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Korchnoi - Spassky Candidates Final 1977/78 Match

Viktor Korchnoi10.5/18(+7 -4 =7)[games]
Boris Spassky7.5/18(+4 -7 =7)[games] Chess Event Description
Korchnoi - Spassky Candidates Final 1977/78

Korchnoi qualified for this match from the Korchnoi - Polugaevsky Candidates Semifinal (1977) in Évian-les-Bains, France. Spassky qualified from the Spassky - Portisch Candidates Semifinal (1977) in Geneva, Switzerland.

Belgrade, Yugoslavia (Serbia), 21 November 1977 - 11 January 1978

Elo* 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Korchnoi 2665 ˝ 1 1 ˝ ˝ ˝ 1 1 ˝ 1 0 0 0 0 ˝ ˝ 1 1 10˝ Spassky 2630 ˝ 0 0 ˝ ˝ ˝ 0 0 ˝ 0 1 1 1 1 ˝ ˝ 0 0 7˝

Korchnoi advanced to the Karpov - Korchnoi World Championship (1978) in Baguio, Philippines.

Korchnoi and Spassky's other encounters were: Spassky - Korchnoi Candidates Final (1968) (Spassky 6˝-3˝ Korchnoi), Spassky - Korchnoi Match (2009) (tied 4-4), and a match in 1999 using an active-rate-of-play (Korchnoi 5-4 Spassky).

*FIDE Rating List January 1978:

 page 1 of 1; 7 games  PGN Download 
Game  ResultMoves YearEvent/LocaleOpening
1. Korchnoi vs Spassky ½-½531977Korchnoi - Spassky Candidates Final 1977/78A33 English, Symmetrical
2. Spassky vs Korchnoi ½-½341977Korchnoi - Spassky Candidates Final 1977/78C19 French, Winawer, Advance
3. Korchnoi vs Spassky ½-½441977Korchnoi - Spassky Candidates Final 1977/78A33 English, Symmetrical
4. Spassky vs Korchnoi ½-½441977Korchnoi - Spassky Candidates Final 1977/78C19 French, Winawer, Advance
5. Korchnoi vs Spassky ½-½701977Korchnoi - Spassky Candidates Final 1977/78A13 English
6. Korchnoi vs Spassky ½-½341978Korchnoi - Spassky Candidates Final 1977/78D34 Queen's Gambit Declined, Tarrasch
7. Spassky vs Korchnoi ½-½471978Korchnoi - Spassky Candidates Final 1977/78A45 Queen's Pawn Game
  REFINE SEARCH:   White wins (1-0) | Black wins (0-1) | Draws (1/2-1/2)  

Kibitzer's Corner
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Premium Chessgames Member
  offramp: This tremendous match featured the only occurrence in Korchnoi's career when he lost 4 games in a row. He was winning +5, =5 and was pegged back to 5-4. Spassky, who said that he did not wish to sit at the same board as his opponent, had begun to play from his box - his on-stage relaxation area - whence he analysed the game on the demonstration board out of view of both VK and the audience. Later in the match VK also decided to play from his box. This led to the audience beholding the unhappy vista of an empty stage occupied only by a Beckett-like chessboard.

Korchnoi pulled himself together to win in the end; he went on to play Karpov. Spassky was angry with everyone. He said he has written a book on the match but he says no one wants to publish it.

I'd love to see it! But there is an excellent book already available: Chess Crisis by Raymond Keene - one of his best !

Premium Chessgames Member
  offramp: It is worth mentioning a bit of the background to this match.

These two had previously played in Spassky - Korchnoi Candidates Final (1968), and Spassky had palfried his venerable opponent 4-1.

Since then Korchnoi had defected; he had become a <persona non grata>, whatever that is. [Spassky had also defected! But he had done so officially. He was now a French citizen.]

The winner of this match was going to play in *SPOILER ALERT* Karpov-Korchnoi World Championship Match (1978).

That 1978 match would be the first World Championship since 1972 - the first since the chess explosion which followed Fischer's Ascent of Rum Doodle. So there was little doubt that the forthcoming 1978 match would capture global interest and definitely command a large <PRIZE FUND>.

So this Belgrade match was very KEENELY contested geddit LOL! Keene was Korchnoi's second geddit?

His book on the match, published by Batsford, is excellent. It is in descriptive. I should imagine that was at his publisher's request as Keene was always a proponent of "algebraic" (standard) notation.

Premium Chessgames Member
  Check It Out: Interesting notes <offramp>. The 1978 Karpov-Korchnoi match is what sunk the chess hook in my mouth.

Did Spassky play from his box because he thought Korchnoi was a curmudgeonly old miscreant? Or did it have more to do with Korchnoi's defection?

Too bad Kramnik and Topalov can't take their hatred to such levels; instead they sit passive-aggressively across from each other playing a nice game of chess. Oh, for the good old days!

Was Spassky angry at everyone *mostly including himself*, for losing?

Viktor Korchnoi is now a Swiss national I believe, via the Netherlands. The Soviet Union finally allowed him to compete in an international tournament, which he jointly won with Tony Miles. After the event he famously asked Miles how to spell "political asylum" and the rest is history.

May-01-14  Petrosianic: <Did Spassky play from his box because he thought Korchnoi was a curmudgeonly old miscreant? Or did it have more to do with Korchnoi's defection?>

He did it because he was completely shattered by his poor performance in the match, and couldn't stand to even sit on stage and be looked at. An important fact that nobody has mentioned: Spasskyk's box play didn't begin until Game TEN, after Spassky was 4 points down. It was completely a reaction to his own poor performance. Nobody dreamed Korchnoi would go completely to pieces over it.

Nothing to do with the defection either. Spassky was one of only three Soviet GM's (Botvinnik and Bronstein being the other two) who refused to sign the letter denouncing Korchnoi after his defection. Spassky was living in France at the time, and could afford to be independent.

Premium Chessgames Member
  Check It Out: <Petrosianic> Ah, so Spassky was down four games and emotionally blown out of the water so hides in the box. He loses the first game then wins FOUR games in a row! Amazing story.

Were all the remaining nine games played from the box?

May-01-14  Petrosianic: Let's see, I'm trying to remember how it went without having any magazines handy to look at.

Spassky began the box play at the beginning of Game 10. He hadn't announced it in advance, and at first they thought he was just finishing up dinner in the box or something, or maybe that he was slightly ill. They gradually figured out that he wsa spending all his time in there, analyzing off the demonstration board, and only coming out to make his move. He actually built up a really good position in Game 10, but spent so much time in the box that he had to come out to play the time scramble, ended up blowing the game, and losing to go 5 down.

But he won the next game, and Korchnoi got gradually more and more rattled by it. The tournament committee voted something or other to prevent it, and as a result, Spassky was a no-show for Game 12, and forfeited. Korchnoi gave the forfeit back, played the game, and lost it. And I think in the next game, he went totally to pieces, and gave up first a Bishop then a Queen, without seeing that the square he was attacking was protected by a Bishop on h7.

Korchnoi's group protested it. Keene conceded that Spassky was illegally using a second board to analyze off of. He conceded that all GM's analyze off the demonstration board from time to time, but that doing it all the time for all your moves was somehow different. They also argued that it constituted illegally disturbing an opponent. I think Korchnoi played one game from his own box, lost it, and then apologized for it.

Korchnoi was disturbed because it was an unusual situation, and since he was all alone on the stage, he took the brunt of the audience reaction. And Spassky walking by to make a move, then ambling off made it feel more like a simul than a serious match. Also, for reasons I can't begin to imagine, each player's box was located behind his opponent (Spassky's box behind Korchnoi, and vice versa), which felt like your opponent was staring at you from behind.

It went on as long as did because the match contract prohibited them from changing the stage conditions. I think what finally happened is that they broke the rules a bit, and changed, not the boxes, but they moved the demonstration boards to the front of the stage so they couldn't be seen from the boxes. That way, if Spassky had continued playing from the box, he'd have had to play the game blindfold.

So I can see why Korchnoi was upset, but I can see why Spassky was too. He was so completely blown away by the results. He'd beaten Korchnoi fairly easily in '68 and expected to do it again, and suddenly he's getting blown off the board. Good games too. I especially remember Game 2 (a well played Winawer French), and Game 7, where Spassky had a dangerous looking attack, which Korchnoi completely defused with the innocent looking move h3. Spassky wasn't playing crappily, he was playing well, and still getting drubbed. He was probably looking for anything to steady his nerves, retreated into a hole, and then got dragged out of it.

Premium Chessgames Member
  Check It Out: Whoa, that's a lot of drama. I've never heard any of this stuff. Great detail from memory - thank you!
May-09-14  john barleycorn: What puzzles me a bit after reading the given background is why Spassky, who explicitly declared what kind of burden being the world champion was to him, went through this all. How eagerly did he pursue the goal of becoming champ again? What were his motives?
Premium Chessgames Member
  offramp: In my post of May 1st I mentioned how the 1978 match would have been predicted to have a large prize fund...
May-09-14  john barleycorn: <offramp> do you know the actual prize fund of the 1978 match?
Premium Chessgames Member
  offramp: It was $250 billion.
May-10-14  john barleycorn: not too bad.
Premium Chessgames Member
  offramp: The previous Candidate's Final was Karpov - Korchnoi Candidates Match (1974), and that was "first to five wins or best of 24 games". What was the finishing post in this match?
Premium Chessgames Member
  perfidious: <offramp> Best of 20 games, as far as I know.
May-19-14  Petrosianic: Yes, Best of 20, with no option to end the match early by scoring wins.
May-19-14  Howard: Wasn't there one game in this match where Spassky showed up wearing....swimming goggles ?! I kid you not.

Chess Life and Review (as it was called then) gave a lot of coverage to this match though it was rather biased in favor of Korchnoi, since Keene and Stean were his seconds in the match and THEY were the ones who wrote about it for CL & R.

May-19-14  Petrosianic: I remember Keene mentioning Spassky wearing a visor to one of the late games, and making the odd comment that it looked rather like an aborigine's boomerang when he carried it. The goggles comment sounds familiar, but I don't remember if Spassky wore them, carried them, or none of the above.
May-19-14  RedShield: I would like to have seen him wear a motorcycle helmet to see if even Korchnoi could have kept a straight face.
May-19-14  Petrosianic: The only example I can think of offhand of Korchnoi's sense of humor is that he laughed when the orchestra in Baguio accidentally played the Internationale instead of the then-current Soviet National Anthem.
Aug-15-14  alshatranji: Spassky is what some psycholgists call a "highly sensitive person".
Aug-15-14  Granny O Doul: The goggles bit sounds familiar. I remember the Keene/CL report saying that this was too much for the audience and they starting chanting "Korchnoi, Korchnoi", and some rhapsodic description of how Korchnoi appeared during this ("great thinker" and I forget what else).
Aug-15-14  Wyatt Gwyon: Hadn't read about the circumstances of this match before. Very strange and interesting.
Premium Chessgames Member
  HeMateMe: Perhaps Spassky, a sensitive guy, didn't like being at the board with his old Leningrad chum, who now had defector status and hated anyone playing under the USSR flag. Being unnerved by the circumstances could have led to Spassky's disastrous start.

Neither player is 4 points better than the other.

Aug-16-14  RookFile: I don't think Korchnoi won any awards for Miss Congeniality.
Nov-11-14  DirkMcCallahan: Sounds like Spassky picked up a few pointers from Fischer. Too bad it didn't work out for him...
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