Viktor Korchnoi 1931-2016

I never had the honour of meeting Viktor Korchnoi, so I shall turn over to Andrew Greet, who posted this on Facebook earlier.

โ€œJust learned the sad news that Viktor Korchnoi died today at the age of 85. A fantastic chess player, arguably the strongest of all time never to become World Champion. Back in 2009, when I first joined Quality Chess, I was lucky enough to spend a few days with him at his home in Switzerland, as he was intending to write a book for us at the time. Each day, after we finished working, we spent a couple of hours playing blitz – a great privilege which I will remember forever.

Playing blitz with Viktor was an amazing experience. Even in that informal setting, he was highly competitive. Initially I was a bit starstruck, and he completely destroyed me in the first couple of games. Then I found my groove and won one, which he was visibly annoyed about! I even wondered if I might be subjected to one of his infamous put-downs, but he was a perfect gent. We didn’t keep score of the blitz games, but he definitely won more than me in total. It was pretty competitive though. On a few occasions, when I played an especially good game, he would begrudgingly say, while stopping the clock to resign: ‘You outplayed me.’ That was a nice thing to hear.โ€

12 thoughts on “Viktor Korchnoi 1931-2016”

  1. Soviet School

    That’s a shame that he never wrote a book for you . What would it have been about? I hope someone can write a book with Spassky before he passes away.
    I was in a simul with Korchnoi when he was nearly 80 and he was so deliciously competitive still.
    Bashing down his knight on an outpost and telling me that my tactical defence was clever, but not clever enough! Then it turned out in our game we had played an obscure line with reversed colours that Korchnoi had played against Geller nearly 50 years before when Viktor won a top tournament in Havana.I thank him so much for that small link with chess history. The Chessbase DVDs by Korchnoi are excellent viewing ,probably the best chess DVDs around.

  2. I was not a Fischer-Spassky chess-baby but a Karpov-Korchnoi chess-baby growing up in Malaysia, close to Baguio City. Cannot remember much about the actual games but do retain a memory of the atmosphere.
    @Andrew, if it is not inappropriate, interested to know what book was Korchnoi working on for QC.

  3. Of all the players still alive who were in top form in the 50’s and 60’s Viktor was by far, the best and most interesting to me. As an aside, John, any plans for a GM Repertoire on the Dutch? Thanks for all the hard work, dedication and excellence from team QC!

  4. Weng Siow – excuse my slightly slow reply to the Korchnoi question. We were hoping he would write a book about the French Defence. Not a repertoire book, but a work to explain the structures, plans and ideas, especially in variations such as the Classical, MacCutcheon, Tarrasch IQP and various others where Korchnoi had extensive experience on Black’s side. I think it would have been a great book, but ultimately we had to abandon the project because Viktor still wanted to maintain an active playing schedule and he didn’t have the time or energy to write the book as well.

    I’d like to share a brilliant quote from “Big Vik” – the nickname by which I affectionately began referring to him to my QC colleagues. A few weeks after I returned from Switzerland, I did some draft editing and formatting of a few of the annotated games that he intended to include in the book. I sent this work to Viktor, and he sent back an extensive list of comments, referring to certain things that he liked and some other things he thought could be improved. The comment which really made me laugh was the following:

    “Page X: delete the word “probably” – here, and everywhere!”

    For me, these few words perfectly sum up what kind of character Korchnoi was. There would be no “probably”, no “maybe”, no other wishy-washy qualifying of a statement! Big Vik was direct, to the point, and never shied away from stating his opinion. I remembered his words ever since, both in my own life (becoming…

  5. Oops, ran out of space. Here’s the full sentence:

    I remembered his words ever since, both in my own life (becoming bolder about stating my own view without worrying about what others think) and when editing other Quality Chess books (I tend to delete words like “probably” almost automatically, unless there is a special reason to include it).

  6. What a pity that this book was never finished. Generally there are too few books that deal with the move 10+ aspects of a dedicated opening. I’m looking forward to the Smirin book, but Viktor on the French had been awesome.
    Maybe QC will publish some more books from strong grandmasters explaining “their opening”?

  7. @ Krokohol

    I second that! In the past there were some very interesting books on the French (McDonald), Spanish, and King’s Indian (Bellin & Ponzetto?) which focussed on different pawn structures and deeply explained the plans for both sides in these openings / structures. Including nice schematic diagrams. The chapter on the Exchange Variation of the QGD in Sadler’s book was also awesome in this respect. On the other hand, QC has just recently published a book on chess structures in various openings!

  8. Thanks Andrew for the reply. Much appreciated. One of those things in life that is a big missed opportunity but which will now only exist in an alternate universe where Korchnoi did go on to finish the book, I bought it, and French became my 1 e4 Black Defence, Ha! Ha!
    Some of the books mentioned are good, but would like a book by a strong grandmaster on an opening, why they picked the lines/variations (a la Polugaesky), how they learned the middle game structures etc, interspersed with stories (a la Marin, Seirawan).
    Re middle game plans and structures, I much prefer Mihail Marin’s Spanish by QC (just re-reading it today) and also, Wahls, Muller, Langrock’s Modern Scandi. The Sadler, Q&A style just not my cup of tea, and the French, Spanish, KID and Soltis’ pawn structures books, I feel have just too many different structures. I guess just me.
    I guess publishers should also begin to look at the latest research on learning and how to incorporate that into their product to facilitate learning by most amateurs chess books consumers, ranging from 1600-2600.
    BTW, Andrew, your Ruy Lopez is still one of my favs. Wish John/Jacob will let you write a book for QC ……

  9. @Ray

    I love QC but the old Mastering the Spanish, French & KID are to draw and in my opinion better than the Chess Structures book, possibly as it is more specific to one particular opening.

    The KID by Smirin will be interesting, hopeful a prelude to more books of this type.

  10. @ IM Greet,
    Thanks for sharing the anecdote about big Vik. Shame he was too busy to continue work on the book. Maybe QC could add the draft games as a small collection on forward chess for a nominal fee in memory of him. Or, if that is too much work to transfer the data to that medium then maybe just as a few pgn in the next Quality Chess newsletter (been a while!).
    Would be a nice homage to the man to be able to read his words on openings he set the the model games for (ie his games from 1974 candidates taught me the 4…exd5 Tarrasch).

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