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Viktor Korchnoi vs Alexander Tolush
USSR Championship (1952), Moscow URS, rd 13, Dec-17
English Opening: Anglo-Indian Defense. Mikenas-Carls Variation (A15)  ·  1/2-1/2



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Kibitzer's Corner
Jan-29-15  NeverAgain: In the 13th round of the 20th USSR Championship finals (his first) Victor Korchnoi faced Alexander Tolush, an IM a mere year away from his GM title. In 1952 Tolush was already as famous for his fearsome attacking style as Tal would be five years later.

Victor's opening was a solid choice; however, his opponent insisted on the King's Indian Defence. After five moves White saw no point in avoiding it and finally played d4. In response to Black's rather orthodox system of development with ...♘bd7 he prepared a somewhat off-beat setup with ♕c2 and ♖d1. This injected a little venom into White's otherwise insipid opening setup, for had Black continued with a routine 8...c6, he would have found himself a pawn down after 9.dxe5 thanks to the Rook vs. Queen opposition on the d-file. Kasimirych didn't fall for that, of course, and when ...c6 was nevertheless implemented a move later, White found himself steered into the conventional channels and had to play 10.e4. Otherwise Black threatened to play ...e4 himself, now that he could support that advance with ...d5 and, if necessary, ...cxd5.

Two moves later, Tolush himself diverged from the standard KID setup with 11...♕e7, choosing it over the more common ...♕c7 and forcing White to weaken his King's position slightly with 14.f3. Here we can see one drawback to the early deployment of the King's Rook to d1: it cannot help guard the e4 pawn without leaving the d4 Knight hanging.

After 15 moves both sides pretty much completed their development, with White still having to decide what to do with his dark-square Bishop. In contrast to his timid previous play Korchnoi picked an aggressive post for it on f4, eying Black's backward d-pawn. Tolush immediately challenged it with 16...♘h5 and this is where all hell broke loose.

I must admit that in Victor's place I wouldn't stop to think before withdrawing the Bishop, but he didn't even think about it and flung his cavalry forward instead with 17.♘f5. Kasparov remarked in his early days that a Knight on f5 is worth a pawn. Here we have a reverse situation, of sorts: the Knight on f5 secures an *extra* pawn. Well, at least if Black panics and takes the cheeky intruder with the pawn - and take he must, otherwise White will take the d-pawn *and* Black's cherished KID Bishop with it. After 17...gxf5 18.♗xd6 White gets his piece back (18...♕f6 19.♗xc5 ♕xc3 20.♕xc3 ♗xc3 doesn't help Black much - the Bishop on d7 is hanging), he is a pawn to the good and Black's kingside pawns are broken up.

Kasimirych demonstrated that he was up to the challenge and with 17...♗xf5 layed an ambush for the intrepid attacker with the white pieces. Korchnoi went on with his plan: 18.♗xd6 and, with three black pieces (including his Queen) en prise, he must have been confident that he was at least a solid pawn up, when, like a thunderbolt out of a clear blue sky, there followed the spectacular 18...♘xe4!.

If White now takes the Queen, Black forks the white Rooks and exposes the white Queen to a discovered attack by the Bishop on f5; then picks up one of the Rooks and the e7 Bishop: 19.♗xe7? ♘xc3 20.♕f2 ▢ - <20.♕c1??> loses the Queen to another Knight fork, on e2; and on <20.♕b2> or <20.♕d2> Black takes one of the Rooks with tempo - 20...♖xe7 21.♖a1 (or 21.♖bc1) 21...♘xd1 22.♖xd1 c5!

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Black establishes his unopposed DSB on d4 and the white Queen is no match for a Rook and two minor pieces. White doesn't even have time to try to get one of his pieces back with 23.g4 as the skewer threat to his Queen will cost him his last Rook.

Jan-29-15  NeverAgain: Whew, what a detour! Anyway, Korchnoi must have seen at once that the black Queen was tabu and had to settle for the prosaic 19.fxe4, coming out of the whirlwind of complications with an isolated e-pawn. Probably not quite what he planned when playing 17.♘f5, but he must have consoled himself that later on he could advance that pawn at the right moment and cramp Black's position. Because with his next move 19...♕f6 Tolush offered him to exchange off Queens and a pair of minor pieces, and to get rid of the e-pawn in the process - 20.exf5 ♕xc3 21.♕xc3 ♗xc3 22.fxg6 - and the offer was declined. However, when the black Bishop had to beat a retreat, Korchnoi didn't follow up with e5, which indeed promised a clear advantage, and transferred two of his heavy pieces to the f-file instead.

The position became even, but Tolush, apparently not content with mere equilibrium, lashed out with 22...b5, seeking to break up White's queenside and undermind his hold on the center. This operation looked like a success when Korchnoi made an ill-considered pawn push of his own two moves later.

He had a rare opportunity to really mix things up again with 24.bxc6! and force Tolush to tiptoe the tightrope very carefully in order to survive. Black is obliged to pick up the gauntlet and go for the offered exchange, as after <24...♖xc6> he himself would lose the exchange to <25.e5> - if the Rook tries to run away <26.♘e4> attacks the Queen and the Bishop on b3. Now, in reply to 24...♗c4 White could produce a bolt out of the blue of his own - 25.♖d5! forcing Black to find another precise rejoinder, because if Black decides that he has to accept the exchange offer after all, he is lost after <25...♗xd5 26.♘xd5>

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In this position White's monster passed pawn with support from the unopposed light-square Bishop and the Knight will inflict grievous material losses on Black. Note that f7 is hanging, too, so he doesn't have the c-pawn is untouchable: <26...♖xc6 27.♕xf7+ ♔h8 28.♕xe8+> with a mate. Thus Black would have had to find 25...f5 and now it's White's turn to be careful: 26.♖c5 (otherwise either the c3 Knight or the c6 pawn is lost) 26...♗xf1 27.♗xf1 ♗xc3 28.♖xc3 fxe4 and, with a passed pawn of his own, Black can look to the future with confidence.

Heh, another big detour. Back to the game: Korchnoi didn't go for any of that and pushed 24.h4 instead. Tolush replied with a Queens exchange offer, missing a chance to steer the game into a favorable version of the above scenario and win the exchange by force: 24...♕d8 (Δ 25...♗xc3 and 26...♕xd6) 25.e5 ♗c4 26.bxc6 <or 26.♗xc6 ♗xd3 > 26...♗xe5 27.♗xe5 ♕xd3 28.♖d1 ♕f5 and, unlike the previous scenario, Black has kept his light-square bishop.

That didn't happen either and after the exchange of the Queens Tolush met his opponent's further attempts to gain an upper hand with blow-for-blow tactics (27...♘xe5 and 29...♖xc5). He overstepped the mark with 30...♖c1+, though. It was more prudent to play 30...♗xd5 and go into a ending with opposite-colored Bishops where Black's DSB would control the passed b-pawn's queening square.

White didn't fall for 31.♖f1 ♖xf1+ 32.♔xf1 ♗c4, of course. and now Black went completely to pieces with 31...♗c2?. It was not too late to transpose to the above-mentioned opposite-colored Bishop line, even though this version would be much nicer for White. Here Korchnoi could have secured the game with the simple 32.♖d2 and Black cannot meet both threats - 33.♘e7+, winning a Rook and 33.♖c4, winning a Bishop. E.g.: 32.♖d2 ♗f8 33.♖c4 ♗d3 (trying to muddy the waters) 34.♖xc1 ♗xb5 35.♖dc2 ♗d3 36.♘f6+! (more clear-cut than <36.♖c3 ♗e4+ 37.♔f2 ♖xc6 38.♖xc6 ♗xd5 39.♖6c5 ♗xc5+ 40.♖xc5 ♗e6 41.♖xa5>, although here, too, the outcome is not in doubt) 36...♔g7 37.♖c3 ♗f5 38.♘e8+ ♔g8 39.♖e1 and White simply has an extra Rook.

Jan-29-15  NeverAgain: Instead, Korchnoi let this golden opportunity slip away with 32.♘e7+ and then threw away all his advantage with the next move. He could have kept Black under pressure with 33.♖d7 ♖f8 (forced, to avoid a disaster on the seventh rank) 34.♖c4 with play similar to that discussed in the previous paragraph: 34...♗b2 35.a4 ♗f5 36.♖xc1 ♗xd7 37.♖c2 ♗f6 38.♘d5 ♗f5 (an impressive forced series of thrusts and counter-thrusts) 39.♖e2 ♗d4 40.b6

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The material is even, but White has a simple plan:
- advance the pawn to b7
- tie up Black's Rook and DSB to the b8 square
- maneuver the knight via e7 to c6
- this forces its exchange for Black's light-square bishop - that, in turn, eliminates any threat to the passed b-pawn - pick off the a5 pawn while Black is busy guarding b8 - PROFIT!!1

With that chance missed, Korchnoi concentrated on the f7 pawn. This time he is a pawn up for real, although with two pairs of Rooks on the board and Black having the Bishop pair that should not have caused Tolush any cause for serious concern. Nevertheless Kasimirych overreached himself for the last time with 34...♖dd1. He forgot, apparently, that White has a passed pawn, otherwise he would have played 34...♖b1. Here Korchnoi should have simply pushed the passer on its merry way, and its advance combined with Black's back rank weakness would have cost Black at least a piece, but ...

You guessed it: for the last time he let Tolush off the hook and let him exchange off all the Rooks. Perhaps he overlooked that Black's 37th reestablished material parity and left Black with a Bishop pair. However, he still managed to set his opponent one last trap with 38.♘c8: 38...♗xa3? 39.b6 and Black is in trouble yet again. Tolush successfully navigated this last hurdle and, with the time control made, both players were presumably happy to call it a day. Tolush happy to escape with a half-point, Korchnoi - to draw the fearsome Tolush.

Hmm, for a first kibitzing comment ever this turned out much longer (and, I hope, deeper) than I planned; but I suppose it beats the hell out of "Great game!! How come there's no kibitzing on it yet??". :)

Jun-29-15  zydeco: <NeverAgain> Wow, nice analysis! What made you pick this game?
Aug-15-15  NeverAgain: Thank you, zydeco.

Early Korchnoi has long been one of my favorite players: weird openings, crooked play and uncompromising fights. A fearsome attacker like Tolush on the other side of the board makes this game even more interesting. Add to this that in those days there were no higher-level tournament competitions than USSR championship finals - Interzonals and Candidates were hardly more competitive with all the draws and weaker non-Soviet participants, IMO - and you can see why this game caught my eye.

I was really surprised when engine analysis unearthed a wealth of crazy complications that remained off-stage, though; so this game took a lot more work to go through than I expected.

Apr-05-19  cunctatorg: These two famed players were more than capable to glorify chess!!

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