Korchnoi-Karpov Rivalry Renewed

Korchnoi-Karpov Rivalry Renewed

| 12 | Other

The recent 2008 Pivdenny Bank Chess Cup in Odessa, Ukraine provided us with a stroll down memory lane, as the 34-year old rivalry between Victor Korchnoi and Anatoly Karpov was renewed for a brief period of time.

The background on this storied rivalry goes clear back to the 1974 Candidates final in Moscow, Russia. Both Korchnoi and Karpov, who were members of the powerful Soviet chess machine, made it through to the final match to decide who would challenge the mighty Bobby Fischer for the world chess crown in 1975.

Karpov was the favored son of the Soviet government, while Korchnoi was considered part of the generation that allowed the American to take their crown away from them. Fellow Soviet chess player Tigran Petrosian had publicly spoken out against Korchnoi before their semifinal match and it was suspected by many that Korchnoi had intentions of defecting.

The match was very intense, as both players were under extreme duress. Through eighteen games of the twenty-four game match, Kaprov had won three games and Korchnoi had yet to win a single game. Korchnoi would fight back, winning the 19th and 21st games of the match to pull within one game of his adversary. Karpov would manage to draw the three remaining games to win the match by a final score of 3 wins, 2 losses, and 19 draws. He would go on to win the world chess crown in 1975 by forfeit from Fischer (a story for another time).

Korchnoi would eventually defect in 1976 while playing in a tournament in Amsterdam (Netherlands), leaving his wife and son behind in the Soviet Union. It would be several years before he could get them out of the country and the stress of the situation assuredly played a part in his future matches with Karpov.

In 1977, Korchnoi again made it to the Candidates final, where he would defeat former world champion Boris Spassky (+7 -4 =7) for the right to face Karpov. Their 1978 match in Baguio (Philippines) for the world title was surrounded by controversy and continual allegations of foul play (see “Persona Non Grata” by Korchnoi). Once again, Korchnoi would fall behind early in the match, only to storm back and tie the match at five games all. Karpov would win the final game and the match by the narrow margin of 6 wins, 5 losses, and 21 draws.

The last meaningful match between these two great champions came in 1981. Korchnoi once again fought his way through the qualifying cycle to earn the right to challenge Karpov for the world title. The match took place in Merano, Italy and was similar to the 1978 event in that frictions were very high throughout the match. However, this time Karpov would easily dispatch his foe by the score of 6 wins, 2 losses, and 10 draws.

Karpov would eventually lose the title to Garry Kasparov in 1985 and Korchnoi would never again challenge for the world title. The two rivals would play each other several more times over the years and would still have tremendous animosity towards each other. Both are mostly retired from competitive play, but coincidentally agreed to play in the recent event in the Ukraine.

Korchnoi (77 years of age) would lose to Karpov in the 7th round and never be in serious contention. Karpov (57 years of age) would start slowly, but come on strong in the second half of the tournament. A win in the final round would earn him a share of first prize. His final round opponent? You guessed it, Victor Korchnoi. Karpov had the Black pieces and played the Rubenstein version of the Nimzo-Indian defense. The game was fiercely contested, but in the end, Karpov could only achieve a 34-move draw and a fifth place finish.

One would have to think that Korchnoi had a tremendous sense of satisfaction in denying his old rival a tournament victory.












For Pictures and Links to Tournament:

More from RookHouse
A “New” Napier Game (by John S. Hilbert)

A “New” Napier Game (by John S. Hilbert)

Jackson W. Showalter (1859-1935)

Jackson W. Showalter (1859-1935)