Played in Moscow, USSR, 4-28 July 1971. (1) Yakov Geraisimovich Rokhlin was the arbiter. (2)
Korchnoi had beaten Efim Geller in the Korchnoi - Geller Candidates Quarterfinal (1971), whilst Petrosian had scored six draws and one win when his opponent Robert Huebner retired from their Petrosian - Hübner Candidates Quarterfinal (1971) match blaming "nervous stress" due to the noisy conditions of the playing hall. (3)
The July 1971 rating list had Petrosian at 2640 and Korchnoi at 2670 Elo. Ahead of them were Boris Spassky (2690) and Robert James Fischer (2760). According to Chessbase’s "Big Database", Petrosian and Korchnoi had played each other 26 times since their first tournament game in 1946, and their personal score stood at +6 -3 =17 in Petrosian’s favour. In terms of age, Korchnoi (40) was slightly younger than Petrosian, who turned 42 during the match. A comparison of their records from 1964 until this match using Chessbase’s "Big Database" is revealing. Both had played opponents at a similar level. Petrosian had played 208 games, scoring 70.2% (+94 =104 -10). He lost only 10 games, but 50% of his games ended as a draw. Korchnoi had many more decisive games, as he had played 213 games whilst only having 21% draws, scoring 79.8% (+148 =44 -21).
The psychology of the contestants
"The real suspense revolves round the outcome of the match between Victor Korchnoi and Tigran Petrosian. These two Soviet players provide a complete contrast in style. Korchnoi is sharp and combinative with a sure killer instinct in tactical situations. Petrosian ... is probably the best positional player alive. And he's got cold steel wires where other people have nerves. I think that Petrosian's greater experience and more solid play is going to tell against Korchnoi." (4)
According to Spassky, who played two world championship matches against Petrosian, "he is a unique match pugilist. His forte is that he is almost uncatchable – he tries to keep his opponent at his own distance, so that at the convenient moment he will be able to take resolute action ... he is a tiger getting ready to pounce on his victim ... in matches draws cannot affect the outcome ... therefore such a style as Petrosian is much more dangerous in matches." (5)
Spassky noted that "Petrosian strives to attack only when the positon is in his favour." (6) Spassky also knew Korchnoi well: "Korchnoi can be described as a searching chess player .. more a destroyer of the other player’s plans and positons than a creator .. (he) has a tendency not to trust his intuition; rather, he relies on cold hard calculation .. more a tournament player than a match player .. Petrosian is a tough opponent for Korchnoi. After all, during the course of the struggle Korchnoi has to be able to discover his opponent’s plan in order to begin "destroying it". But Petrosian’s style is often based on waiting, manoeuvring “semi-tones"." (7)
Petrosian’s game plan
Petrosian followed a distinct plan for playing in these newly introduced Candidates matches. He did not seek to force the pace of the match; his watchword was "safety first". He had been true to this cautious philosophy over his career. "There are some people who consider me to be over cautious during a game .. I try to avoid chance. Those who rely on chance should play cards or roulette .." (8)
".... Petrosian's penchant for draws which kept him from accumulating enough points to come out ahead in the tournaments. But in match play, drawing can be made to pay off. Petrosian keeps playing for draws until he finds a slight advantage then he goes all out for the win. If he succeeds, all he needs to do is go on playing for more draws to stay ahead. This is how he gained the title from Botvinnik and how he staved off Spassky's first challenge in 1966. And in the current Candidates' series he beat Huebner of West Germany in the quarter finals with six draws and a win, and then went on to beat Korchnoi in the semi-finals with nine draws and a win." (9)
Accordingly, Petrosian would take an early draw with White if necessary, and would bide his time until his opponent made a serious mistake, either from miscalculation or impatience. As a result, he had been criticised - even in the Soviet press - for a propensity to take a draw. This had tarnished his world championship title as he had failed to dominate tournaments and regularly take the first prizes that the public expected of their champions. His significant achievements were often overlooked by a public who wanted simple spectacle. Yet, reviewing Petrosian’s results after winning the world championship (in 1963), only one can be said to have been conspicuously poor – his twelfth place at Moscow (1967). He had retained his crown in 1966, and he had come equal first in the USSR Championship (1969) and then went on to beat Lev Polugaevsky in the playoff.
The progress of the match
*Unofficial FIDE Rating List July 1971 (http://www.olimpbase.org/Elo/Elo197...).
Elo* 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0
GM Petrosian 2640 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 5½
GM Korchnoi 2670 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ 4½
Korchnoi lost the match psychologically before he was behind in the actual score. Chess magazine described the match as the "Methodical neutralisation" of Korchnoi. (10) Spassky stated that through his strategy "Petrosian was true to himself". (7) Korchnoi felt disadvantaged by playing in his opponent’s home town. "I should have never agreed to play in Moscow." (11) Petrosian had lived in Moscow for many years, and enjoyed support both from Muscovites and a substantial Armenian population. "Unfortunately, I was badly prepared psychologically for the match. In the discussions regarding the stagings of the match, I was under Petrosian’s thumb, and accepted the conditions. From the chess point of view I was prepared to the teeth." (12)
"A man who can deny Korchnoi any real semblance of advantage throughout a ten game match is himself a fearful prospect." (13)
Game 1. A careful cautious draw, Petrosian played without significant ambition as White.
Game 2. Korchnoi had the advantage out of the opening which Petrosian played passively (he was "on the carpet" according to Spassky (7)), but Korchnoi then played indecisively and had to settle for a draw.
Game 3. A quiet game with Petrosian trying a reversed Indian but gaining no advantage.
Game 4. Spassky regarded this as the turning point of the match. Petrosian repeated his defence of the second game and once again Korchnoi obtained a promising position. Only to again fail to find a convincing plan - draw. Korchnoi also wrote that "This was the turning point of the match". (14) "From the psychological point of view, Korchnoi now found himself in a tough spot. His misfires in the second and fourth games gave Petrosian confidence." (15) Petrosian now had the initiative, and he played short draws in Games 5 and 7. This heightened the nervous tension affecting Korchnoi who was striving to catch up but was unable to translate his preparation into an effective advantage in the way he had so successfully done in his match against Geller.
Game 5. Petrosian is White, draw in 15 moves.
Game 6. Korchnoi failed to achieve any advantage, and the game was drawn after 42 moves.
Game 7. Petrosian is White, draw in 13 moves.
Game 8. Korchnoi is White, and offers a draw in 16 moves. Was he despondent with his inability to press any advantage against his opponent? If so, he girded himself for the next game, but he had squandered the White pieces.
Game 9. "This game isn’t going to be drawn" (Korchnoi). (16) Korchnoi was aware that the audience reacted negatively to the draws, and was affected by this. Petrosian achieved a position he enjoyed from an unambitious opening, and strategically outplayed Korchnoi. Korchnoi came forward on the K-side but according to Spassky he "ha(d) no plan" and did "not coordinat(e) his moves as a single entity." (17) Petrosian exploited white squared weakness around his opponent’s king and won in grand positional style.
Game 10. Drawn with Petrosian as Black having an appreciable advantage.
Was the matched rigged by the Soviet authorities?
There can be no doubt that the Soviet Sports Committee was dedicated to retaining the world championship title in Soviet hands. It was a prestigious token with a distinct propaganda value, as evidence of the superiority of Soviet culture. The listless nature of the match led to speculation that the matter of who was to represent the Soviet Union against Fischer was being decided away from the board.
Anatoly Karpov apparently thought the match had been rigged. In his autobiography (1992), he wrote: "It was already clear that whoever won would have to face Fischer, who was swiftly ascending to the chess throne .. our Sports Committee decided that that it was better to stop him on his march. Petrosian and Korchnoi were summoned and bluntly asked which of them had the greater chance against Fischer. Korchnoi replied that in the "Fischer age" almost no one had a chance, but Petrosian said that he believed in himself. At that Korchnoi was asked to throw the match to Petrosian, in compensation for which he would be sent to the three biggest international tournaments (for a Soviet chess player at that time this was a regal present) ... No documents exist to substantiate this plot. But the mediocrity of Korchnoi's play and the fact that, considering his bitter nature, after he lost to Petrosian he remained on good terms with him implies that Korchnoi let Petrosian win." (18)
There has never been any admission that such bureaucratic interference took place nor has any evidence been found to corroborate the match being rigged. Instead, there is only unsupported speculation and this is no proof. In the absence of any real evidence to the contrary, Korchnoi’s conclusion that both players played the match in good faith cannot be challenged: "The match turned out be highly tedious; we played eight draws in a row! .... People joked that neither of us wanted to win the match, and then meet Fischer. In the West many were thinking the same way, being unable to believe that the match was being played seriously. And only those who knew me well realized that I was trying very hard, but that my play was not coming off. I was most upset when, in the heat of the moment, I overreached myself, and lost ... the ninth game." (14)
Petrosian advanced to the Fischer - Petrosian Candidates Final (1971). Korchnoi was seeded into the Leningrad Interzonal (1973).
1) Gino Di Felice, Chess Results, 1971-1974, p. 89.
2) Het Vrije Volk, 7 June 1971, Sports page.
3) Chess, vol. 36, no. 629-30, June 1971, p. 294.
4) George Stern in The Canberra Times, Wednesday 9 June 1971, p. 24.
5) Spassky, Chess Life and Review, September 1971, p. 493.
6) Spassky, Chess Life and Review, September 1971, p. 495.
7) Spassky, Chess Life and Review, November 1971, p. 625.
8) Petrosian, The Match of the Century, pp. 80-81.
9) Stern in The Canberra Times, Wednesday 1 September 1971, p. 23.
10) Chess, vol. 36, no. 633-4, September 1971, p. 359.
11) Korchnoi quoted in Chess, vol. 36, no. 633-4, September 1971, p. 357.
12) Korchnoi, Chess Is My Life, p. 78.
13) Chess, vol. 36, no. 631-2, August 1971, p. 325.
14) Korchnoi, Chess Is My Life, p. 79.
15) Spassky, Chess Life and Review, November 1971, p. 626.
16) Chess, vol. 36, no. 633-4, September 1971, p. 360.
17) Spassky, Chess Life and Review, November 1971, p. 627.
18) Karpov, Karpov on Karpov: Memoirs of a Chess World Champion, p. 114.
Original collection: Game Collection: Petrosian - Korchnoi Candidates Semifinal 1971 by User: Tabanus. The introduction was written by User: Chessical and edited by User: Tabanus. Game dates are from Dutch newspapers at http://www.delpher.nl/nl/kranten/. Thanks to User: OhioChessFan for improving the English.