Independent Pursuits: Chess

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The Independent Culture
OVER SEVEN-AND-A-HALF weeks, from late November 1977 to early January 1978, two sons of Leningrad, Boris Spassky and Viktor Korchnoi, fought one of the most monumental and acrimonious matches of all time in the then peaceful city of Belgrade.

A campaign which had begun with fire on the chess board but easy accord elsewhere degenerated into all-out war after Korchnoi strode to a five- nil lead in the first 10 games: but Spassky, who donned reflecting glasses and started to appear at the board only to play his moves, won the next four. Several protests and walk-outs later, Korchnoi took the 17th and 18th games and the match; and booked his place for a still more traumatic showdown with one Anatoly Yevgenevich Karpov in Baguio City...

More than two decades later, the two old chargers, Spassky who nowadays lives in France and Korchnoi in Switzerland, are in mercifully friendly combat again in their old home city under its new old name of St Petersburg.

The match, consisting of 10 rapidplay games with one hour each on the clock started on 27 March with a rest day on 30 March and the final two games being played today. Despite being the elder - he was 68 on 23 March while Spassky was 62 on 30 January - it is Korchnoi, rated 18th in the world at 2,673, who is much the more active of the two. And after an even exchange of blows in the first four games, all of which were decisive, he took the lead on day three, almost winning the fifth game as Black, then pulling out the stops in this splendidly barbaric contest.

3 f3!? is one of the ways of avoiding the Grunfeld - 3 Nc3 d5. Vladimir Kramnik used it in the last game of his match with Alexei Shirov in Cazorla last June and although he lost brilliantly the opening was far from clear: Kramnik, though, played 8 Qd2 rather than the old mainline 8 f4 as here.

8 ...c6 was submissive - 8 ...Nc6 9 d5 Na5 10 Bd4 e5! is critical, with great complications. Korchnoi got a big centre and with the very aggressive 12 g4!? safeguarded it from ...f5. With 15 ...c5! Spassky adopted the classic recipe of meeting a flank attack with central action. But 19 ...Rd8 looks too passive: Black should fight for counterplay with 19 ...Ne4 20 Nxd5 exd5.

The immediate 21 f5 may be even stronger but the attack proved decisive anyway. At the end if eg: 28 ...Kf8 29 Rxg7! Qe6 30 Rh8+ Ke7 31 Qg5+ etc; or 28 ...Qe6 29 Qh7+ Kf8 30 Qxg7+ Ke7 31 Qg5+ Kd7 32 Nxd4.

White: Viktor Korchnoi

Black: Boris Spassky


1 d4 Nf6

2 c4 g6

3 f3 d5

4 cxd5 Nxd5

5 e4 Nb6

6 Nc3 Bg7

7 Be3 0-0

8 f4 c6

9 Nf3 Be6

10 Qc2 N8d7

11 Be2 Bc4

12 g4!? e6

13 h4 Qe7

14 h5 c5!

15 e5 Rfc8

16 hxg6 hxg6

17 dxc5 Nxc5

18 Bd4 Bd5

19 Rd1 Rd8

20 Nxd5 Rxd5

21 Kf2 Rc8

22 Qb1 Rcd8

23 b3 Na6

24 Qe4 Nb4

25 f5 exf5

26 gxf5 gxf5

27 Qxf5 Rxd4

28 Rdg1! 1-0