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Karpov - Korchnoi Candidates Final Match

Anatoly Karpov12.5/24(+3 -2 =19)[games]
Viktor Korchnoi11.5/24(+2 -3 =19)[games] Chess Event Description
Karpov - Korchnoi Candidates Final (1974)

Karpov qualified from the Karpov - Spassky Candidates Semifinal (1974), and Korchnoi qualified from the Korchnoi - Petrosian Candidates Semifinal (1974). This match between them in effect became a World Championship when Robert James Fischer did not defend his World Champion title the next year (see Karpov - Fischer World Championship Match (1975)). The first of three matches between the players, it followed what would be a familiar pattern: Karpov racing to a seemingly insurmountable three-point lead after 17 games, then fading late and winning by a minimal margin.

Moscow, Soviet Union (Russia), 16 September - 22 November 1974

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 Karpov = 1 = = = 1 = = = = = = = = = = 1 = 0 = 0 = = = 12.5 Korchnoi = 0 = = = 0 = = = = = = = = = = 0 = 1 = 1 = = = 11.5

After Korchnoi won the following Candidates cycle in 1977-78, the Karpov - Korchnoi World Championship (1978) became these adversaries' next encounter in serious play.

Original collection: Game Collection: WCC Index (Korchnoi-Karpov 1974), by User: Suenteus Po. Pictures: and

 page 1 of 1; 4 games  PGN Download 
Game  ResultMoves YearEvent/LocaleOpening
1. Karpov vs Korchnoi 1-0271974Karpov - Korchnoi Candidates FinalB77 Sicilian, Dragon, Yugoslav Attack
2. Karpov vs Korchnoi 1-0311974Karpov - Korchnoi Candidates FinalC42 Petrov Defense
3. Korchnoi vs Karpov 1-0791974Karpov - Korchnoi Candidates FinalA45 Queen's Pawn Game
4. Korchnoi vs Karpov 1-0191974Karpov - Korchnoi Candidates FinalE17 Queen's Indian
  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
  Peligroso Patzer: It is remarkable that there is no prior kibitzing on this page. The match, nominally a Candidates Final, was <de facto> a World Championship match due to Fischer’s default in 1975 (Karpov-Fischer World Championship Match (1975)).

The second game (Karpov vs Korchnoi, 1974) found Karpov well-prepared for Korchnoi’s surprise choice of the Sicilian Dragon. As I recall, Korchnoi was convinced that Karpov’s excellent preparation for an opening that he (Korchnoi) had not employed for many years could only be due to a leak from a mole on his team. The game is featured in Seirawan’s <Winning Chess Brillancies>, Microsoft Press ©1995.

The twenty-first game (Korchnoi vs Karpov, 1974) is perhaps my favorite case-in-point for the thesis that “Chess is a difficult game.” Karpov gets blown off the board in 19 moves! Also of interest in that game is that after <17. … Bxd5> producing this position:

click for larger view

... Korchnoi supposedly requested a ruling from arbiter Alberic O'Kelly de Galway that casting K-side would be legal with the h1-Rook under attack. There are various observations on this point in the thread of comments for the game.

Premium Chessgames Member
  Joshka: <Peligroso Patzer> I find this very plausible that Korchnoi could forget the rules of castling. I recall that for a period of say 6 or 7 years, when I was not involved with chess, I got back into it, and recall trying to castle to get out of check! for it to happen to Korchnoi, it didn't make me feel all that bad when it happened;-)...Oh for what it's worth, I find the logic in NOT castling thru a check, but still do not see the logic in not being allowed to castle while in check, the one rule I wish would be amended.
Premium Chessgames Member
  Benzol: <Peligroso Patzer> <Joshka> Korchnoi has not been the only GM to misunderstand the castling rules. Read about what happened to Averbakh in this game Averbakh vs Purdy, 1960
Apr-06-13  Everett: Bronstein writes quite a bit about this match in Secret Notes. He actually helped Korchnoi to prepare from games 19-21 (+2 =1). Some of the help Korchnoi was supposd to receive mysteriously disappeared once the match started... And just as mysteriously, Korchnoi no longer wanted help from Bronstein, save for long walks and chats not even concerning chess, after game 21.

Bronstein also wrote, when making general suggestions to Korchnoi before the match, that Korchnoi should play the French since Karpov "did not know how to play against the IQP" when he stuck with the Tarrasch 3.Nd2 response.

Apr-07-13  RookFile: The French would make sense. Karpov plays 3. Nd2 and says he's going to grind you down in the endgame. What happens if you're just as tough in the endgame as he is? There are no guarantees, but this approach removes some middlegame terrors for black.
Premium Chessgames Member
  offramp: I believe this match was the first to win 5 games or the best of 24.
Premium Chessgames Member
  offramp: This was an extremely tough match; probably as draining on the players as Petrosian-Botvinnik World Championship Match (1963).

Looking back - it was 40 years ago now - I think that Karpov's victory was even less convincing than it seemed at the time (which was <not very convincing at all>).

Karpov's win in game 2 Karpov vs Korchnoi, 1974 was down almost entirely to home preparation.

The win in game 6 Karpov vs Korchnoi, 1974 was well-played by Karpov, but essentially he sat tight and let Kortschnoi self-destruct.

He went 3-0 up with game 17 Korchnoi vs Karpov, 1974 but it is not a very good game.

Kortchnoi's two wins came after that. Game 19 Korchnoi vs Karpov, 1974 was a really exciting and well-played endgame; both players played to their best ability - Karpov showed how hard he is to beat. Then there was Karpov's famous éboulement in game 21, Korchnoi vs Karpov, 1974, where he was laid waste in 19 moves.

So it was close, at 3-2 with 19 draws, but I think it could have been closer!

Mar-31-14  Petrosianic: <I believe this match was the first to win 5 games or the best of 24.>


<So it was close, at 3-2 with 19 draws, but I think it could have been closer!>

Yeah, it could have been a 12-12 tie. Good thinig it wasn't, because the tiebreak rules for the 1974 series a coin flip.

This was an extremely hard fought match. If you play over the games, you'll see that they <average> almost 50 moves each. In fact, some of the <decisive> games drag the average down (like Game 21, won by Korchnoi in 19 moves)

The biggest repercussion of the match was the draw total. A lot of people didn't bother to play over the games, they just looked at that total; 19 draws!?, and freaked out.

Worst of all, there was a movement, led by Charles Kalme, trying to make the case that all those draws had nothing to do with Karpov and Korchnoi's playing styles or their parity, or anything like that. It was the match conditions that FORCED those draws. Kalme actually had the incredibly unscientific idea that there was a FIXED "Draw Expectation" that was totally determined by match conditions, and was unaffected by playing styles, eras, or anything else. The snake oil solution was that a Pure Wins system had a lower "Draw Expectation", and Pure Wins system and would solve the problem. (he was shilling for Fischer's match conditions, if you hadn't guessed). Kalme genuinely believed that a 10 wins match in 1975 wouldn't go longer than 23 games (because that's how long they went in the 19th century, and the draw expectation doesn't change).

So, the score of this match in 24 games was +3-2=19. Three years later, these same two players played a Pure Wins match; the format that was supposed to guarantee fighting chess. The result after 24 games: +4-2=18. Almost no difference.

Then 7 years later, Karpov-Kasparov I put the final nail in the coffin of the Pure Wins system. In a Pure Wins match, the Kalme crowd couldn't conceive of any other strategy than by going for those wins as quickly as possible. The idea of playing like Kasparov did; hunkering down in the trenches and waiting for the other guy to go over the top, was inconceivable to them. Even when people suggested it, they dismissed it. (No, no, nobody would play like that).

Not everybody was fooled, though. One letter to the editor of Chess Life & Review at the time commented that anybody who thought Karpov was playing differently in this match than he always did is kidding himself.

Premium Chessgames Member
  diceman: <Petrosianic: <I believe this match was the first to win 5 games or the best of 24.>


<So it was close, at 3-2 with 19 draws, but I think it could have been closer!>

Yeah, it could have been a 12-12 tie. Good thinig it wasn't, because the tiebreak rules for the 1974 series a coin flip.>

Yeah, and the tall tale goes, this guy was going to decimate Fischer.

Of course by 1978, Karpov showed his true strength and dominance, along with the wealth of experience he had gained.

Tied 5-5 going into the last round of Baguio City.

Premium Chessgames Member
  diceman: <Petrosianic:
Then 7 years later, Karpov-Kasparov I put the final nail in the coffin of the Pure Wins system. In a Pure Wins match, the Kalme crowd couldn't conceive of any other strategy than by going for those wins as quickly as possible. The idea of playing like Kasparov did; hunkering down in the trenches and waiting for the other guy to go over the top, was inconceivable to them. Even when people suggested it, they dismissed it. (No, no, nobody would play like that).>

Pure wins worked for Fischer.
...but I can see why it would be a challenge for others.

Mar-31-14  Jim Bartle: Good post above, <petrosianic>.
Mar-31-14  Petrosianic: I'm not rebutting Fischer, by the way, I'm rebutting Kalme. The 10 Wins system might very well have been a good system for Fischer. But Kalme's argument was that it was a good system for <EVERYONE>, and would force lots of decisive games no matter who the players were. That's why this article (the longest that Chess Life had ever published) was published 6 months after Karpov became champion, and about a side issue (the match had derailed over 9-9, not over the 10 Wins). But Kalme was pushing hard for a Pure Wins system to be used in future matches (even if Fischer himself wasn't involved in them), because he saw it as a solution to the draw problem. The jury is in. He was very wrong about that.

If you can get a hold of the November 1975 issue of <Chess Life & Review>, you can see Kalme's argument laid out in great detail. There was supposed to be a Part 2 to the article, but it was cancelled without explanation.

Premium Chessgames Member
  offramp: As I have written elsewhere at, I believe Fischer might have won a 1975 match 10-6 with 48 to 52 draws. But if he had gone behind early on then he would have stopped playing for some reason. But he was NEVER going to play in 1975.That's a fact.
Mar-31-14  Petrosianic: With hindsight, it's clear Fischer wasn't going to play. But at the time, there were a lot of people who thought he was only leaving FIDE, not chess. Robert Byrne had a big New Zork Times article about "Fischer's Fear of Losing", which took the "Fischer has left chess" point of view. And there was an article written by (some doctor whose name I can't remember, and whom I never heard of anywhere else), called "To Dare To Be Audaciously Different", which took the view that Fischer was going to defend his title outside of FIDE. (Chess Life & Review meant to publish both articles, but couldn't get the rights to Byrne's).

The view was plausible at the time. Fischer met with Karpov several times, ostensibly to play a match outside of FIDE. According to Karpov, he once got as far as having the contract in front of him, and the pen in his hand. But he backed out every time. The time he backed out with the pen in his hand, it was over the question of what to call the match (seriously).

At the last second, Fischer demanded that it be called "The Professional World Chess Championship". Of course, Karpov couldn't go along with that. The Soviet Federation maintained the fiction that their players weren't pros. Campomanes said to just sign the (blanking?) contract, and they'd agree on a name later, but Fischer wouldn't go along with it.

Premium Chessgames Member
  offramp: I am against the total wins system, although it had advantages for sponsors with very big pockets.

Out of interest, does anyone here have an opinion of what Carlsen - Karjakin World Championship (2016) would have panned out like if it had been the first to, say, 3 wins?
How many games would it have taken?
Who would have won and with what final score?

Dec-08-16  Petrosianic: Well, you've got to remember that in Fischer's time, people thought that the Pure Wins system would force more aggressive play. Charles Kalme even mis-managed and threw out data shamefully to try to argue that a 10 Wins match wouldn't last longer than 23 games because that's how long they lasted in the 19th century. The idea was actually to produce shorter matches, not longer ones. As it turned out, the sponsor with the very big pockets was the Soviet government. I heard they had to cancel three new missile systems as a result of KK-I.
Dec-08-16  Lambda: I don't see any real reason to think either would have played significantly differently in such a match, bar game 12. I think you'd see the same sort of stuff, just more of it, with Carlsen to win 3-2 after, let's say, slightly more than 20 games.
Dec-08-16  Petrosianic: Kalme fooled himself into thinking that Karpov and Korchnoi played differently because the match conditions (Best of 24 or 5 wins) forced them to.

The jury came in 3 years later. In this match, the score was +3-2=19 after 24 games. In their next match, played under a Pure Wins format; the format that guaranteed fighting play, the result after 24 games was +4-2=18. Almost identical. Kalme was nowhere to be found to admit the error, because he was more than just wrong, he juggled his data to reach the wrong conclusion, and simply threw out no less than three entire World Championship matches entirely because they didn't yield the kind of data he wanted from them. A good mathematician doesn't throw away data simply because he doesn't like it.

Dec-08-16  Petrosianic: It wasn't just World Championship matches, either. This Candidates Final is maybe his worst offender. Kalme used it to "prove" that the Wins or Points system guaranteed the least aggressive play of all, and forced the K's to play more cautiously.

But there were 6 other Candidates Matches played in 1974, under the exact same system, and all 6 yielded the exact opposite result. Kalme simply threw out all six matches and drew conclusions from this one that he liked. I'd love to have met Kalme to try to figure out if he was flat out lying, or if he was so partisan that he simply didn't realize that he was doing everything that he as a mathematician had been trained not to do.

Dec-08-16  Howard: Regarding Petrosian's remark from March, 2014, I believe that there WAS a Part 2 to Kalme's article, but it was run in October, 1975---one month before this mammonth article in November.
Dec-08-16  Petrosianic: There was supposed to be a Part 2, but it was cancelled without explanation. It may have been written, but it was never published.
Dec-08-16  Howard: I'm not so sure, by the way, that it's fair to try to draw conclusions from just the first 24 games of the 1978 match, i.e, omitting the remaining eight games. Perhaps Karpov and Korchnoi may have taken into account energy and stamina when agreeing to draw some of those first 24 games.

In other words, God knows how many games the 1978 contest could have ended up taking....especially when you consider the 1984 Moscow Marathon. Both Karpov and Korchnoi may have been thinking in 1978 that trying to squeeze water from stones (i.e, playing on and on in drawn positions) might not have been advisable.

Dec-08-16  Petrosianic: It WOULD be fair if Kalme's premise was correct: That there was a fixed and unalterable "Draw Expectation" percentage that is completely determined by match conditions.

Of course we know that there are lots of other factors that determine the likelihood of a draw. Parity, era, playing styles and so forth. But Kalme denied them all as factors.

Dec-08-16  Howard: No time to reply right now. In the meantime, please check the October, 1975 issue of CL&R. I'll do so myself when I get home.
Dec-08-16  Petrosianic: I think the full article is in the November 1975 issue, but I could be mis-remembering. There might have been a column or two in October as a buildup to the article.
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