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Viktor Korchnoi, RIP

June 6, 2016

It was with great sadness that I have just learnt of Viktor’s passing.

Viktor Korchnoi 23/3/1931-6/6/2016

Korchnoi 2009

He was one of the most influential players in my life as a chess player. I would put him on the highest level, with Fischer, Short, Kasparov, Karpov and Carlsen. (Nigel Short because of my lifelong friendship with him, and my love of his style of play).

I met Viktor several times. My memory is cloudy, but I think the first time was at the 2004 Olympiad in Mallorca: that was the time I first heard him speak, in a short q&a session which I shall remember for the rest of my life. Viktor talked about his time as a child in the siege of Leningrad, of dragging dead relatives to the mortuary, and that, the reason he continues to play chess was because of that, to live. It was deepest, rawest, emotion.

Picture taken at the closing ceremony of the Calvia Olympiad, 30th October 2004

Korchnoi 2004 Calvia

It is hard for me to decide which was my favourite meeting with Viktor. In 2011, he came to sit next to me in the VIP room at the London Chess Classic, and, not being able to see the display screen easily, asked me every so often to explain where the pieces where, and soon I was giving him a move by move announcement. What was remarkable was how much in awe the other GMs were of Viktor: when he gave suggestions, or rubbished the suggestions of others, people listened, with respect, and time and again he suggested or discounted moves just on general principles. The only time Viktor was deferential, or at least listened to others, was when it was an elite GM like Vallejo Pons, Garry Kasparov, or the players themselves. Otherwise he was imperious.

Viktor at the 2011 London Classic

Korchnoi 2011 Classic

I attended the Classic on two consecutive days that year. On the second, I was delighted when Viktor came into the room, he found me, and I had the sheer pleasure of spending a second afternoon relaying the moves to him. With his partial sight of the screen, and my relaying of the moves, he could follow, analyse and comment all the games that were going on. Two wonderful days.

Another time was when I visited the Gibraltar congress in 2011: one of the days I visited was when he was playing black against Fabiano Caruana; Nigel Short was playing nearby, and I stationed myself permanently in a great location, the corner between their two tables, from where I could see both games. Viktor won very nicely, and it would seem effortlessly; once his game was over, I went to the commentary room to listen to Viktor’s analysis: he was quite dismissive of the passive way in which Caruana defended.

Playing through this game, it is noticeable that even after Fabiano lost a pawn, the game wasn’t entirely over: it took a player of Viktor’s strength to overcome Fabiano’s resistance.

First day cover, including Viktor’s game vs Fabiano Caruana

First day cover

And, finally, of course, I shall always remember my game with Viktor, played at his simultaneous display at the London Classic. If I had my time again, and could only play one game, it would be my victory over him: the fact that I grew up following his matches against Karpov, his struggles with the Russian state, his fight throughout his life, makes that game my pinnacle.

Viktor, RIP.

From → Chess

  1. Ben Aoufa permalink

    Sad news. My condolences to his family, friends and the whole chess world. May he rest in peace.

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