Karpov vs Kortschnoi in the movies: "The World Champion"

by André Schulz
9/22/2021 – Chess is currently a popular subject for films. In Russia, production of a feature film about the dramatic and at times scandalous 1978 World Championship match between Anatoly Karpov and Viktor Kortschnoi began in 2019 and has now been completed after a forced break caused by the pandemic. The film will be released in Russian cinemas in December.

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The 1970s saw two dramatic World Championship matches that took place in a politically heated atmosphere during the "Cold War". In 1972 US Grandmaster Bobby Fischer played against World Champion Boris Spassky from the Soviet Union and became the first non-Soviet World Champion after Botvinnik had gained the title in 1948.

After winning the title, Fischer stopped playing and disappeared. In 1975, when he had to defend his title against Anatoly Karpov, he refused to play and Karpov became World Champion by default. The next World Championship match took place in 1978, when Karpov defended his title against challenger Viktor Kortschnoi.

For a long time Kortschnoi, who was born on 23 March 1931 in Leningrad, had been one of the best players of the Soviet Union, but in 1976 he fled to the West and was considered a dissident and boycotted from all tournaments by the Soviet grandmasters at the behest of Soviet officials.

However, boycotting Kortschnoi in official World Championship matches was not really possible, and in the Candidate Matches the Soviet players had to play against Kortschnoi. And after defeating Tigran Petrosian, Lev Polugaevsky and Boris Spassky Kortschnoi became World Championship challenger and played against Karpov in 1978.

The Soviet Chess Federation mobilised all its forces to support its World Champion in the fight against Korchnoi. The match took place under dramatic circumstances in Baguio City, in the Philippines, and turned into a hard and bitter fight, on and off the board.

Now this extraordinary battle for the chess crown has been made into a film by a Russian production team. The film is directed by Alexei Sidorov ("T-34") and stars Konstantin Khabensky (as Kortschnoi), Ivan Yankovsky (as Karpov), Vladimir Vdovichenkov, Viktor Dobronravov, Viktor Sukhorukov and Diana Pozharskaya. The film was produced by Nikita Mikhalkov's studio "TriTe", the TV channel "Russia 1", the film company "Central Partnership" and the GPM KIT Group of Companies. The film was shot partly on original locations, with Russian actors, but also many foreign actors.

Filming began in 2019, but had to be interrupted due to the Corona pandemic. Filming was completed in March 2021.

The motto of the film is: "Some victories in sport are more than sport. They become part of history."

In the Western press of that time, the sympathies were always with Kortschnoi. It will be interesting to see how the events are portrayed in the film.

The film will be released in (Russian?) cinemas in December.

Translation from German: Johannes Fischer



André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.


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