Friday, June 10, 2016

The Legendary Viktor Korchnoi

Viktor Korchnoi

The human element, the human flaw and the human nobility - those are the reasons that chess matches are won or lost. 
-Viktor Korchnoi


Viktor Korchnoi passed away June 6, 2016 at the age of 85. He was one of the great legends of the game. I wanted to write a little about this great player and important person in the history of chess.

Despite some controversy throughout his life and career regarding the World Championships and occasionally cantankerous personality, several articles I have read have praised his generosity towards his fellow players in post-mortem conversations. Having never met the man, I will focus on his chess.

Chess Accomplishments

There is not much to add to what many have written about him, but to highlight just a few of his many accomplishments at the chessboard:
  • 4-time USSR Chess Champion
  • 10-time Candidate for the World Chess Championship
  • 2-time World Championship Challenger (against Karpov in 1978 and again in 1981)
  • 2006 winner of the Senior World Chess Championship at age 75
  • 2009 winner of the Swiss championship - at age 78!
What impresses me most about his life besides his chess play is his resilience and perseverance throughout his life and chess career. I will allow you to read elsewhere (links below) about the details of his life.

His Games

When I heard of his passing, I dug up an old used book of his games. I would like to share one of the games I studied. It is a masterpiece against another legendary player - Mikhail Tal. I picked this game because it highlighted a couple aspects of Korchnoi's style. Besides his aggressive style, it also shows his willingness and skill at using his king actively. He also demonstrates the usefulness of sacrificing a pawn for strategic purposes.

The annotations are mine but I borrow much from Korchnoi's own analysis in his book Korchnoi's Best Games (Philidor Press, 1977) and have noted where I have used his words and analysis.

I also studied a few games from GM Larry Christiansen's tribute video he did for ICC. Mr. Christiansen's video is worth watching for both aesthetic and instructive purposes.


Viktor Korchnoi was truly a legendary player and personality. His chess games are wonderful works of art and demonstrations of chess at the very highest level. The me, his chess games and career also demonstrated the formidable will and determination of the man. And that is something that we can admire and strive to emulate.


Your Turn

Have you ever met Viktor Korchnoi? Have you ever played him? I'd love to hear any stories you may have of him or any games you may have. Put them in the comments below.

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