The Timeless Viktor Korchnoi

Archivado en (Investigación) por PHILOCHESS el 13-04-2011

Few chess players in history have had the sporting skills of Viktor Korchnoi: killer instinct, phenomenal capacity for work, nerves of steel, high calculation ability, tenacity and perseverance in defense, unrivaled ability for counterattack, impeccable technique, extraordinary concentration, brilliant strategical understanding, impressive tactical vision, deep opening preparation, psychological cunning, a permanent desire to win, extensive knowledge of his opponents and huge energy and self-discipline. Three weeks ago, the Grand Master of Leningrad turned 80 years old and celebrated his birthday by giving a simul against a talented Swiss youth chess team. They were a total of 10 opponents, eager to do their best against the living legend in front of them. Korchnoi won the match 8-2 and produced elegant and very high level games. Of course everyone knows the career of Viktor Korchnoi, since the middle of last century, when he began to make his way among the chess elite of those times. Everyone remembers his encounters for the world championship against Anatoly Karpov, his semifinal candidates match against Garry Kasparov in 1983 and his subsequent participation in pursuit of the world crown. Since 1970s Korchnoi has represented Switzerland at the Olympics, as first board, and has also won the national championship of that country. In 2006, Korchnoi won the first and only world title in his life: the senior world championship. Ever since, life and tournaments have gone on for Korchnoi. Earlier this year he had a great performance at the Gibraltar Chess Festival, against several players of the world elite. It seems that his ability and his mind know no limit.

This time, I present one of my favorite games of Korchnoi against one of the greats of the chess world: World Champion Mikhail Tal. This game was played in Yerevan, in 1962. This is my tribute to one of the uncrowned kings of chess. Dedicated to Viktor Korchnoi, the timeless.

[Event “URS-ch30 Yerevan”]
[Site “Yerevan, URS”]
[Date “1962.??.??”]
[Round “??”]
[White “Viktor Korchnoi”]
[Black “Mikhail Tal”]
[Result “1-0”]

1.d4 According to statistics, Korchnoi made this move half the times he played white. The rest of the time he almost always began with his other favorite move: 1.c4 1…Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.Nc3 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.Nf3 g6 7.g3 Bg7 8.Bg2 0–0 Benoni Defense, Fianchetto Variation 9.0–0 Na6 9…Re8 followed by Nbd7 was also interesting. Perhaps Tal was afraid Korchnoi had prepared something for him at home 10.h3

This prophylactic move prevents Tal’s c8-bishop from developing to g4 and trading for the knight which will be very important for an eventual pawn breakthrough on e5 10…Nc7 11.e4 Nd7 12.Re1 Ne8!? It seems Tal understood that preventing the advance of the White pawn to e5 was impossible so he decided to put this knight on e8 and use it for a blockade on d6. But finally this move results in a waste of time and also places both Black knights crossing each other, without any coordination. Frontally facing the struggle for e5 with 12…Ne5 was better 13.Bg5 This move provokes Tal into playing 13…f6 blocking his pieces 13…Bf6 Tal offers to exchange his best bishop to get some space 14.Be3 Korchnoi declines the offer 14…Rb8 15.a4 a6 16.Bf1 Qe7 17.Nd2 Nc7 18.f4 b5 Black starts counterplay on the Queenside without ensuring the center. 18…Bg7 was better and if 19.e5 then 19…dxe5 20.Nde4! Qd8! 21.Nxc5 Nxc5 22.Bxc5 Re8 and despite the space advantage for White, Black has a solid position

19.e5! White realizes its first strategic objective: to break with e5 19…dxe5 Now 19…Bg7? would lead to a serious disadvantage after 20.exd6 Qxd6 21.Nde4 Qb6 22.d6 Ne6 23.Nd5 The White knights become very active after 23…Qd8 24.axb5 axb5 25.Ne7+ Kh8 26.Nc6 and White wins the exchange 20.Nde4! Threatening the pawn fork on d6 20…Qd8 21.Nxf6+ Nxf6 22.d6 Ne6 23.fxe5 b4! Ingenious Black counterattack that gives some chances on the Queenside 24.Nd5! Korchnoi does not lose the thread of the fight and continues pressuring Tal 24…Nxd5 Black is forced to change on d5 because otherwise Korchnoi wins the exchange with Ne7+ followed by Nc6 25.Qxd5 Bb7 26.Qd2 Qd7 27.Kh2 b3!?

It’s complicated to criticize this move because the main idea is to seek active counterplay by moving the rook from b8 to b4 and later to e4. The problem is that this weakens Black’s pawn structure on the Queenside, a situation that is later exploited by White. Thus, it seems that 27…h5 immediately is best, restricting g4 and preparing an eventual advance to h4 looking for counterchances on the Kingside 28.Rac1 Korchnoi gives up the a4-pawn to organize an attack along the “c” file 28…Qxa4 29.Bc4 Bc8?

This move seems to be Black’s fatal mistake in this game. The correct procedure for Black was 29…Qd7 buying time in the defense of its Kingside and after 30.Rf1 then 30…Bc6 activating most of his troops and with the possibility of moving his rook to b4 and e4 as was mentioned in the comments to Black’s 27th move 30.Rf1! Now Korchnoi is going to pave the way toward the Kingside. 30.Bh6! Re8 31.Qf2 Qd7 32.Rf1 was also very strong. White’s attack along the the f-file is decisive 32…Rb7 33.Bd5 Ra7 34.g4! blocking the h3-c8 diagonal and leaving c5 and b3-pawns completely undefended to White’s onslaught 30…Rb4

31.Bxe6! Korchnoi deliberately creates a position with opposite-colored bishops 31…Bxe6 Of course if 31…fxe6?? 32.Rxf8+ Kxf8 33.Bh6+ with mate soon 32.Bh6 Re8 33.Qg5 White has the initiative and strong attack on the dark squares because of the opposite-colored bishops. Tal’s bishop does not have any play so Korchnoi is practically playing a piece up 33…Re4! Black takes the maximum advantage of the activity of this rook 34.Rf2! Avoiding the check of the Black rook on e2 34…f5 Tal had to neutralize Qf6 with inevitable mate 35.Qf6 Qd7 36.Rxc5 Korchnoi penetrates the Queenside 36…Rc4 37.Rxc4 Bxc4 38.Rd2 Be6 39.Rd1!

With the idea of playing Rc1–c7 39…Qa7 The threat Qf2+ is easily countered. It was worth considering the endgame with 39…Qf7 40.d7 Bxd7 41.Qxf7+ Kxf7 42.Rxd7+ and although White has the advantage, Black would have some chances to draw 40.Rd2 Avoiding the aforementioned queen check on f2 40…Qd7 41.Rd1 White repeats moves without prejudicing his advantageous position 41…Qa7 42.Rd4! Finding another way to invade Tal’s territory 42…Qd7 43.g4! Threatening to capture on f5 and open more attacking lines 43…a5 Of course if 43…fxg4?? then 44.Rf4! and White’s mating threats would be unstoppable. Another alternative would be the endgame with 43…Qf7 44.d7 Bxd7 45.Qxf7+ Kxf7 46.Rxd7+ and Korchnoi should win. White would be better able to achieve victory 44.Kg3!

An interesting king walk that wins the game without any discussion. 44.gxf5! is also efficient and after 44…Bxf5 (if 44…gxf5 45.Rd1! with mate in a few moves) White rook takes over the “c” file with 45.Rc4! with decisive effects. Let’s review some lines:

45…Qa7 46.Rc5! Avoids the deadly queen check on f2 and prepares the advance of the central pawns 46…Qf7 (obviously if 46…Qxc5?? 47.Qg7 mate; in case of 46…a4 White plays the very fine 47.e6! and after 47…Bxe6 48.Rc7! White can now occupy the seventh rank with its rook because the f2-square remains covered by the White f6-queen, after Black’s bishop retirement) 47.Rc7 Bd7 48.Qxf7+ Kxf7 49.Rxd7+ Ke6 50.Rxh7 and the White pawns are unstoppable because if 50…Kxe5 then 51.Re7+ Black may resign now.

45…Qf7 46.Rc7 Bd7 (after trading queens with 46…Qxf6 47.exf6 Black has no way to stop the promotion of one of the White pawns) 47.Qxf7+ Kxf7 48.Rxd7+ Ke6 49.Rxh7 and Korchnoi triumphs as we have seen in the previous line.

44…Rb8 Tal is lost. Passing to the endgame with 44…Qf7 45.d7 Bxd7 46.Qxf7+ Kxf7 47.Rxd7+ Ke6 48.Rxh7 fxg4 49.hxg4 does not save Black 45.Kh4 A beautiful move which makes victory a little difficult. Again 45.gxf5! was the most convincing move, followed by 45…Bxf5 (45…gxf5 also leads to disaster after 46.Qg5+ Kh8 47.Kh2! and Black has no adequate defense to queen check on f6 followed by the rook attack along the “g” file because if 47…Qf7 then 48.d7! Bxd7 49.e6! Bxe6 50.Rd8+ and mate in 3) 46.Rc4 Qa7 47.Rc5! followed by the central pawn advance and the arrival of White’s rook to the seventh rank in a similar manner as outlined in the comments to White’s 44th move 45…Qf7 Tal tries the endgame 46.Kg5!

Viktor Korchnoi has completed one of the most incredible king walks ever seen in high-level chess 46…fxg4 Of course if 46…Qxf6+ 47.Kxf6 Re8 48.gxf5 Bxf5 49.d7 White wins with the advance of the central pawns 47.hxg4 Bd7 47…Re8 48.d7 Bxd7 49.Qxf7+ Kxf7 50.Rxd7+ would allow Black to continue fighting in the endgame though White would finally win 48.Rc4!

White has conquered the “c” file and now Black’s position quickly collapses 48…a4 48…Rc8?? 49.Rxc8+ Bxc8 50.Qd8+ and mate next move 49.Rc7 a3 Black in desperation tries to create a passed pawn

50.Rxd7! Black bishop is eliminated to allow the advance of the pawns 50…Qxd7 51.e6 White central pawns become a sweeping force 51…Qa7 52.Qe5! Dodging the Black queen’s checks 52…axb2 53.e7 White’s goal is enemy king! 53…Kf7 54.d7!

A truly remarkable position. If 54…Qxd7 55.Qf6+ and mate next move. Black resigns 1–0

Robert M. Cuadros
April 2011

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