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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starso starso 10/3/2021 06:56
They shook hand until game 7. On game 8 Karpov said he wouldn´ t shake hands wiht Korchnoi anymore. And won his first game. Apparently the first psychological blow worked. I´m sure this is pictured in the movie.
chessbibliophile chessbibliophile 9/25/2021 03:37
Karpov was not bad-looking in his younger days. His moves on the chess board were better, though. Here is a picture taken just before his game with Spassky in 1973 Teams Tournament:
He won that encounter in style.
The trailer shows Karpov, human and vulnerable. But what about Korchnoi? Does it do him justice? Let us keep our fingers crossed.
psilocybin psilocybin 9/24/2021 02:49
For more accuracy, the guy who plays Karpov needs to be more translucent with greasier hair.
chessbibliophile chessbibliophile 9/24/2021 06:10
Before 7 games there was a customary handshake. Then just before the 8th game began Korchnoi offered his right hand and Karpov did not move. Raymond Keene wrote,“Korchnoi was left with his hand suspended in mid-air.”(what we see in the photo here). Ed Edmondson described what next. “Stunned , the Challenger half- turned and raised his hand to the Arbiter in mute appeal. Schmid, obviously just a s shocked as Korchnoi, spoke softly to Karpov about "being nice". Anatoly ignored him, leaving Schmid with little choice but to start the clock."
amitr amitr 9/24/2021 02:23
"Korchnoi" is misspelt as "Kortschnoi" in multiple places.

Please edit this article.
Mike Magnan Mike Magnan 9/24/2021 12:28
Funny how they make Karpov look like some screen idol in all this..haha..
sshivaji sshivaji 9/23/2021 07:46
Russian version of the Queen's I mean Korchoi gambit?
karavamudan karavamudan 9/23/2021 04:14
Hope the movie captures the events of the past 1978 accurately. Trailer shows the two shaking hands but their rivalry was so bitter that did they really shake hands? Looking forward to see Zukhar the hypnotist!