Viktor Kortchnoi's my life for chess

by ChessBase
4/13/2005 – Viktor Kortchnoi has authored an incredible two DVD series for ChessBase entitled "My Life for Chess". Get a preview of these disks featuring the man ChessBase Workshop columnist Steve Lopez calls "a bottled hurricane". Workshop...

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Previewed by Steve Lopez

Victor Korchnoi is more than just a chessplayer -- he's a force of nature. During a career that's spanned more than a half-century he's been one of the toughest competitors around (I recently heard him referred to as "arguably the strongest player to never become World Champion") and today, at more than seventy years of age, he's still going strong. It's a sad fact that chessplayers tend to lose their edge and skills as they get older but "Viktor the Terrible" has shown no signs of slowing down -- he may well be better than ever.

So don't think that the new two DVD series by Korchnoi (I've chosen to adopt this shorter spelling for this preview -- less typing), entitled My Life for Chess, is some kind of "twilight retrospective" by an aged lion looking back during his waning years; I fully expect Korchnoi to outlast me and produce a third volume of best games and analysis in another decade or three.

I preview a lot of CDs and DVDs in this column; I rave about some and am kind of lukewarm about others. Korchnoi's My Life for Chess falls squarely into the former category -- these DVDs simply blew me away. They're informative, entertaining, and often wildly funny -- I'll without hesitation rank Korchnoi up there with Danny King as one of the most entertaining chess commentators ever. Young whippersnappers reading this column might think of Korchnoi as just another "boring old guy"; I'll tell you straight up that he's a hell of a lot more animated than most of the nihilistic twenty-somethings I know. The man almost never stops moving; he's like a bottled hurricane.

And he's very opinionated. But the cool part is that his opinions, even when somewhat negative, never come across as mean or deliberately cruel. He's almost childlike in his speech; readers who have young children will know what I'm talking about -- don't ever ask a little kid a question unless you want a brutally honest, yet innocent, answer. That's Viktor Korchnoi: he'll always tell you what's on his mind, good or bad, not to be a jerk but because he believes that you truly want to know. Here's a very small sampling from My Life for Chess.

On Bobby Fischer: "When he finished the [1972 World Championship] match and stopped playing chess...people realized that he was not only a little bit crazy but much more."

On Kasparov's skills as a player: "Only Kasparov has everything together."

On Mikhail Tal: "He was afraid of me in general."

Tal again: "...this was one of the...most important features of Tal's talent: his mind was very flexible."

And so on. My Life for Chess is more than just Korchnoi displaying some of his favorite games -- it's a potpourri of the man's opinions and impressions, about his fellow players, about chess, about life. When interviewer Fred Friedel somewhat delicately refers to Korchnoi's departure from the Soviet Union as "emigration", Korchnoi laughs and corrects him, saying bluntly that he "defected". He goes on to explain the reasons why he left. Publicly at the time he stated, "I ran...from the Soviet Union in order to save my chess career." But on Volume One of My Life for Chess, he elaborates further: it was "not only to play chess but to be myself...that was the real reason."

Each of the two DVDs contains about four hours of video apiece in the Chess Media System format. Although the packaging's display of the words "Fritz Trainer Monograph" implies that you need Fritz (or one of its sister playing programs) to view the video and games, you can also use ChessBase 9 or the new version of ChessBase Reader (the latter of which is included with each DVD). Let's take a look at what you'll find on each disk:

VOLUME ONE (1949-1979):


  • 1st Chapter: Interview 2004 (27:28 min)
  • 2nd Chapter: Golenichev - Kortchnoi 1949 (23:51 min)
  • 3rd Chapter: Smyslov - Kortchnoi 1952 (21:55 min)
  • 4th Chapter: Kortchnoi - Geller 1954 (19:17 min)
  • 5th Chapter: Kortchnoi - Tal 1962 (30:24 min)
  • 6th Chapter: Kortchnoi - Udovcic 1967 (17:34 min)
  • Addendum: Navara - Kortchnoi 2004 (2:17 min)
  • 7th Chapter: Kortchnoi - Huebner 1973 (25:36 min)
  • 8th Chapter: Kortchnoi - Karpov 1978 (23:59 min)
  • 9th Chapter: Filguth - Kortchnoi 1979 (36:14 min)
  • plus nearly 1,800 Viktor Korchnoi games from tournaments and matches

Example (2:40 min )

VOLUME TWO (1979-present):


  • 1st Chapter: Kasparov - Kortchnoi 1986 (27:11 min)
  • 2nd Chapter: Kortchnoi - Spassky 1989 (42:25 min)
  • 3rd Chapter: Kortchnoi - Piket 1992; Kortchnoi - Gallagher 1998 (25:41 min)
  • 4th Chapter: Van der Wiel - Kortchnoi 1991 (23:18 min)
  • 5th Chapter: Kortchnoi - Short 1990 (35:51 min)
  • 6th Chapter: Kortchnoi - Onischuk 1997 (16:55 min)
  • 7th Chapter: Felgaer - Kortchnoi 2002 (25:55 min)
  • 8th Chapter: Kortchnoi - Moskalenko 2004 (34:21 min)
  • plus nearly 2,500 Viktor Korchnoi games from tournaments and matches

Example (1:56 min )

With the exception of the Interview on Volume One, each of these chapters is a game presented in the Chess Media System format which combines video with a game in ChessBase format -- you see and hear Korchnoi as he analyzes one of his games and at the same time you're viewing the game in ChessBase's or Fritz' chessboard screen with Viktor moving the on-screen pieces to illustrate his commentary. It sure beats "standard" chess videos which show a commentator in front of a wall board...

And the chess commentary is itself great stuff. I haven't watched all eight hours of these DVDs yet, but just the Korchnoi-Tal game on Volume One alone constitutes a primer on how to win a "won game". And you'll want to watch every minute of these videos -- Korchnoi takes occasional "side trips" to discuss various events and opponents from throughout his career in his own vastly entertaining way.

The Volume One Interview is a straight video of Korchnoi and interviewer Fred Friedel in which Viktor talks about his life and chess career, with emphasis on his departure (e.g. "defection") from the Soviet Union, his relations with Karpov, Kasparov (whom Korchnoi calls his "natural ally"), and Fischer (and we learn why Korchnoi will never again speak to Bobby). Korchnoi also discusses his chess influences as well as his "secret" for maintaining his chess prowess at an age when most people are well into retirement (and it's one of the most hilarious bits on the DVDs).

I can't say enough about Viktor Korchnoi's My Life for Chess DVDs. Although I've really loved a few of the recent ChessBase releases, none of them has had me this revved up in a long while. Viktor's definitely not some "boring old guy" -- I want to drink a beer or ten with him and listen to him talk for hours. I doubt we'll ever meet, though -- a pity, that. So I'll content myself with pouring a frosty one for me (and an extra one for Korchnoi in absentia) while kicking back and enjoying My Life for Chess. These are what every chess DVD ought to be.

Until next week, have fun!

© 2005, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.

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