Viktor Korchnoi (1931-2016): A Life for Chess

In 2011, aged 79, Viktor Korchnoi demonstrated yet again that he was still a force to be reckoned with by beating the then rising star, Fabiano Caruana, with Black at the Gibraltar Masters.

In 2011, aged 79, Viktor Korchnoi demonstrated (yet again!) that he was still a force to be reckoned with by beating the then rising star, Fabiano Caruana, with Black at the Gibraltar Masters.

News of Viktor Korchnoi’s death at the age of 85 has spread quickly through the world of chess and elicited a significant number of tributes in a very short space of time. Of course I didn’t know him and had never met him, but as a student of chess history it is impossible not to be aware of his immense contribution to the game.

Last night, as I digested the news of his passing, it occurred to me that ‘Viktor the Terrible’ may have had a kindred spirit in the form of the other legendary pugilist to leave us last week: Mohammed Ali.  Even from a distance it seemed to me that these two man shared a ferocious zest for life, an incandescent will to win, an almost unmatchable courage and an indomitable fighting spirit. They gave everything they had in their respective fields.

In my opinion they also shared a counter-attacking style that they made their own. Ali famously called it the ‘rope-a-dope’. In his 1974 ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ fight against George Foreman it was Ali’s strategy to move quickly, force his stronger opponent to constantly close him down and then, when he was finally cornered, to lie back on the ropes and absorb the punishment in order to tire his opponent before counter-punching like lightning to pick off his man.

To my eye Korchnoi’s style of play at the chess board was similar to Ali’s ‘rope-a-dope’. He was provocative, sometimes seeming almost to goad his opponents to attack him. But then when they did he found a chink in their defences and struck like a viper. Accurate and merciless.

As this website’s own small tribute to Korchnoi I thought it might be fitting to collect together some videos and articles about him that have appeared on the internet over the last few days (as well as some older ones) so that, whether you know all about him, or have yet to acquaint yourselves with this chess titan, you can learn something more about the man and his chess.

First of all here is a short video tribute from the Chess24 You Tube channel that sets out some of the facts and figures from Korchnoi’s amazing chess career. Its a very short scene-setter if you only have 90 seconds to spare. Click the video below to start it rolling.

GM Daniel King’s ‘Power Play Chess’ You Tube channel is one of my favorites and I noticed that he very quickly posted a video tribute to Korchnoi shortly after the news broke. Danny shares some of his own experiences of having both met and played the man and his thoughtful and even-handed portrait reveals a complex character who was capable of great humour as well as sometimes being shockingly rude. Danny also looks at a very famous example of Korchnoi’s skill and creativity in a rook and pawn ending against Anatoly Karpov in one of their famously hard-fought and bitter World Championship matches. The video is just under 15 minutes long and well worth taking the time to enjoy.

If you are interested in a much more in depth exposition and details of Korchnoi’s life and chess then I can highly recommend the last video below by Lucas Anderson who, together with FM Warren Harper, has recorded a series of chess history lectures (for Center 64 in Houston USA) on great players of the past. This video weighs in at a hefty 100 minutes but I promise that you won’t be disappointed. Anderson tells Korchnoi’s life story and the narrative is punctuated by FM Harper’s succinct and interesting analysis of four of Korchnoi’s best games. It all adds up to a really wonderful portrait. The video was recorded in 2014 but, if you haven’t come across the series before, then this would seem like an appropriate time and place to start watching them. Just click on the video below to start it. Enjoy!

… and finally. The Chessbase website will feature a number of articles paying tribute to Viktor Korchnoi over the coming days and weeks. Editor Frederic Friedel has already reminisced about his experiences of meeting and working with him. This website also pointed me in the direction of Garry Kasparov’s tribute to Korchnoi which was posted on his Facebook page last night. It is of course well worth a read and it seems fitting to conclude this article with an amusing quote from it that I’m sure Korchnoi would have appreciated and enjoyed:

His longevity as a top-level player and his fighting spirit were such that it was easy to hope that he might trick Death himself in a rook endgame and live forever!
– Garry Kasparov

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