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Petrosian - Korchnoi Candidates Semifinal Match

Tigran V Petrosian5.5/10(+1 -0 =9)[games]
Viktor Korchnoi4.5/10(+0 -1 =9)[games] Chess Event Description
Petrosian - Korchnoi Candidates Semifinal (1971)

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 contestants

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 the 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 result 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

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

*Unofficial FIDE Rating List July 1971 (

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 the 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 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. From an unambitious opening, Petrosian achieved a position he enjoyed, 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 retain 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 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 Thanks to User: OhioChessFan for improving the English.

 page 1 of 1; 10 games  PGN Download 
Game  ResultMoves YearEvent/LocaleOpening
1. Petrosian vs Korchnoi ½-½351971Petrosian - Korchnoi Candidates SemifinalE34 Nimzo-Indian, Classical, Noa Variation
2. Korchnoi vs Petrosian ½-½371971Petrosian - Korchnoi Candidates SemifinalE11 Bogo-Indian Defense
3. Petrosian vs Korchnoi ½-½271971Petrosian - Korchnoi Candidates SemifinalA09 Reti Opening
4. Korchnoi vs Petrosian ½-½661971Petrosian - Korchnoi Candidates SemifinalE11 Bogo-Indian Defense
5. Petrosian vs Korchnoi ½-½151971Petrosian - Korchnoi Candidates SemifinalD32 Queen's Gambit Declined, Tarrasch
6. Korchnoi vs Petrosian ½-½421971Petrosian - Korchnoi Candidates SemifinalE17 Queen's Indian
7. Petrosian vs Korchnoi ½-½131971Petrosian - Korchnoi Candidates SemifinalA08 King's Indian Attack
8. Korchnoi vs Petrosian ½-½161971Petrosian - Korchnoi Candidates SemifinalE15 Queen's Indian
9. Petrosian vs Korchnoi 1-0411971Petrosian - Korchnoi Candidates SemifinalA20 English
10. Korchnoi vs Petrosian ½-½401971Petrosian - Korchnoi Candidates SemifinalE02 Catalan, Open, 5.Qa4
  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
  thegoodanarchist: <offramp:

Nothing was deleted>

Ah, excellent. Thank you for pointing that out - obviously I didn't pay close attention earlier.

So I ask you, who would know best if this was a practice of the Soviets? The golden boy of the Soviet system, of course, who witnessed it throughout his career and lived in the midst of it, even benefiting from it at times. In other words, the same way any sports player playing in a game knows better than spectators how good or bad the referee is at his job.

It was seen from the 1940s that Soviet players tended to make easy draws amongst themselves at international tournaments, and save their fighting energy for the international players. So clearly Soviet chess authorities were <systematically> trying to effect the outcomes of chess events through what I shall politely call "less than sporting" tactics. And Soviet players participated, either willingly or because of fear.

Why did Fine decline to play in the 1948 WC tournament? Why, in fact, did Fischer push so hard for FIDE to have candidates <matches> instead of <tournaments>? And why did FIDE ultimately go in this direction?

International players saw it up close, and for generations. Keres or maybe Bronstein was reported to have remarked that if Botvinnik didn't win some big tournament that he must not be the cause, he was told. We have accounts of the corruption from others as well, like GM Alburt.

You want ironclad proof of cheating in documents? Probably people practicing corruption are loath to document it in writing - why do you think that is?

The Soviet system was forged in the crucible of Stalin's paranoia. Those in power lied and murdered to get what they wanted. You think pressuring a GM to lose a match is a step too far for people like that?

Aug-28-16  Lt.Surena: Why did Fine decline to play in the 1948 WC tournament?

Because Fine was a COWARD like Fischer.
Fine came up with several different excuses over the years. The same way Bobby tried to pin the blame for his 7 losses in Curacao on others.

It's an old phenomena in the USA. We are not to be blamed for our ill behvaior. Others are responsible for our failures.

Bobby quickly forgot how he "qualified"
to play in 1970 Interzonal (part of 1972 World Championship).

The answer is Bobby never qualified. Benko was paid off under the table to give his seat to Bobby. The gangsters at USCF arranged it. 5 other players who were eligible ahead of Bobby were also told to get lost by scammers at USCF. The head of FIDE (Euwe) was also in the scam. All perpetrated out in the open.

Premium Chessgames Member
  thegoodanarchist: And another America hater shows up to spout his venom, and also to project his own way of thinking onto others.

Good thing you can read minds and know how Fine and Fischer thought. Oh, wait... no, you cannot.

Premium Chessgames Member
  perfidious: <Lt.Surena....Because Fine was a COWARD like Fischer. Fine came up with several different excuses over the years. The same way Bobby tried to pin the blame for his 7 losses in Curacao on others.....>

Do you <ever> do anything but idolise Petrosian and slag Fischer and Fine? One hundred sixteen posts to your 'credit' and they are tripe, almost every one.

Aug-28-16  Nina Myers: <perfidious: <Lt.Surena....Because Fine was a COWARD like Fischer. Fine came up with several different excuses over the years. The same way Bobby tried to pin the blame for his 7 losses in Curacao on others.....>>

When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.

Premium Chessgames Member
  perfidious: <Nimrod Moron: When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.>

Stick to compiling your catalogue of defeats inflicted upon Wesley So--you are hopelessly out of your depth here.

Sep-01-16  Nina Myers: <Why did Fine decline to play in the 1948 WC tournament? Because Fine was a COWARD like Fischer.
Fine came up with several different excuses over the years. The same way Bobby tried to pin the blame for his 7 losses in Curacao on others.

It's an old phenomena in the USA. We are not to be blamed for our ill behvaior. Others are responsible for our failures.

Bobby quickly forgot how he "qualified"
to play in 1970 Interzonal (part of 1972 World Championship).

The answer is Bobby never qualified. Benko was paid off under the table to give his seat to Bobby. The gangsters at USCF arranged it. 5 other players who were eligible ahead of Bobby were also told to get lost by scammers at USCF. The head of FIDE (Euwe) was also in the scam. All perpetrated out in the open.>

imho a fair-minded view, eventually.

Premium Chessgames Member
  HeMateMe: The reason that some idiot, above, thinks Fischer didn't qualify isn't for lack of results. He simply didn't play in the USA championships, a zonal tournament.

BF had won this event 11 straight times and would have won it again. With that in mind, common sense behavior was for one of the top three finishers to give up their place for him.

Sep-01-16  Howard: Fischer won the US Championship eight times, not eleven.
Premium Chessgames Member
  WannaBe: Bobby changed his name to Lev Albert and won it three more times.

Total 11. =))

Sep-01-16  Petrosianic: Oh, Surena knows what he's saying isn't true. He's heard the truth enough times, but seems to feel it's somehow liberating to lie to your face.

As he knows full well, Benko wasn't paid off, and it wouldn't have done any good if he was, because when Benko dropped out the spot went to Lombardy, not Fischer. Lombardy had to drop out too, and all the others in the tournament, all the way down to Dr. Karl Burger, before USCF was allowed to reassign the seat to somebody outside of the Zonal because nobody in the Zonal wanted it. Surena knows that, his attitude is always "If I close my eyes, it go away!"

Sep-02-16  Howard: It's possible, however, that after Lombardy and Co all conceded the interzonal spot to Fischer, Benko then might have been paid off.

Granted, the controversy over whether Benko was bought off, is a rather beaten-to-death point, in my view. Keep in mind that he made a huge concession when he gave up his spot--a modest payoff might have been only fair.

Sep-02-16  sac 4 mate: Brady's Fischer biography quotes Fischer around the time of the Interzonal saying that Pal Benko "would not give up his spot for money alone," implying that some financial incentive was provided. It's also my understanding that the Interzonal participants from America were nominated by the USCF, not seeded directly from the U.S. Championship by FIDE. While it had always been the case that the USCF nominated the top three finishers from the previous year's U.S. Championship, they apparently were under no explicit legal obligation to do so, nor to pick the fourth or fifth place finisher of that same tournament as a replacement if one of their three nominees withdrew.
Sep-03-16  Howard: The USCF "nominated" the Interzonal participants in 1970 ?! That's certainly news to me! Would FIDE have allowed such a thing--I seriously doubt it.
Sep-03-16  maxi: I forget, why was it that Fischer did not play in the US Championship?
Sep-03-16  sac 4 mate: Officially, he was upset about the length of the tournament - said eleven rounds for a U.S. Championship was too short and left the result too much up to chance.
Sep-03-16  maxi: OK, so if that is the reason and he is afraid of not being able to show his true strength and not classify, then he does not participate (and thus does not classify for sure). Oh my!
Premium Chessgames Member
  HeMateMe: A sign of Fischer's uber paranoia getting worse. The man who had won the event 11-0 one time, complaining that 11 rounds was too short to determine the best player.
Premium Chessgames Member
  beatgiant: <maxi>
The tournament organizers lost Fischer's participation, and still ended up qualifying him after all. Oh my!
Sep-04-16  Sally Simpson: "The answer is Bobby never qualified. Benko was paid off under the table to give his seat to Bobby. The gangsters at USCF arranged it."

The 'gangsters' ran the idea past FIDE and they agreed. It was Benko's idea to give his place to Bobby and Benko was paid over the table.

In his own words:

"The figure $2,000 is sometimes mentioned as the price I was paid for stepping down.

Actually, that fee was paid, but it was for my services as second to Reshevsky and Addison at that tournament - and it is the same amount I would have received as an appearance fee had I actually played."

Chess Life & Review, July 1975

Now of you are looking for a chess federation to point your finger at and vent venom.

How about one actually paying a player from another country to throw a game so their man qualifies.

Taimanov vs Matulovic, 1970

After the 6-0 scudding the Moscow 'gangsters' were going around asking: "Whose idea was it to buy Tamanov in the candidate matches?"

Sep-04-16  N0B0DY: , evidently!
Sep-04-16  Sally Simpson: Taimanov vs Matulovic, 1970 (kibitz #82)
Sep-04-16  maxi: <beatgiant> Could it be that Fischer had seen more moves ahead?
Sep-06-16  Howard: Soltis makes that same point in his book on the US championship, now in its third edition.
Feb-20-21  Allanur: Petrosian narrating about this match, match against Huebner and his pre-tournaments thoughts:
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