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Korchnoi - Polugaevsky Candidates Semifinal Match

Viktor Korchnoi7.5/14(+3 -2 =9)[games]
Lev Polugaevsky6.5/14(+2 -3 =9)[games] Chess Event Description
Korchnoi - Polugaevsky Candidates Semifinal (1980)

The purpose of this match was to select a challenger for the World Champion Anatoly Karpov. Korchnoi had qualified from the Korchnoi - Spassky Candidates Final (1977) and Korchnoi - Petrosian Candidates Quarterfinal (1980), and Polugaevsky had qualified from the Riga Interzonal (1979) and the Polugaevsky - Tal Candidates Quarterfinal (1980). The other semifinal match was the Hübner - Portisch Candidates Semifinal (1980). In both matches, the winner would be the first to get 6,5 points. If 6-6, then two more games, and if still equal, then two more games to be played. If equal after 16 games, the winner would be the one with most Black wins. (1)

Both had agreed to play in Junta governed Argentina. The event was arranged and sponsored by the Argentine Chess Federation and the newspaper La Nación. Korchnoi arrived with his secretary Petra Leeuwerik, the seconds Michael Francis Stean and Yasser Seirawan, and the Swiss team leader and lawyer Alban Brodbeck. Polugaevsky arrived with his wife Irina, the seconds Evgeni Ellinovich Sveshnikov and Orest Averkin, and Alexei Serov of the Soviet Chess Federation. (2, 3, 4) Both had played in a tournament after the quarterfinal matches: Korchnoi in Phillips & Drew Kings (1980) in April, and Polugaevsky in Bugojno (1980) in May.

The games were played in a sound-proof glass booth on a theater stage (Teatro Premier) in downtown Buenos Aires. The players avoided eye contact, and communicated with each other only through the arbiters. (5, 6) The wife and son of Korchnoi were still held back in the USSR after he moved to the west in 1976, and the lesson from the Karpov - Korchnoi World Championship (1978) had encouraged the creation of a glass partition or "cockpit" to avoid contact with the audience. (7) This measured 5 x 3 x 3 meters and was equipped with lights and TV cameras. (8) The players could choose between ten kinds of chairs, and the pieces were made in three sets - one for each player as a gift, and one for the match. (7) The arbiters were Boris De Greiff (IA since 1978) and Miguel Najdorf. (7, 9) The latter was also the "technical director", (10) and wrote summaries in the newspaper Clarín (La Nación's main competitor) almost every day. Games and adjourned games started at 4 pm. (11)


The match had some dramatic moments which will be skipped here. Before Game 12, Polugaevsky requested a postponement. (12) This seemed to help, because he won that game and leveled the score. However, in Game 14 (the final game), Korchnoi dropped a bombshell 8...Ne6 on him. Polugaevsky floundered, spent too much time, and lost a piece on move 31 while in severe time trouble. (13) The move 8...Ne6 was not exactly new, and it had been played ten days before, in Italy, in the other semifinal (Huebner vs Portisch, 1980). The Dane Bent Larsen worked there as a commentator and had sent an analysis to Clarín, but Polugaevsky's camp had failed to read it. "That's for not reading Clarín!", Larsen said. (7) When Korchnoi had achieved a winning position, he took off his coat, rolled up his sleeves and stared aggressively at his opponent. The audience responded with a knowing laughter. It seemed he was mocking the similar action by Polugaevsky after he had gained the decisive edge in Game 12. (14)

Buenos Aires, Argentina, 21 July - 20 August 1980

Elo 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 1 GM Korchnoi 2695 ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 0 ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ 1 7½ 2 GM Polugaevsky 2635 ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ 1 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 0 6½

Korchnoi advanced to the Korchnoi - Hübner Candidates Final (1980) (which he won) and the Karpov - Korchnoi World Championship Rematch (1981) (which he lost). Despite the bitter defeat, Polugaevsky could not get over his astonishment to hear and see how the audience chanted his name and threw confetti in jubilation. (7)


1) Harry Golombek in The Times, 18 August 1980, p. 14.
2) El Mundo Deportivo, 14 July 1980, p. 39.
3) The Times, 9 August 1980, p. 14.
4) Tidskrift för Schack, vol. 86 (1980), p. 214.
5) Wikipedia article: Teatro Premier.
6) Shelby Lyman in Springfield Union, 24 August 1980, p. 99.
7) Carlos A. Ilardo in ChessBase Noticias de ajedrez 24/08/2005:
8) El Mundo Deportivo, 16 July 1980, p. 36.
9) Harry Golombek in The Times, 8 August 1980, p. 12.
10) Clarin, 12 August 1980, p. 49.
11) As seen from several issues of Clarín, incl. 5 August 1980, p. 49.
12) Richmond Times Dispatch, 14 August 1980, p. 70.
13) Shelby Lyman in Springfield Union, 14 September 1980, p. 110.
14) Shelby Lyman in Springfield Union, 7 September 1980, p. 94.

Original game collections: Game Collection: WCC Index (Korchnoi-Polugaevsky 1980) by User: nescio2 and Game Collection: Korchnoi - Polugaevsky Candidates Semifinal 1980 by User: Tabanus. Dates are from the newspapers El Mundo Deportivo (, games 1-6) and Clarín (, games 7-14).

 page 1 of 1; 14 games  PGN Download 
Game  ResultMoves YearEvent/LocaleOpening
1. Korchnoi vs Polugaevsky  ½-½411980Korchnoi - Polugaevsky Candidates SemifinalA33 English, Symmetrical
2. Polugaevsky vs Korchnoi  ½-½241980Korchnoi - Polugaevsky Candidates SemifinalE19 Queen's Indian, Old Main line, 9.Qxc3
3. Korchnoi vs Polugaevsky  ½-½301980Korchnoi - Polugaevsky Candidates SemifinalA17 English
4. Polugaevsky vs Korchnoi 0-1641980Korchnoi - Polugaevsky Candidates SemifinalE19 Queen's Indian, Old Main line, 9.Qxc3
5. Korchnoi vs Polugaevsky  ½-½311980Korchnoi - Polugaevsky Candidates SemifinalA33 English, Symmetrical
6. Polugaevsky vs Korchnoi 1-0501980Korchnoi - Polugaevsky Candidates SemifinalE17 Queen's Indian
7. Korchnoi vs Polugaevsky ½-½591980Korchnoi - Polugaevsky Candidates SemifinalA33 English, Symmetrical
8. Polugaevsky vs Korchnoi 0-1951980Korchnoi - Polugaevsky Candidates SemifinalE17 Queen's Indian
9. Korchnoi vs Polugaevsky  ½-½251980Korchnoi - Polugaevsky Candidates SemifinalA33 English, Symmetrical
10. Polugaevsky vs Korchnoi  ½-½321980Korchnoi - Polugaevsky Candidates SemifinalA29 English, Four Knights, Kingside Fianchetto
11. Korchnoi vs Polugaevsky  ½-½411980Korchnoi - Polugaevsky Candidates SemifinalA30 English, Symmetrical
12. Polugaevsky vs Korchnoi 1-0731980Korchnoi - Polugaevsky Candidates SemifinalE17 Queen's Indian
13. Korchnoi vs Polugaevsky ½-½631980Korchnoi - Polugaevsky Candidates SemifinalA33 English, Symmetrical
14. Polugaevsky vs Korchnoi 0-1411980Korchnoi - Polugaevsky Candidates SemifinalA34 English, Symmetrical
  REFINE SEARCH:   White wins (1-0) | Black wins (0-1) | Draws (1/2-1/2)  

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Kibitzer's Corner
Premium Chessgames Member
  offramp: Another very erudite and informative introduction!

Polugaevsky said that in their 1977 match Korchnoi was just too strong and there was no contest. In this match he was much better prepared.

Premium Chessgames Member
  perfidious: Not a single win by Korchnoi as White, an unusual occurrence in top-class match play when one is the victor.
Jun-17-14  Petrosianic: Korchnoi, with his counter-punching style, used to be known for doing better than average with Black, but struggling a bit as White. That was pretty much past by 1980, but there were still flashes.
Jun-17-14  Howard: As Chess Life stated back in late 1980, one key reason why the score was so much closer than their 1977 Candidates match, was due to Polugaevsky's superior opening preparation. The final game--which clinched the match for Korchnoi--was one of the few times in the match where he was able to outplay Polugaevsky in the opening. In the 1977 encounter, the latter lost the first and third games largely due to trusting current opening theory too much.

This was, by the way, the third straight time Polugaevsky made the Candidates--and it also turned out to be the last time.

Premium Chessgames Member
  perfidious: For Polugaevsky, aged forty-six in 1980, that is not at all surprising; for it was in only in this and succeeding cycles that members of the younger generation (the chief exception being the reigning champion) began to assert themselves in concerted fashion at that level.

It is true that Robert Huebner had made his Candidates debut as early as 1971, but his psychological frailties proved ruinous to any hope he ever had of success at this august level, in contrast to the physically frail-appearing Karpov, whose bottomless well of determination saw him home in many a gruelling contest.

Jun-17-14  Howard: Not so sure that one would agree with that assessment.....for one thing in the 1982 interzonal that Polugaevsky took part in (By the way, this was the first cycle in which there were THREE interzonals.), he missed the Candidates by just one point. Not only that, a certain individual by the name of Smyslov made the Candidates in '82, at the ripe old age of 61 !

The ever-consistent Portisch also qualified in '82, and he was only three years younger than Polugaevsky.

Granted, Petrosian didn't make the Candidates in that cycle, and this was the first time in THIRTY years that he was not either a Candidate or the reigning world champion. Thus, that adds a bit of weight to your position.

On a final point, a certain 19-year-old in the Moscow interzonal, in 1982, did make the Candidates---so perhaps the younger generation was starting to displace the old guard by that point.

Premium Chessgames Member
  perfidious: <Howard> Have you forgotten Adorjan, who defeated his compatriot Ribli in a playoff, from the same cycle? This result was a fact, not an opinion.
Jan-22-16  Olavi: The introduction is wrong about the final game. 8...Ne6 was well known since the 1930s. Averbakh vs Bondarevsky, 1946 Sokolsky vs A Budo, 1938
but there are others, not in this database. The 'bombshell' was the new evaluation of the position.
Jan-22-16  falso contacto: Great story, anyway.
Premium Chessgames Member
  offramp: Here is quite a good What if...?, at least I think it is quite good because it is quite feasible.

What if Polugaevsky had read the Clarin, and thereby won game 14? he would have won this match and it would have been him, not Korchnoi, that played Robert Huebner in the Candidates' Final of 1980.

How would Polugaevsky have fared against Robert Huebner?

Chessgames says: "Classical games: Lev Polugaevsky beat Robert Huebner 3 to 0, with 6 draws." But one of those wins was from 1969.

Still, there are strong grounds to think that Lev Polugaevsky would have won that final against Huebner. How would he have done against Karpov in 1981?

Probably not very well. Korchnoi was world number 2 and he was beaten badly: 6-2. Chessgames says: "Anatoly Karpov beat Lev Polugaevsky 5 to 0, with 19 draws" overall.

Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: <What if Polugaevsky had read the Clarin, and thereby won game 14?>

Reading <Clarin> would not have caused Polugaevsky to win game 14, unless Larsen gave a forced win in his analysis.

May-15-17  Nerwal: In one of his books Polugaevsky claimed that he was reading Clarin but forgot to check it the morning before game 14 because he was obsessed with analysis of game 13. This explanation sounds very weak; why did he even bother with game 13 (a rather dull game by the way) when he had to create something in the next games to avoid losing by tie-break rules.
May-16-17  Petrosianic: <he had to create something in the next games to avoid losing by tie-break rules.>

This was only the first 2-game tiebreaker. There was still another one to come if Game 14 was drawn.

Premium Chessgames Member
  Fusilli: I saw some of the games of this match live. They played inside a glass box on a theater's stage.

Nice memories.

May-16-17  Nerwal: <This was only the first 2-game tiebreaker. There was still another one to come if Game 14 was drawn.>

Therefore "in the next games" was correct.

May-16-17  Petrosianic: Yeah, but not the VERY next game. Which means that he had every reason in the world to be studying Game 13 if it might come up again in the match. He was wrong to be looking ahead, of course, but that's another issue.
May-16-17  Howard: Karpov may have beaten Polugaevsky five times in tournament play, but there was something rather fishy (to put it mildly!) about his "win" over him at Tilburg 1983.

Those of you who want more info can kindly go to that game on

May-16-17  Nerwal: <Yeah, but not the VERY next game. Which means that he had every reason in the world to be studying Game 13 if it might come up again in the match. He was wrong to be looking ahead, of course, but that's another issue.>

We may agree that he was wrong by preparing game 15 ahead and then playing sharp in game 14 without proper preparation. Overall he had potentially two white games left, he had never lost as Black, all the wins and losses happened in the match when he held the white pieces. Polugaevsky wrote in his book that during game 14 he thought for a bit about playing the more drawish 6. ♗b5+ but rejected it. He probably sensed then that after drawing game 14 he would be in a much tougher spot than before, he would have not to lose as Black in game 15 and then probably win on command game 16 which is the unpleasant situation he already faced in game 12. This means it made the most sense to prepare to fight seriously in game 14 and forget game 13 for the time being.

May-16-17  Howard: Uhh...just which book of Polu's are you referring to ?
May-16-17  Nerwal: <Uhh...just which book of Polu's are you referring to ?>

Shortly before his death Polugaevsky updated Grandmaster Preparation. I haven't read the english version, it seems it's called Grandmaster Achievement.

May-16-17  Petrosianic: <Howard: Karpov may have beaten Polugaevsky five times in tournament play, but there was something rather fishy (to put it mildly!) about his "win" over him at Tilburg 1983.>

If you're not sure what it is, probably best not to cast aspirins. If you've ever lived overseas, you know people find a lot of Fischer's wins to be fishy too. Americans are always flabbergasted to hear that other countries have conspiracy theories too.

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