29 June 2016

Korchnoi's Zonals

On my main chess blog, I've already mentioned Korchnoi's autobiography 'Chess Is My Life' (Batsford 1977) in a post about Korchnoi's Defection. There is also much in the book relevant to Korchnoi's World Championship career, pre-1977.

Of particular interest is Korchnoi's mention of five consecutive USSR championships that served as zonals (or in one case as a zonal qualifier). In two of the zonals the future World Championship challenger was successful in advancing to the Interzonal stage. Here are the five events with links to my page on the cycle and page references to Korchnoi's book.

  • C03; 1955 Moscow; p.27 'I did not live up to expectations'
  • C04; 1958 Riga; p.34 'it turned out badly for me'
  • C05; 1961 Moscow; p.42 'I thus took second place'
  • C06; 1963 Leningrad (qualifier, USSR chp) & 1964 Moscow (zonal); p.49-50 'I scored less than 50%'
  • C07; 1966 Tbilisi; p.56 'I shared third place'

Also of particular interest is Korchnoi's discussion of the 1964 zonal. I've already included an introductory clipping on my page for the C06 cycle, but would like to add a transcription.

After the [USSR] Championship, a special Zonal Tournament was arranged, as a qualifying event for the Interzonal. It was to be made up of the six highest placed in the Championship, plus two personally invited players (on the basis of previous successes). The seventh particpant named was Smyslov, who had not taken part in the Championship (it was for his sake that this whole system had been thought up), and for the eighth the Chess Federation nominated me.

Literally a few days before the start of the tournament there was a surprising turn of events. Smyslov put in an application to the Federation, requesting that he be allowed to have one of the four USSR qualifying places and go directly into the Interzonal. The Federation rejected his claim. He then turned to his friends with access to the Government and leading Party Organs. From there -- from above -- came an order which was un-conditionally accepted by the USSR Sports Committee, and the head of the Chess Federation (at that time Rodionov) was reprimanded.

From this incident the reader can gain an idea of the bureaucratic hierarchy of the heads of sport, in particular of chess.

The USSR Chess Federation, a public organ with the right of consultative vote, is controlled by the USSR Sports Committee. Supervision of the activities of the Sports Committee is carried out by corresponding departments in the Communist Party Central Committee. Even higher, in the Communist Party Central Committee's Politburo, there is a man who is responsible for sport, including chess. At that time this man was the present Minister of Culture (demoted from the Gods to a mere mortal!) Demichev. Evidently it was he who heeded Smyslov's call, and in an instant decided the matter in favour of the capricious grandmaster.

There was no limit to the indignation of the competitors in the Zonal Tournament. It was decided to call a strike and refuse to play. However, the strike was vetoed by Spassky (strongly influenced by Bondarevsky). With such a small number of participants it had to be unanimous and as a result the conspiracy broke up. A pity!

Knowing about this incident, chess followers will now be able to guess why, at the Biel Interzonal Tournament in 1976, Kuzmin was replaced by Smyslov.

In the C07 cycle, Korchnoi advanced to the final stage of the 1967-69 Candidates Matches, thereby qualifying for the Candidates stage of the following cycle. He remained in World Championship cycles through 2001.

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