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Evil-Doer : Half a Century with Viktor Korchnoi

Evil-Doer : Half a Century with Viktor Korchnoi
Evil-Doer : Half a Century with Viktor Korchnoi

Evil-Doer : Half a Century with Viktor Korchnoi : Genna Sosonko

Gennadi Borisovich Sosonko
Gennadi Borisovich Sosonko

Genna Sosonko emigrated from the USSR to the Netherlands in 1972.  For the past 20 years or so he’s made a career out of writing essays and books about chess in the Soviet Union, and interviewing many of the leading players from that period.

It was Saturday 17 January 1976. The height of the English Chess Explosion.  Richmond Junior Chess Club had opened its doors for the first time just a few months earlier.

As was customary at the time, the visiting Soviet GMs who had been competing at Hastings played simuls against prizewinners from the London Junior Championships, which in those days attracted most of the country’s top young players. And so it was that I was there at a London school to witness two of the all-time greats, Bronstein and Korchnoi, taking on the cream of England’s up and coming chess talents.

The contrast was noticeable.  Bronstein played fast, took some risks and finished quickly (+17 =9 -4). Korchnoi played slowly, taking every game seriously, and using 7 hours to complete his 30 games (+20 =9 -1), losing only to a certain N Short. He said at the time something to the effect that he wanted his young opponents to understand what it was like to play against a strong grandmaster.

This story sums up the difference between two men who had much in common but a very different attitude towards chess.

Bronstein was born in Ukraine, the son of a Jewish family. Korchnoi’s Polish Catholic father and Jewish mother had moved from Ukraine to Leningrad a few years before he was born. Both men were obsessed with chess while neither had great social and communication skills. Both, of course, came within a whisker of becoming world champion.

I’ve recently reviewed Sosonko’s memoirs of Smyslov and Bronstein: the book in front of me now is without doubt the most successful of the trilogy. Korchnoi and Sosonko had been close friends for half a century, although at one point not on speaking terms for some time.

Korchnoi could at times be rude, argumentative and bad-tempered, but that was part of the man, and his friends, such as Sosonko, accepted and perhaps even respected him for it. On reading an article in which Nigel Short, his young conqueror all those years ago in the London Juniors simul, described  him as a ‘cantankerous old git’, he confessed that, although his English was pretty good, he was only familiar with one of the three words. Growing up as he did during the Siege of Leningrad, suffering his parents’ divorce and the death of his father, poverty, hunger and ill-health, you might think, along with Sosonko, that his difficult personality was understandable. You might also ask yourself whether it was, at least in part, something he was born with.

Viktor Lvovich Korchnoi
Viktor Lvovich Korchnoi

“I have problems communicating with other people”, he once said. “Therefore, I do what I like the most. Most of all I like chess, and, to be honest, I don’t know what else I could do.” (No, I don’t know  when or where he said it, but that’s Sosonko for you. No sources, just lots of ‘he saids’, allegations and speculations.)

Korchnoi admitted and accepted his differences, while Bronstein, to use the current vogue word, masked his differences.

Bronstein peaked early, while Korchnoi peaked remarkably late. Bronstein seemed to play for fun, driven by fantasy and imagination, while Korchnoi was a dour and dogged defender who took every game seriously. But it was Bronstein who gradually fell out of love with chess, his obsession turning from the game itself to the perceived injustices he suffered. Korchnoi, in contrast, like Edith Piaf, regretted nothing and remained passionately devoted to chess right to the end of his life.

A long and eventful life it was, too. From wartime hardships to chess stardom, political asylum in the West, world championship matches against Karpov, and his final decades spent quietly (as if Korchnoi could ever be quiet) in Switzerland, it’s all here. Readers of Sosonko’s other books will know what to expect. There’s no chess in it at all, so, unless you’re inspired by Korchnoi’s determination, it won’t do anything to improve your rating. Nor is it an academic history: just memoir and anecdotes. I’m not convinced by the title: ‘evil-doer’ was how he was referred to  by some Soviet players after his defection. It’s a title I might use about Hitler or Stalin, but Korchnoi, whatever his faults, didn’t do evil. But if you want 300+ pages about the man, written by a friend and admirer for half a century, you’ll enjoy reading this book.

Richard James, Twickenham 15th May 2020

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

  • Softcover : 314 pages
  • Publisher:  Limited Liability Company Elk and Ruby Publishing House (17 May 2018)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 5950043383
  • ISBN-13: 978-5950043383
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.8 x 19.8 cm

Official web site of Elk and Ruby

Evil-Doer : Half a Century with Viktor Korchnoi
Evil-Doer : Half a Century with Viktor Korchnoi

Happy Birthday IM David Neil Laurence Levy (14-iii-1945)

David Neil Laurence Levy
David Neil Laurence Levy

Birthday of IM David Neil Laurence Levy (14-iii-1945)

Here is his Wikipedia entry

The Chess Scene
The Chess Scene

Here is his entry from the chessprogramming wiki

The PCW Microchess Championship
The PCW Microchess Championship

From chessgames.com :

“International Master and International Arbiter David Neil Lawrence Levy was born in London, England. Awarded the IM title in 1969, he won the Scottish Championship in 1968 and 1975 (=Stephen Swanson). He scored +6=5-7 at the top Olympiad board for Scotland in 1972. He is also a noted chess author and computer expert.

In 1968 he started a landmark wager of (initially) £500 with two Artificial Intelligence luminaries that no computer program would win a chess match against him within 10 years.

He won his bet in 1978 at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto by beating computer chess program CHESS 4.7 (Computer), which ran on a CDC Cyber 176 mainframe computer. These events led to a prize of $5,000 offered by Omni magazine to the authors of the first chess program to defeat Levy. The prize was not won until 1989, when IBM accepted the challenge with their chess computer Deep Thought (Computer).

History of Computer Chess: An AI perspective. http://video.google.com/videoplay?d… Wikipedia article: David Levy (chess player)”

The PCW Microchess Championship
The PCW Microchess Championship

Here are his games from chessgames.com

Video Chess Event (See caption below)
Video Chess Event (See caption below)

A famous letter from David to Raymond Keene.

Video Chess Caption
Video Chess Caption

Coaching the Chess Stars

Coaching the Chess Stars
Coaching the Chess Stars

“Vladimir Tukmakov, born in Odessa 1946, was one of the strongest Ukranian grandmasters. He was the winner of several strong tournaments, including the Ukranian Championship in 1970, and he came second in three Soviet championships in 1970,72 and 83. After his successful period as active player, he became a coach, trainer and author.”

Vladimir Tukmakov
Vladimir Tukmakov

Perhaps, especially if you’re in the UK where evening league chess is still relatively popular, you’ve found yourself captaining a team.

It’s not too demanding as long as you have a pool of reliable and communicative players to choose from.

Maybe you’ve wondered what it would be like to captain a team in the Chess Olympiad: a really strong team such as Ukraine, Azerbaijan or the Netherlands. Or perhaps a star-studded team like SOCAR in the European Club Championship.

It’s a very different experience from captaining Ambridge C in Division 5 of the Borsetshire League, where all you have to do is get the right number of players to the right place at the right time and report the result, these days probably through the league website.

If you’re captaining a top international team, you’re probably dealing with large egos as well as large Elos. You have to decide on your board order, who to rest in each round, how to get everyone working well together and playing in the interests of the team. You really need to excel at interpersonal as well as chess skills.

This, then, is the subject of the first half of Vladimir Tukmakov’s new book. You’ll read about the triumphs, disasters, and, sadly, tragedies behind the teams he captained.

There’s a lot of chess as well: 37 games or extracts with fairly light annotations, which, by and large, seem to stand up well to modern engine analysis.

Here, for example, is what happens when two of the most imaginative players in 21st century chess meet. The opening, and indeed the whole game, seems to come from another planet.

It’s from the match between Ukraine and Georgia from the 2010 Chess Olympiad (Khanty-Mansiysk)

Vassily Ivanchuk (2754) – Baadur Jobava (2710)

1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. f3 Qb6 4. a3 e5 5. exd5 Nf6 6. dxe5 Bc5 7. exf6 Bf2+ 8. Ke2 O-O 9. Qd2 Re8+ 10. Kd1 Re1+ 11. Qxe1 Bxe1 12. Kxe1 Bf5

Tukmakov comments here: “Formally, White has a big material advantage, but the remaining Black pieces are tremendously active. In addition, don’t forget that even though the white king is standing on its original square, White has lost the right to castle.”.

13. Be2 Nd7 14. dxc6 bxc6 15. Bd1 Re8+ 16. Ne2 Nxf6 17. Nbc3 Bc8 18. a4 a5 19. Rf1 Ba6 20. Rf2 h5 21. Ra3 h4 22. g3 h3 23. g4 Rd8 24. Nf4 Nd7 25. Rb3 Qd4 26. Nfe2 Re8 27. Ne4 Qxa4 28. Bd2 Qa1 29. Bc3 Ne5 30. Ra3 Qb1 31. Nd2 Qc1 32. Rxa5 Ng6 33. Rxa6 Nf4
34. Ra8! 1-0

Tukmakov awards ‘?!’ to Black’s 13th and 17th moves: Stockfish 11 is happy with 13… Nd7 but agrees that Black should have preferred 17… Nd5.

It’s the second half, though, which gives the book its title. Coaching a world class grandmaster who plays even better than you do is very different from giving an occasional lesson to the top board from your local primary school.

Here, Tukmakov relates his experiences of one-off collaborations with Geller, Tseshkovsky, Korchnoi (Wijk aan Zee & Brussels 1991) and Karpov (match with Anand, 1998). More recently, he’s acted as coach to Anish Giri (2014-2016) and Wesley So (2016-2017).

In this section of the book you’ll find another 46 games or extracts, so you get a lot of interesting chess for your money.

In complete contrast to the previous game, here you can see an example of impressively deep opening preparation.

Anish Giri (2768) – Alexei Shirov (2691) Hoogeveen (6) 2014

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 e5 6. Ndb5 d6 7. Bg5 a6 8. Na3 b5 9. Nd5 Be7 10. Bxf6 Bxf6 11. c3 Bg5 12. Nc2 O-O 13. a4 bxa4 14. Rxa4 a5 15. Bc4 Rb8 16. b3 Kh8 17. Nce3 g6 18. h4 Bxh4 19. g3 Bg5 20. f4 exf4 21. gxf4 Bh4+ 22. Kf1 f5 23. Ra2 fxe4 24. Rah2 g5 25. Qh5 Rb7 26. Ke2 Be6 27. Qh6 Bg8 28. Rg2 Rbf7 29. Rxh4 gxh4 30. Nf5 h3 31. Nh4 Qxh4 32. Rxg8+ Rxg8 33. Qxh4

“Only here did our home analysis end. A triumph for modern methods of preparation!”

33… Rg2+ 34. Kf1 Rh2 35. Ne3 Rg7 36. Qf6 Rh1+ 37. Kf2 Rh2+ 38. Ke1 Rh1+ 39. Kd2 Rh2+ 40. Kc1 Ne7 41. Nf5 Rhg2 42. Nxg7 Rxg7 43. Qf8+ Ng8 44. Bxg8 Rxg8 45. Qf6+ Rg7 46. Qh4 1-0

Shirov had reached the position after 21… Bh4+ before, but had met Kd2 rather than Kf1. Tukmakov claims that 25. Qh5 was a novelty: in fact it had been played twice before, with Black replying Ne5 and, although standing worse, scoring 1½/2.

An excellent book, then, fascinating and, at times, brutally honest. Tukmakov offers a different insight into top level chess from two perspectives: a captain and a coach.

If your main aim is improving your chess you might not consider it an essential purchase, but if the subject matter appeals, don’t hesitate. You won’t be disappointed.

Richard James, Twickenham, 29th February 2020

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 352 pages
  • Publisher: Thinkers Publishing; 01 edition (2 April 2019)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9492510502
  • ISBN-13:  978-9492510501
  • Product Dimensions: 17 x 1.5 x 23.4 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

Coaching the Chess Stars
Coaching the Chess Stars

Remembering John Wisker (30-v-1846, 18-i-1884)

John Wisker (30-v-1846, 18-i-1884)
John Wisker (30-v-1846, 18-i-1884)

We remember John Whisker who passed away on this day, 18th January, 1884.

According to Wikipedia :

John Wisker (30 May 1846 in Kingston upon Hull, England – 18 January 1884 in Richmond, Victoria) was an English chess player and journalist. By 1870, he was one of the world’s ten best chess players, and the second-best English-born player, behind only Joseph Henry Blackburne.

Wisker moved to London in 1866 to become a reporter for the City Press and befriended Howard Staunton. His proficiency at chess improved rapidly, and he won the 1870 British Chess Championship after a play-off against Amos Burn, ahead of Blackburne, the defending champion. He won again in 1872 after a play-off against the first British champion, Cecil Valentine De Vere. After this second victory, the British championship was not resumed until 1904. Wisker edited chess columns for The Sporting Times and Land and Water. From 1872 to 1876, Wisker was Secretary of the British Chess Association and co-editor of The Chess Player’s Chronicle. After learning that he had contracted tuberculosis, Wisker emigrated to Australia in the autumn of 1876 to try to regain his health. In Australia, he wrote a chess column for the Australasian. In 1884, Wisker died from bronchitis and tuberculosis.

John Wisker (30-v-1846, 18-i-1884)
John Wisker (30-v-1846, 18-i-1884)

Here is a short item from the Ken Whyld Association web site :

and here is a more detailed article from chess.com

From The Oxford Companion to Chess by David Hooper & Ken Whyld :

John Wisker was an English player and journalist. After moving from Yorkshire to London in 1866 Wisker improved rapidly, so that in the early 1870s he could be ranked among the world’s best ten and second only to Blackburne among English-born players. In 1870 Wisker won the British Championship ahead of Blackburne (the holder) after a play-oil against Burn, and in 1872 he again won the title after a play-off against De Vere. (winner of the first British Championship). By winning twice in succession Wisker retained the trophy and the contests ceased until 1904 (when
Napier won). Against two of his contemporaries Wisker played six matches: Bird in 1873 (+6 =1 -6 and +4 =3 -7) and again in 1874 (+10 =3 -8 and +3 =1 -5); and MacDonnell in 1873 ( = 1 -3) and 1875 ( + 7 =4 -4), Discovering that he had tuberculosis, Wisker emigrated to Australia in the autumn of 1876, hoping to improve his health. In England he edited excellent chess columns in The Sporting Times and Land and Water, and was co-editor of the Chess Player’s Chronicle from 1872 to 1876; in
Australia he edited a chess column in the Australasian.

From The Encyclopedia of Chess by Anne Sunnucks :

British Champion in 1879 and 1872 and Hon. Secretary of the British Chess Association from 1872 – 1877. Wisker was born in Hull. His parents were poor and, he received little schooling, but by his own efforts educated himself and by the time he was 19 was contributing articles to the Fortnightly Review. In 1866 he came to London to report for the City Press and was introduced to London chess circles by Howard Staunton. His play rapidly improved, and his victory in the British Championship in 1870 was achieved after a ply-off against Burn, ahead of Blackburne. In 1872, by successfully defending his title, he won the BCA Challenge Cup outright. On this occasion he won a play-off against De Vere. In 1872 Wisker became co-editor with Skipworth of the Chess Player’s Chronicle.

in 1875, Wisker was found to have consumption, and two years later. on medical advice, he emigrated to Australia. He became chess editor of The Australian, an appointment which he held at the time of his death. He died on 18th January 1884 from bronchitis on top of consumption.

From The Encyclopedia of Chess by Harry Golombek :

A prominent British player and chess administrator. Wisker won the BCA Challenge Cup in 1870 after a play-off with Burn. In 1871 he narrowly lost (+2 -3 =4)a match to the French master Rosenthal, who had fled to London to avoid the rigours of war. Wisker retained the Challenge Cup in 1872, this time after a play-off with De Vere. In the following year Wisker played a series of matches against Bird, drawing the first (+6 -6 =1) losing the second (+4 -6 =2) and winning the third (+10 -8 = 3).

From 1872 to 1877 Wisker was secretary of the BCA and jointly edited the Chess Player’s Chronicle. wisker suffered from consumption and in 1877 under doctor’s orders emigrated to Australia where he died (H.G.)