Korchnoi,Simagin,Gufeld, Gipslis,Geller, Kholmov. 4 From 6! Tashkent 1958.

Korchnoi,Simagin,Gufeld, Gipslis,Geller, Kholmov. 4 From 6! Tashkent 1958.


Well, March 23rd would have been the 90th birthday of the great Viktor Korchnoi. In his later years he became what we in England call 'a cantankerous old git!' Well, I love cantankerous old gits - they have invariably earned the right -  and I have always been a massive fan of Korchnoi. The first World Title series I was able to follow as it was happening was back in 1976-1977, and his matches with Polugaevsky and Spassky were enthralling, and inspired me.

I had a sweater with 'SKORCHNOI' on the front to give me his fighting spirit. A true chessboard warrior.

So I decided to add a forgotten event he took part in as part of my look at obscure and forgotten tournaments.

I have often commentated that anyone who played in a Soviet Championships final was a fine player. To get there you had to go through the qualifying process. So, the 26th Championship. There was a quarter final - won by Ufimtsev, and four semi-finals.

Keep in mind that Botvinnik and Smyslov were otherwise occupied, and that there were four members of the Soviet Olympiad team - Keres, Bronstein, Tal and Petrosian - granted places in the final. So, just to get there you had to qualify via the semi-finals. You look at the list of who was involved in those and realise that in any other country at the time, each semi would have been a final. They were the street fights of chess history, where only the strong survived.

 Let's take a quick look at the other three semi-finals before we get to the featured one. Some quick crops of the tables from rusbase. You can go there to see the full tables - they don't copy well on this software - too small!

Only the top four made it to the finals. So many fine players didn't make it. The toughest was that 2nd one, held in Moscow, but the  semi-final that was held in Tashkent was no walk in the park.  Korchnoi said this - in 'Chess is my Life' - 

'Later in the year came, as usual, the exhausting USSR Championship semi-final, where it was with difficulty that I managed to share second place with Geller ( The winner was Kholmov)'.

Exhausting is a nice choice of words - as you will see, he lost early to Kholmov, and had to fight for his qualification spot almost to the end of the tournament.

The final table looked like this, and yes, a World title candidate like Geller had to qualify for the finals!

Ratmir Kholmov  then only a soviet master won the event. In the final he won no less than 7 special prizes, including the brilliancy prize and the best score by a master against the Grandmasters. I love his comment later on players being awarded the Grandmaster title, which includes 'last year the Soviet Union celebrated the fact that xxx players had been awarded the grandmaster title - they should be crying, not celebrating.'

Indeed, when, as in this event, the likes of Kholmov and Simagin were not even Grandmasters, it shows how utterly worthless that title has become. ( Other opinions are available - but most of those will be from players with 'titles' who will/never have achieved anything, so feel free to criticise my opinion guys - the opinion won't change!!)
So let's go look at some of the chess! (Not had time to do my beloved digging for photos today, so any contributions in that regard in the comments will be appreciated, and I will add them in to the main body of the blog. So send me anything on those lines!! )

The tournament went along the usual lines of these events. Early on it was like the bar fights you see in old western movies. A mass brawl with bottles and tables flying everywhere ( been in a few of those!!) Then, when the strongest had put themselves in the qualification positions there were a lot of quick draws, apart from games between those fighting for a  place in the top four.

Two of the favourites met in the first round. Kholmov took the risk of playing a line that was just becoming popular, although still considered risky, and came out on top.

Whilst that was going on, Vladimir Simagin, a true chess artist.

was involved in a fascinating game against one of the lesser knowns.

In the second round, Kholmov kept throwing wood on the fire in his game with Yuri Shaposhnikov. A fascinating battle! Try to make sense of this one at move 40 - the adjournment point - on your own!

My favourite game of the 3rd round involved one of two players in this event who were awarded the soviet title of 'Honoured Trainer of The USSR'. 

Vyacheslav Osnos, one time trainer of an opponent in this event, Viktor Korchnoi. Pictured here with Pavel Kondratiev.

In the next round, Igor Rubel was on the receiving end in another game that you could study for hours!!

Meanwhile, Geller - probably the favourite for the event - was taking some risks with Black. As a Dragon player, I have spent WAY too many hours exploring the kind of ideas we see in this game!!

In the next round Bastrikov - who's losses come up a lot in this article - shows that he wasn't so bad! No-one could be taken for grated in these tournaments.

However, in the next round he was up against Korchnoi. I first saw the game in an old book from the 1970's which was a collection of Korchnoi's games, and I still remember studying it for the first time.

At this point Simagin was fighting to get into the top four, and won a nice game - his 21st move is vey cleverly done.

A photo relevant to this article. Moscow. 1947. USSR Championship semi final. Probably at move 23.  Kholmov - Simagin.

In round 9 Korchnoi got himself back up near the top of the table with a nice win with Black.

My favourite game from the next round featured the two honoured trainers. In this one Vasilly Byvshev


came out on top in a tough and complex battle - I love games like this one!

Round 11 saw the last big battle for the qualifying spots between the young Aivars Gipslis

and Korchnoi. No messing about in this one!! Winner takes all chess.

In the same round there was a pretty game between two of the tail enders.

I had better include a win by one of those players who is simply a spreader of chess joy, and include a relevant picture. Gufeld, Gipslis and Nei. Tallin 1981.

Two pictures to close. Tal - Kholmov.
And finally a nice picture of Korchnoi in 1984, I think. It was recently found by my friend David Llada who posted it on twitter, and has been used since then in a chessbase article to commemorate the 90 year anniversary of Korchnoi's birth. I love it! great photo. RIP Viktor, and thanks for the memories and the inspiration. I recall sitting on the steps of Monmartre back in 1981 with my pocket set and a French newspaper studying a win of yours in the title match with Karpov. I won't tell the rest of the story!!!! 
On the subject of fighters, a dear friend of mine, Jimmy Moran, passed earlier this year. we had known each other for 45 years, and I last saw him outside our local shop not long before he died.

A down to earth, honest grafter who chose to put his family ahead of fame, glory and money.

my mate Jimmy. A brick layer like his dad.

Our - very! - late nights turned into quiet afternoons down the club with the kids. We both turned into decent blokes mate, and learned what was important in life.

The only video of him that I have been able to find is this one. His opponent later went on to hold a version of the professional World heavyweight title. Even though after one loss you said to me ' Neil, that guy could probably have beaten us both on the same night', and smiled about it, you were bloody good fighter, and a good friend too. I would have been there at the funeral, but the covid thing meant that I couldn't, and that makes me feel ashamed. God love you mate, because I did.