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Viktor Korchnoi the Great!!

As a rule, the more mistakes there are in a game, the more memorable it remains because you have suffered and worried over each mistake on the board. –Viktor Korchnoi

How to spell “Political asylum”? Questioned Korchnoi to Antony Miles. Both the players were joint winners of the Amsterdam tournament, the first tournament of Viktor Korchnoi [Outside USSR] after the 1974 candidates’ finale with Anatoly Karpov. Korchnoi was not allowed to participate in any event since then by the Soviet Union.

Viktor got asylum in the Netherlands in 1976 then he shifted to Switzerland in 1978. Why was KGB behind Korchnoi? why did Korchnoi hate other players? Reason of why did a genius like Korchnoi not become a world champion? Let’s look into the journey of “Viktor the Terrible.”

Initial years in chess

Viktor Korchnoi was born on 23rd September 1931. He was born in Leningrad, Soviet Union. Viktor had a steady journey in his early stages of life in the context of chess, winning age-category tournaments and getting master titles with the same flow. He became a GrandMaster in 1956. Viktor was considered to be of aggressive nature, both on board as well as off the board.

With steady progress, Viktor made his breakthrough when he qualified for the candidates in 1962. It was the last round-robin candidate until 1985. He scored 13.5/27 and was placed 5th. Petrosian won the event.

Korchnoi worked hard to qualify for the world championships without any success. But Korchnoi kept on trying. Boris Spassky beat Korchnoi in 1968 candidates. He then played a few secret training matches, one with Bronstein, the other with his close friend back then, and the future World Champion Anatoly Karpov.

There was a match of the USSR v/s the Rest of the World in 1970. Korchnoi played on Board 3 for the USSR to score 1.5/4. Later in 1984, Korchnoi represented the Rest of the world as a citizen of Switzerland. Then came the years when things started to get bitter between Korchnoi and the Russian Federation.

Candidates match with Karpov.

Korchnoi qualified for the Candidate’s final with the routine qualification method to face Anatoly Karpov. The match in 1974 would decide who would face Robert James Fischer for the world championship in 1975. Bronstein was Korchnoi’s second for the match. In the 24 games match, Korchnoi was down three games when the 18th game ended.

He then bounced back to win the 19th and the 21st game, thus taking the match to an exciting finale. But Karpov held his nerve and won the candidates with 12.5-11.5. As Fischer refused to defend his World Championship Title, Karpov became the eventual World Champion. Korchnoi claimed that he had received constant life threats during the candidate’s match.

The rivalry between Korchnoi and Karpov stayed long, with two world championship matches contested between them. This proved to be a great content of chess for the whole world. Korchnoi was not allowed to play outside USSR until 1976. He got to play in the Amsterdam tournament, where he stood joint 1st with Antony Miles.

Soon claimed the first opportunity he got, Korchnoi decided to defect from USSR, and thus the incident of asking for political asylum occurred. He was the first Soviet GrandMaster to defect from USSR. His wife and son were left behind as he got shelter in the Netherlands. Later in 1978, Korchnoi got citizenship in Switzerland and shifted there for his own safety.

The 1978 World Championship, Baguio, Philippines.

Korchnoi swept Petrosian in the Quarter-Finals, Polugavesky in the Semis, and Spassky in the Finals to qualify for the World Championship against Karpov. The rules of the world championship were that whosoever scores six wins first would be declared the world champion. Karpov was in good form and took a 4-1 lead. This was a huge advantage, as he just needed two more wins. But this is the time when champions rise to the occasion. Korchnoi won a game to make it 4-2. Things were looking a bit shiny for Korchnoi until he lost the 27th game. 5-2 for Karpov ! 1 win away from retaining the world title. Here something unusual started to happen. Karpov seemed nervous, or Korchnoi must have felt like there was nothing to lose and went all out. Korchnoi won games no. 28, 29, and 31. Now the score was back to 5-5. When it seemed that Korchnoi was the one who would win the world championship, it was Karpov who had the last laugh! Thus Karpov retained the title.

The 1981 World Championship: Karpov vs. Korchnoi

History repeated. Korchnoi defeated Petrosian and Polugevsky in the quarter-finals and semi-finals, respectively, and in the finals of candidates, he overcame Hort. Thus setting up a rematch with Karpov for the world title. But this time, Korchnoi was not in his elements and went down 6-2 wins with ten draws. During this match, the USSR kept Korchnoi’s son in a labor camp for two and a half years.

Some facts about Korchnoi

  1. Korchnoi owns the record of beating nine world champions in his lifetime, besides Believsky and Keres.
  2. Viktor Korchnoi is the only non-world champion to be covered in Kasparov’s “my great predecessors” series. [volume 5].
  3. He became the oldest player to win a national championship. He won the national title again a few months after his 80th birthday in July 2011 after a playoff game with Joseph Gallagher.
  4. On the January 2007 FIDErating list, Korchnoi was ranked number 85 in the world at age 75, the oldest player ever to be ranked in the FIDE top 100
  5. As of 2011, Korchnoi was still active in the chess world with a notable win (in Gibraltar) with black against the 18-year-old Fabiano Caruana, who was rated above 2700 and 61 years Korchnoi’s junior.
  6. However, in 2014, he returned to the board to play a two-game match against GM Wolfgang Uhlmann(b.1935), winning both games; the combined age of the two players was 162 years, which is almost certainly a record for a standard play match between Grandmasters.
  7. Korchnoi was famously known as the Kings Indian slayer as he employed a lot of systems against the Kings Indians and had a crushing score.
  8. He had a dominating score against the Eighth World Champion, Mikhail Tal. 11-1 with 17 draws. Later they exchanged a few blows, but still, Korchnoi was ahead 14-5[excluding draws]
  9. Everyone who wants to learn French must follow the games of Viktor Korchnoi.
  10. Korchnoi is the only player in both teams in the match between the USSR and the Rest of the World. For USSR in 1970 and ROW in 1984.

Victor Korchnoi books

Korchnoi did contribute to chess literature, so here are a few of his books. We have added Amazon links to the following links for easy access.

  1. My Best Games with White
  2. My Best Games with Black
  3. Practical Rook Endings
  4. The KGB plays chess
  5. Chess is my life in 3 volumes  

These are a few of his noteworthy books.

Masterpieces by Korchnoi


It was 6th June 2016. Korchnoi suffered the second stroke of his life and was no more with us. It was indeed a sad day for the chess world as we lost a gem, a fighter who was strong, aggressive, and competitive.

We end the “Legends who were near World Champions” series by covering Paul Morphy, Paul Keres, David Bronstein, and Viktor Korchnoi. I hope you enjoyed the series and learned a lot from them.


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