the great man. There he was sitting in the wheelchair, the 83-year-old Viktor the terrible. He was frail and weak. I wondered how he would make his moves on the board in such a condition, but the moment a chess board was placed in front of him Korchnoi's eyes lit up. His passion was clearly seen. It was exactly this love for chess which helped Korchnoi to sustain for such a long period. He was a true lover of the game who just enjoyed the struggle inherent in chess. 

I took Viktor's autograph that day in my book and that is one of my most precious possessions ever. Viktor Korchnoi I cannot believe you are no more. You will be missed but your games will live on and hundreds of young kids will learn the art of tenacious defense through them.

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, and the content creator of the YouTube channel, Chess & Tech.


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