Monday, June 20, 2016

Korchnoi chess is my life

Few grandmasters have played more games than Korchnoi - I find in Chessbase Mega 2016 more than 5000 games. The database consists of about 5 million registered games so Korchnoi was in 1/1000 involved and probably in 1/200 as participant/ spectator in a tournament. If we look to only grandmastergames then the footprint of Korchnoi is even many times bigger.

He played against Levenfish (°1889) and against Carlsen (°1990), he won against all the worldchampions from Botvinnik till Kasparov at least one game - against Tal he had an enormous plusscore, however against Karpov he had a terrible minusscore. He lived to play chess, with an intensity which can't be found by other grandmasters. His gruffness, his stubbornness, his hate against the Sovjet-Union, his youth in the heavily besieged and famished Leningrad during WWII, his unexpected explosions but also his unexpected humor, his clear analysis on and off the board, his anecdotes from his excellent memory. We shall miss it. One of the greatest players has died and just like the recently deceased Mohammed Ali or Johan Cruijff, we should be happy to have them still seen at work during our lives.

I met Korchnoi twice live - this was during the Lost Boys tournament in Antwerp 1995 (won by Novikov and Sokolov ; Korchnoi was shared third with 5 other players.). The first time was the most memorable. He played in the third round a game against the strong Dutch Teun Van der Vorm and I was just watching at his board together with 5 other spectators when Van der Vorm resigned. Korchnoi didn't look happy and it quickly became clear why: ‘If I come up to the board, you should stand up to shake my hand. Not because I’m a grandmaster – also for that – but because I’m older and out of respect for my age you should stand up.’ Van der Vorm kept his mouth wisely but Victor the Terrible continued. ‘You play this game against my French and then you deviate from a game of Fischer. Why do you do that – do you think you’re better than Fischer ?’ Van der Vorm stammered something like ‘it looked playable’ but Korchnoi was not in the mood for jokes so there was no analysis afterwards. The fact that I can still easily remember this, just shows which impression it made upon me - and probably even more on Van der Vorm.

The second time was less impressive, in the center of Antwerp, during the same tournament. I was waiting -together with Franky D- at the crossroad of the Huidevetterstraat and the Meir for the trafficlights, when I noticed Korchnoi on the other side. I crossed the road but was too shied to start a conversation so just mumbled ‘good evening Mr Korchnoi’.  I think he did hear something. Franky waited for him to start a short conversation with him. Pity that smartphones didn't exist at that time.

On twitter a nice reaction of Svidler was posted, in which he stated than an insult by Korchnoi was a kind of honour (this remembered me Donner, as Dutch players you only played a role when Donner noticed you and ... scoffed at you - ‘KrabbĂ© ? A cycler!’) – and if he became angry, then it was because you got him agitated. Noting more could annoy him than a lack of respect or a loss. Svidler won their first mutual game because Korchnoi kept playing for a win despite the equalizing play of Svidler, but Korchnoi destroyed him in their second game. He thought for an hour upon a forced continuation - Svider couldn't find the win for Korchnoi, but after that hour of reflection he was defeated quickly in a strong sequence of moves. When Svidler congratulated him after the game with the words « I always appreciate a well played game, even against me» Korchnoi relaxed. Both games are really nice to be replayed.

As metioned on Chessbase, his wife Petra stays behind alone – a soulmate, as she also experienced the black side of the communisme. When she met him the first time, she knew that they were matching - Korchnoi needed her, first as a secretary, later as wife and anchor. Korchnoi lived only for chess and that is literally. He didn't read romans or other books, he seldom or never went to cultural or sportive happenings. His biggest pleasure -after giving up smoking - was to enjoy a good piece of chocolate. He regretted the gap of culture; e.g he never read the Russian classical authors but his choice was made: everything for chess - no compromise.

I have one book of Korchnoi (PracticalRook Endgames) – the endgames are very deeply analyzed (Hubners style) but are very instructive. Somebody interested in how world-classplayers analyze - recommended (see e.g. chessgames or chesscafe for a review), even if it was only for the excellent introduction to elementary rookendgames.

Did Korchnoi play impressive games to be stored as heritage? Yes Any wins of Korchnoi in collections of best played or most memorable games? No In the little book « Legendäre Schachpartien » of Humboldt, there are more than 100 memorable games. 2 of them are losses by Korchnoi, no wins are included. If we compare then Tal is mentioned 6 times, Kasparov 8 times. Also in other collections we see very few wins of Korchnoi ( in Bouwmeesters 100 brilliant games there are surprisingly still 2: Korchnoi-Udovcic, Leningrad 1967, in which he has to fight against his French defense and the latte middlegame of Korchnoi-Yusupov, Rotterdam 1988). Korchnoi was not brilliant, he liked defending and counterattack, but as Spassky sneakily formulated: « He can play anything, from attack to defense, from complex middlegames to technical endgames. He masters his openingtheory and posses an unbelievable strength to work. It is only a pity that he didn't have the talent to become worldchampion. » That hits the nail on its head. Just like Kamsky years later, Korchnoi also missed that last sparkel of creativity, dare, talent, luck, readiness to take risks, ingeniousness, - call it like you want - to jump over the last hurdle. Often he introduced a novelty on the board, which already was tried 50 years ago, because ‘everything that is forgotten is new (again)’.

My personal selection of Korchnoi games is therefore Van der Vorm – Korchnoi (Fischer-Darga).

and Karpov-Korchnoi from the tournament of Dortmund 1994, in which they both scored 50%.

The last game was one of the rare wins of Korchnoi over Karpov. After their second worldchampionship in 1981 they still met each other 32 times. But something was broken for Korchnoi. Karpov had solved the code and became his nemesis. Of the 32 games, Karpov won 16 times (!), they made 15 draws and only once Karpov lost. But that one game must have made Korchnoi very happy for week or so. It was also a very special game: In an equal position Korchnoi permits Karpov to get a second queen, but that is immediately the losing move. Although the game still lasts more than 10 moves, Korchnoi doesn't blink anymore and wins. After the game Korchnoi commented " one way or another the board is too small for 2 queens».


1 comment:

  1. Viktor, in this wonderful game, you finally beat Karpov since Game 13 in Merano! Did Karpov's leg wound affect his play during this tournament? You took chances, and it paid off! With Karpov shuffling his king back and forth, was he seeking a draw? Yet, when Karpov finally played 51.e4! to obtain counterplay, the game became extremely sharp and complex..if Karpov had underpromoted to a knight instead of a queen, I believe that he would've attained a draw...To beat Karpov at his peak strength in 1994, where only three months earlier, he won the Linares tournament in March, 1994, with the greatest tournament victory in chess history, Viktor came back with a vengeance to score his first win vs. Karpov since Game 13 at Merano,, Viktor did what over a dozen other grandmasters, including Kasparov, couldn't do in Linares! I miss you so much, Viktor...but, when I feel sad that you are gone, I read all the letters that you sent me from 1983 until your death. Requiescat in pace!