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Korchnoi - Petrosian Candidates Semifinal 1974
Compiled by Tabanus

Petrosian qualified for this match from the Petrosian - Portisch Candidates Quarterfinal (1974), and Korchnoi qualified from the Korchnoi - Mecking Candidates Quarterfinal (1974). The other semifinal match was the Karpov - Spassky Candidates Semifinal (1974). In both semifinals, victory would go to the player who first won four games, or to the one in the lead after 20 games. (1) If tied at 10-10, the outcome would be decided by the drawing of lots. (2) The matches were held in order to select a challenger for Robert James Fischer, the world champion.

Korchnoi and Petrosian were not the best of friends. The two fell out when Korchnoi refused to go to Buenos Aires to second Petrosian at the Fischer - Petrosian Candidates Final (1971). He had argued that it was not always pleasant to look at Petrosian's play, and even more so, to bear responsibility for it. (3) According to rumors, Korchnoi had been far more expressive: "When I see what disgusting and vile moves Petrosian makes, I can not be his second". (4) As for the present match, Korchnoi did not want to repeat his mistake at the Petrosian - Korchnoi Candidates Semifinal (1971) by playing it in Moscow, where "Petrosian lives like a prince, with all conceivable comforts, whereas I would have had to take refuge in a hotel, with the usual poor Soviet service. On our joint agreement, the match was arranged to be held in Odessa". (5) The venue was the "October Revolution Hall of the Ukrainian Music and Drama Theatre", (2) which could seat over 1100 people. The Black Sea Shipping Company accommodated guests in a superb hotel in the city, and the Director of this hotel proposed to settle the grandmasters in its suites, one on the second floor and the other on the third. But this proposal was abandoned: the suites were one above the other, so that the 'lower' participant could complain that the 'upper' disturbed him. Eventually, the two settled in different wings of the same floor. (4)

Since 1946, Korchnoi and Petrosian had played 41 games, with +7 -4 =30 to Petrosian. (2) Based on this and their previous match, it was expected that the two would battle to the limit of 20 games. (6) A poll organized by a newspaper in Odessa questioned - how many draws? Some thought 16, others 18. (2) Petrosian had before the match been bed-ridden with pneumonia. (2) Recently recovered from lung inflammation, he was not in his best form. (7) According to Korchnoi, Petrosian prepared for the match in collaboration with Anatoly Karpov, (6) who was also sick and had to postpone (by two days) his semifinal (that started at the same time). Korchnoi's helpers in Odessa were Viacheslav Osnos (7) and Mikhail S Tseitlin. (8) The match was officially opened on 11 April, in the October Revolution Hall. (2) The chief arbiter, Boris Krapil of Moscow (an International Arbiter since 1965), had no idea of the difficult task awaiting him. (2)

Game 1 (12 April) was an English (A17), with Nf3/e4/d3 and b6/Bb7. Have a look: Korchnoi (who is White) says that he played calmly and got better chances, (6) whereas Bozidar Kazic writes that from the very beginning, he set out on the attack, played to win at any cost, and that this aggressiveness seemed to confuse his opponent. (2) Here it can be mentioned that Petrosian had already been World Champion (1963-1969), but that Korchnoi was determined to become one. About an hour before the time control, a dispute arose. Petrosian had acquired a habit of shaking his legs under the table, (4, 6) and now they were seated in an old theatre, on a rotatable stage. The table was quivering. Korchnoi felt disturbed, but instead of notifying the arbiter, he complained to his opponent: "It's impossible to play like this; shall we sit at separate tables?" Petrosian stopped moving his legs. He made mistakes and came under an attack. In the end, he overlooked a mate in one. (6) "When ... I announced mate and he still saw nothing, then I understood he was exhausted." (9) After the game, Petrosian wrote a statement about Korchnoi's behavior. (6)

Game 2 (14 April) was drawn after about four hours. (6) Korchnoi could win a pawn (by 31...Qb6 and 32...Bxb4), but did not play on. Game 3 (16 April) repeated the opening of Game 1, until a prepared Korchnoi played 5.Qe2 (instead of 5.d3). The pawn sac that soon followed had been planned the day before, by him and Osnos. (7) He set up pressure, won back the pawn, and exchanged the queens to go into an ending with a pawn up. "Without difficulty I broke the bemused Petrosian's resistance". (8) Game 4 (22 April), originally scheduled for 19 April, had been postponed by Petrosian (who was sick again). (10) From a symmetrical opening, Korchnoi was unable to equalize. "During the time scramble I found it difficult to sit at the table. Petrosian was rocking it". Korchnoi protested to the arbiter, and wrote a note after the game "to the effect that, despite repeated requests, Petrosian was continuing to behave in an unsporting manner, and was disturbing my play." In addition, a group of Armenians assembled in the hall "were displaying slogans, and shouting out encouragement to Petrosian, and I asked for something to be done about this too." (8) The score was now 2 : 1.

Game 5 (24 April) was a Sicilian, Marczy Bind. The opening was predicted by Tseitlin, and Korchnoi had studied the position after 15 moves the day before the game began. (8) "Petrosian is better than me in the middle game, but this could not compensate for his opening play". (7) Korchnoi was a little better, and, with the time scramble coming, Petrosian began shaking the table. Korchnoi now felt he was doing this by purpose, and said, "Stop shaking the table, you're disturbing me". Petrosian made out that he hadn't heard. "We're not in a bazaar", he replied. The controller rushed up: "Calm down, calm down". Petrosian seated himself more comfortably, but again began shaking the table. (8) Then Korchnoi uttered the famous words: This is your last chance! (11) Petrosian may have heard this - he was using a hearing aid, which he sometimes turned off. Anyway, Korchnoi says he now "gained the chance to continue playing, under normal conditions". The game was adjourned with Korchnoi being three pawns up. Korchnoi says Petrosian did not turn up for the resumption, (11) whereas Kazic says he resigned when he saw the sealed move. (2) Perhaps he did turn up, but Korchnoi did not see him.

Game 6 (scheduled for 26 April) was not played. Petrosian wanted the match result annulled, and/or that he should be given a win, because Korchnoi prevented him from playing. He phoned Max Euwe, the FIDE president, and sent a telegram to the Central Committee of the USSR Communist Party. In anticipation of their reply, Korchnoi says he was forced to take a postponement. (11) The newspapers reported that Game 6 was postponed "because Korchnoi was unwell". (12) The game was rescheduled for 29 April, (13) and in the meantime, the dispute was investigated by a committee led by the Mayor of Odessa. From Moscow came the Chairman of the All-Union Controller's Team, and from Leningrad came a representative of the Sports Organization. A meeting was organized. Petrosian demanded an apology from Korchnoi: by speaking to him during the game, he had broken one of the letters of the chess code. "He spoke to me so loudly that people in the hall also heard; he should also apologize in public!" (11) Korchnoi agreed to do this, commenting on Petrosian's alleged role in the organization of demonstrations by persons of Armenian nationality. "Petrosian almost choked with rage. 'That's all', he said. 'He has insulted me, he has insulted my people. I won't play against him any more.'" (14) In the end, Korchnoi faintheartedly wrote a letter of apology. (14) And after this, the two never talked to each other again. (15)

On Monday 29 April, it was announced that Petrosian was hospitalized with acute kidney disease. (13) The game was postponed again, "because Petrosian was unwell". (16) The following day, he informed the panel of judges that in view of his disease, he could not continue the match. (13) The newspapers reported that he withdrew because of illness. (17) Apparently, Petrosian got a negative response from the Central Committee. (4, 14) But this may not be the case. "The end of the match in Odessa evolved under a certain veil of secrecy, according to some reporters." (2)

Odessa, Soviet Union (Ukraine), 12-24 April 1974

Age Elo* 1 2 3 4 5 1 GM Korchnoi 43 2650 1 1 0 1 3 2 GM Petrosian 44 2640 0 0 1 0 1

Korchnoi advanced to the Karpov - Korchnoi Candidates Final (1974). Korchnoi went to Leningrad to see the last game between Karpov and Boris Spassky, (2) and the four semifinalists next participated in the 21st Chess Olympiad in Nice (France) (6-30 June 1974) Korchnoi on board 2, and Petrosian on board 4. (18)

*FIDE Rating List July 1973 (

The main sources for this summary of events were: Chess Is My Life by Viktor Korchnoi, Candidates' Matches 1974 ed. by Bozidar Kazic, and the article ГРОСС-СКАНДАЛ by Alexander Galyas. From the latter, only a tiny part was used. Whether these sources can be trusted, or whether the summarizer (User: Tabanus) cited them correctly, is up to the reader to evaluate.


1) Harry Golombek in The Times, 16 April 1974, p. 14, with no mention of what would happen in case of 10-10.

2) Candidates' Matches 1974 by Mikhail Botvinnik, Aleksandar Matanovic, Bozidar Kazic and Mikhail M Yudovich Sr. (ed. by Kazic). Centar za unapredivanje aha/US Chess Federation, Belgrade 1974.

3) Chess Is My Life, by Victor Korchnoi (transl. by Ken Neat). Arco, New York 1978, pp. 79-80.

4) ГРОСС-СКАНДАЛ ('Gross-Scandal'), by Alexander Galyas. Спорт уик-энд ('Sports weekend'), 22 July 2013 ( Said to be originally published 20 July 2013 in Porto-Franco.

5) Chess Is My Life, p. 98.

6) Chess Is My Life, p. 99.

7) Tidskrift fr Schack, June/July 1974, p. 130 (

8) Chess Is My Life, p. 100.

9) Tidskrift fr Schack, June/July 1974, p. 131.

10) The Times, 20 April 1974, p. 4; Jan Hein Donner in De Tijd, 20 April 1974, p. 7 ( ).

11) Chess Is My Life, p. 101.

12) The Times, 27 April 1974, p. 6; De Telegraaf, 27 April 1974, p. 37.

13) Boris Krapil in 64, No. 15/1990, as quoted in online version of Antishahmaty by Viktor Korchnoi (

14) Chess Is My Life, p. 102.

15) Шахматы без пощады ('Chess without mercy'), by Viktor Korchnoi. Moscow 2006, p. 121.

16) The Times, 30 April 1974, p. 18.

17) The Times, 1 May 1974, p. 8; De Telegraaf, 1 May 1974, p. 19.

18) OlimpBase (

Original collections:Game Collection: WCC Index (Korchnoi-Petrosian 1974) by User: Hesam7, Game Collection: Korchnoi - Petrosian Candidates Semifinal 1974 by User: WCC Editing Project, and Game Collection: Korchnoi - Petrosian Candidates Semifinal 1974 by User: Tabanus. Game dates are from Dutch and American newspapers and The Times. Thanks to User: zanzibar and User: hemy for helping to improve the text.

Korchnoi vs Petrosian, 1974 
(A17) English, 36 moves, 1-0

Petrosian vs Korchnoi, 1974
(D03) Torre Attack (Tartakower Variation), 31 moves, 1/2-1/2

Korchnoi vs Petrosian, 1974 
(A17) English, 51 moves, 1-0

Petrosian vs Korchnoi, 1974 
(D79) Neo-Grunfeld, 6.O-O, Main line, 39 moves, 1-0

Korchnoi vs Petrosian, 1974 
(B39) Sicilian, Accelerated Fianchetto, Breyer Variation, 43 moves, 1-0

5 games

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