This match would finally decide who would be the challenger to the World Champion, Anatoly Karpov. Korchnoi had qualified from the Korchnoi - Spassky Candidates Final (1977/78), the Korchnoi - Petrosian Candidates Quarterfinal (1980), and the Korchnoi - Polugaevsky Candidates Semifinal (1980). Hübner had qualified from Lucerne (1979), the Rio de Janeiro Interzonal (1979), Hübner - Adorjan Candidates Quarterfinal (1980) and the Hübner - Portisch Candidates Semifinal (1980). The winner would be best of 16 games1 or the first to get 8,5 points. The 49-year-old Korchnoi had not played in a tournament since the semifinal in August, whereas the 32-year-old Hübner had played in Tilburg Interpolis (1980) in September.
"In fact Korchnoi is labouring under a novel handicap in this match. For the first time in this series he is playing against an opponent whom he does not hate - and I am quoting his own words" elaborated Harry Golombek in The Times.2 The other handicaps were supposed to be his age, and a tendency to end up in Zeitnot.3 To help with preparations before and during the match, Korchnoi had hired Yasser Seirawan and Michael Francis Stean as his seconds.4, 5 Hübner's seconds were Vlastimil Hort, William E Martz and Gudmundur Sigurjonsson, and the chess patron Wilfried Hilgert6 was team leader.7, 8 Palace Hotel9 in Merano (Italy) became the venue, with 600 spectators every day1. Both players declared to be delighted with the organization10 (on a press conference on the day of game 10), and agreed that here they would like to meet Karpov.1 The arbiter was Henk Folkers.11 Prize money pot: 110.000 Swiss francs or about 64.000 dollars.12
After six games Hübner was leading by one point, but in game 7 he made a huge blunder, and he also lost game 8. Now Korchnoi was leading by one point. Game 9 was scheduled for 4 January but Hübner asked for postponement.13 The game started 6 January instead, and was adjourned. Game 10 started 7 January, and was also adjourned. Now Hübner asked for postponement of the two adjourned games till Monday 12 January. Meanwhile, games 11 and 12 were scheduled for 10 and 11 January.14 But, on 8 January, something must have happened. Hübner left Merano on 9 January in the morning. Korchnoi was informed about this at breakfast,7 whereas Folkers got a letter.15 On a press conference at 6 pm, Hilgert informed that Hübner had abandoned the match.1
Observers in Merano suggested that a difference of opinion between Hübner and his two seconds had been the cause of his resignment.16 This was not the case. Rather there was a dispute between team leaders, with pressure from the media. Korchnoi's manager Alban Brodbeck had called Hilgert a liar and a "highwayman" (Google translate!), and Hilgert said similar about Brodbeck, that he could not believe this man wanted a fair fight.17 Hilgert's wife would not greet Korchnoi's secretary.18 And so on.. Worse still, the weekly magazine Der Spiegel had printed an awful article (in late December) which contained comments on how Korchnoi would "rot in poverty" and described how Hübner gently stroked his beard "with his girly hands".19 Hübner was shocked, and not interested in any of this. Hilgert said to Spiegel-reporter Gisbert Jacoby (who did not write the article) that he now had Hübner on his conscience.18 A reason perhaps why a fifth Spiegel-report also appeared: an interview of Hübner by Werner Harenberg and Jacoby, with title Not like a monkey in the zoo.20
Palace Hotel, Merano 20 Dec. 1980 - 7 Jan. 1981
Korchnoi advanced to the Karpov - Korchnoi World Championship Match (1981).
Elo 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 Pts
1 GM Korchnoi 2695 0 1 ½ 0 ½ ½ 1 1 * * 4½
2 GM Hübner 2600 1 0 ½ 1 ½ ½ 0 0 * * 3½
Further reading: Hübner Kortschnoi Finale in Meran Warum gab Hübner auf? by Ludek Pachman (Rau, Düsseldorf 1981. 125 p.). Dates are from Dutch newspapers at http://kranten.delpher.nl/. Hübner did not want to play during Christmas and had asked FIDE president Fridrik Olafsson for postponement of the match till January.17 When this was rejected, Hilgert requested play on holidays, so that Korchnoi could not rest in Switzerland while Hübner had to stay in the hotel.17
1) Tidskrift för Schack vol. 87 (1981) p. 2. 2) The Times 11 October 1980 p. 10. 3) Tidskrift för Schack vol. 86 (1980) p. 210. 4) El País (Madrid) 26 December 1980: http://elpais.com/diario/1980/12/26.... 5) Wolfram Runkel in Die Zeit 16 January 1981: http://www.zeit.de/1981/04/die-heim.... 6) Wikipedia article: Wilfried Hilgert. 7) Der Spiegel 3/1981 p. 88: http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/print.... 8) Het Vrije Volk 10 January 1981 p. 12. 9) http://luxurytraveldigest.com/wp-co.... 10) Het Vrije Volk 8 January 1981 p. 17. 11) Het Vrije Volk 9 January 1981 p. 9. 12) Mobile Register 7 December 1980 p. 113. 13) Leeuwarder Courant 5 January 1981 p. 22. 14) Het Vrije Volk 9 January 1981 p. 9. 15) Alexander Jongsma in De Telegraaf 10 January 1981 p. 37. 16) Het Vrije Volk 10 January 1981 p. 12. 17) Der Spiegel 52/1980 pp. 159-160, 164: http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/print.... 18) Der Spiegel 4/1981 pp. 86-87: http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/print.... 19) Der Spiegel 53/1980 pp. 75-76: http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/print.... 20) Der Spiegel 5/1981 pp. 152-158: http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/print....
Original collections: Game Collection: WCC Index (Korchnoi-Huebner 1980) by User: nescio2, Game Collection: 0 by User: TheFocus, Game Collection: Korchnoi - Hübner Candidates Final 1980/81 by User: Tabanus. Thanks to User: zanzibar for improving the English.