Review: "Masterclass, Vol. 15: Viktor Kortschnoi" and "Kortschnoi: My Life for Chess"

by Christian Hoethe
1/9/2023 – Viktor Kortschnoi was one of the greats in chess. He played twice for the World Championship and only narrowly failed to win the title. His fighting spirit and his passion for chess is legendary. On the new Masterclass Fritztrainer "Viktor Kortschnoi" you can follow his long career game by game and in the remastered Fritztrainer "Kortschnoi: My Life for Chess" you can watch how the master presents his best games himself. Christian Höthe has taken a look at the two Fritztrainers.

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Viktor Kortschnoi is probably a household name to anyone interested in chess. Born in Leningrad in 1931, he died in 2016 in Switzerland at the age of 85. Kortschnoi dedicated his whole life to chess, after he left the Soviet Union in 1976, he played and lost to Anatoly Karpov in two World Championship matches in 1978 and 1981.

Due to his unusually long career Kortschnoi played almost 5,000 documented classical games, more than any other player in the history of chess. For almost 50 years he competed at Chess Olympiads and in 2006 he crowned his countless successes with the Senior World Championship title. In January 2007, at the age of 75, he was still number 85 on FIDE's world ranking list, the oldest player who ever was among the world's top 100.

His uncompromising style earned Kortschnoi the nickname "Viktor the Terrible"; his best ever Elo rating was 2695.

Although Kortschnoi himself has published various collections of his games worth reading, many chess fans prefer to see their idols "live". The two ChessBase Fritztrainers "My life in chess"- which is remastered - and the new "Masterclass 15 - Viktor Kortschnoi" make this possibe. I watched both enthusiastically.

Kortschnoi himself recorded two Fritztrainers in English, in which he explains almost 20 of his games in detail. Here, you see the "Master" in his element, here he revives memories, explains why he played what he played while often smiling mischievously when playing through his games - definitely worth seeing!

Now let's move on to the Masterclass course, which contains all available Kortschnoi games in a separate database!

I already found the introductory commentary by the well-known Swiss Grandmaster and ChessBase commentator Yannick Pelletier, who often competed and trained with Kortschnoi, both interesting and amusing. Pelletier reveals that it often was the young Pelletier and not the warhorse Kortschnoi who was tired and exhausted after training for eight hours a day.

I also found it a revealing anecdote to hear how Kortschnoi tried to get to grips with his time trouble problem and ultimately succeeded. In Pelletier's introduction we find out to what extent a small bottle of Cognac played a role in fighting against the excitement! Here all those chess fans who feel that their time is running faster than that of their opponents will find ideas what to do.

The Masterclass of course takes a look at Kortschnoi's opening repertoire. Kortschnoi was a great fighter and Pelletier shows what his means in regard to Kortschnoi's opening choices.  Kortschnij always tried to approach the openings conceptually and questioning known moves was one of his trademarks. The videos deal with the Dutch Leningrad, the King's Indian, classical openings like the Queen's Gambit Declined, the English, Kortschnoi's repertoire with Black against 1.d4 and 1.e4, and in the end Pelletier summarises Kortschnoi's opening preferences.

The next big block concerns Kortschnoi's strategic preferences. It is probably difficult to name a player with a greater strategic arsenal than Korchnoi. Even at over 70 years of age, he continued to experiment with openings and positions he had never played before.

As Botvinnik once remarked, Kortschnoi used to build up his games in interesting ways that always led to rich and complex positions. As a rule, he aimed for positions with complex pawn structures in which concrete nuances played an important role. Each collection of Kortschnoi's games can be regarded as a comprehensive encyclopaedia of chess. GM Mihail Marin looks at some of these masterpieces in his videos.

Oliver Reeh looked at typical features of Kortschnoi's tactical which he presents with the help of 27 instructive games in a video with interactive questions. These games show Kortschnoi as a bold sacrificial player and daring attacker, but also as a cool defender and sharp calculator who was tactically at his best at every moment - living up to his nickname "Viktor the Terrible".

It wouldn't be a really complete "Masterclass" without Karsten's Müller's analysis of Kortschnoi outstanding endgame technique! According to Müller, Kortschnoi always fought to the end and played many long endgames in his career. For the Masterclass, endgame expert Müller selected more than 20 fascinating endgames Kortschnoi played in the course of his long career, and interestingly, among these examples are quite a few games he played against the endgame giant Anatoly Karpov.

The topics covered here deal with the Lucena position, passed pawns and rooks, Kortschnoi's king, the power of a passed pawn on the e-file, the strength of connected passed pawns, the World Championship match versus Karpov in Baguio City 1978, Kortschnoi's irrepressible will to win, the initiative, power play on black and white squares, and other endgame specialities.

Conclusion: thanks to Pelletier, Marin, Reeh and Müller, in an entertaining and instructive way the new Masterclass makes Kortschnoi, who is regarded as one of the most controversial Grandmasters of the last decades, much more accessible and understandable a lot of players!
I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed the new "Masterclass 15 - Viktor Kortschnoi". I watched with great pleasure and can warmly recommend it!

Master Class Vol.15 - Viktor Korchnoi

In this video course, experts (Pelletier, Marin, Müller and Reeh) examine the games of Viktor Korchnoi. Let them show you which openings Korchnoi chose to play, where his strength in middlegames were, or how he outplayed his opponents in the endgame.

My life for chess

Korchnoi presents many of his most brilliant efforts from the years 1949-2005, among them, games against Smyslov, Geller, Tal, Huebner, Karpov, Kasparov, Spassky and Short.


Christian Hoethe was born in 1975, is father of two daughters and one son, lives in Brunswick, Germany, and learned chess relatively late, at the age of 13, from his father. At his peak he reached an Elo of 2247. He plays for the German club SC Wolfsburg where he also teaches once a month.