One of the great things about chess that distinguishes it from other sports
is that the retirement age of a chess play varies. You can play high-level
chess well into your 70ís. Victor Kortchnoi is a prime example. No longer
will we see baseball great Pete Rose slide head first into third base,
except for high light films. We will never see Ali fight vs. Joe Frazier again,
nor will we see Joe Namath fade back in his white shoes and throw a long
touch down pass. But we did see Kortchnoi, Spassky, Karpov, and Unzicker
play each other again. As you probably already know, some of my favorite
sports figures when I was growing up were Pete Rose, Joe Namath, Muhammad
Ali, Joe Frazier, Anatoly Karpov, Victor Kortchnoi and Boris Spassky, just
to name a few.
But with baseball, football and
boxing, my heroes stopped competing because they got too old to play. Even
though they had long careers, they had to retire young. This could be why I
donít follow those sports as religiously as I used to. But with chess, your
heroes donít have to retire as young men. Older chess players may not be
able to hold on to the top rankings any longer, but they still can produce
gems. They can still show us glimpses of their primes. They can show us glimpses of their great rivalries
from their glory days.
Back in 1992,
Bobby Fischer came out of a 20-year retirement and played his archrival
Boris Spassky. After a 20-year lay off, many wondered how well Bobby Fischer
would play. Well he produced a gem in game one. His play was reminiscent of
his peak years in the early 70ís. However, he was unable to maintain that
high level of play through out the match. But he and Spassky did produce
some really nice games. With chess you can continue to see great rivalries.
In 2002, New York City, we saw a great rivalry continue with a 4 game
rapid match between Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov. Karpov finally got the better of
Kasparov in that match.
Recently in Mainz, we saw three great rivalries
take place. The Mainz tournament match four aging chess stars. The
tournament was held to celebrate Wolfgang Unzickerís 80th
birthday. Anatoly Karpov(54) , Victor Kortchnoi (74) , Boris Spassky(68) and Wolfgang
Unzicker (80) would battle it out in a double round robin rapid tournament.
The first rivalry was Karpov vs. Kortchnoi. This was a great rivalry in the
1970s thru the early 1980ís. These two great players fought each other in
three matches that determined the world championship. Karpov got the better
in all three of those matches.
The first two, in 1974 and 1978, were very
tightly contested. Both of these matches started with Karpov
taking a big lead early and ended with Kortchnoi closing the gap but losing
by a single point. Karpov totally dominated in the 1981 match. The 78 and
81 matches were hard fought on the board and off the board. Kortchnoi
had defected from the Soviet Union in 1976. He would be branded a traitor to
the Soviet Union. These chess matches were also a battle off the board. It
matched communism vs. democracy, east vs. west, slavery vs. freedom. Karpov
and Kortchnoi became bitter enemies during this period of time. In Mainz
these two chess giants battled again. Karpov again would rule the day by
wining with black and drawing with white. The fiery relationship between
Karpov and Kortchnoi has since cooled.
Another great rivalry occurred between Kortchnoi and Spassky.
These two players played 2 tough candidate matches in 1968 and 1977. Both
were tough contests. In 1968 Spassky would dominate Kortchnoi in the final
candidate match. A year later Spassky would then wrestle the title from Tigran
When Spassky and Kortchnoi met again in the 1977 candidate final,
the roles would be reversed. It would be Kortchnoi who dominated this match.
He would jump out to a 5 game lead. In order to improve his concentration, Spassky
decided not to sit at the
board. Instead he sat in a booth on stage and analyzed the game from a
giant screen behind the players. Spassky would return to the board only long
enough to make his move. Kortchnoi got rattled and lost 4 games in a row.
Kortchnoi protested Spassky's actions. Kortchnoi said it felt like he was in a simul.
Kortchnoi also felt Spasskyís actions were illegal. The match was almost
cancelled. However, Kortchnoi settled down and won the last two games of the
match. It was Kortchnoiís time to challenge for the title. At Mainz this
rivalry continued. Kortchnoi won the first game and Spassky rebounded to win
the 2nd game.
The last great rivalry was between Karpov and Spassky. Back
in 1974 both met in a semifinal candidate match. It was a battle of ex
champion vs. future world champion. A match removed from his title,
would try to fight his way past the hard charging Anatoly Karpov. Spassky
would win the first game from the black side of the board. But Karpov would
not be deterred and dominated the rest of the way by winning 4 games. At
Mainz, Karpov and Spassky drew both games. Chess allows great rivalries to
As far as Unzicker is concerned. He had his birthday cake when he drew all
his games against Karpov and Spassky. However Victory Kortchnoi would not
allow Unzicker to eat his cake. Kortchnoi took both games from Unzicker.
Just like in the early 70's, Kortchnoi and Karpov would tie for first in the
2005 Unzicker Gala80 Tournament.
In the first round game, Kortchnoi vs.
Karpov, the players debated the Queens Indian: Nimzovich Variation
(exaggerated fianchetto). These two players hadnít played each other much
over the last 10 years. They only played three games since 1996. Karpov winning in
1996 at the Najdorf memorial and two draws in 1999 and 2001. By move
18, White (Kortchnoi) had a space advantage but was saddled with two
isolated a and c pawns. Black (Karpov) had a queen-rook battery on the half
open c-file and was saddled with an isolated b-pawn. By move 20 both
sides had posted knights on holes created by the isolated pawns. Kortchnoi had a
knight on b5 and Karpov had one on c5. By move 23, Karpov had doubled his
rooks on the half open a-file and was triple attacking Kortchnoi's isolated
a4-pawn, On move 25, Kortchnoi, feeling the pressure, pushes the a4-pawn to a5.
The pawn is exchanged with 25... axb5. Karpov has won a pawn. By move 48, Karpov
jettisoned his pawn and controlled the open b-file with a rook-queen
battery. His b3-rook deep inside Kortchnoi territory. Karpov also had an
unassailable knight posted on d4.
On move 51, under time pressures, Kortchnoi loses a pawn
with move Nb5. Kortchnoi fails to realize that Karpov will now be able to
take the unprotected e4 pawn with 51.. Qxe4. Kortchnoi was counting on a
dangerous forking maneuver. He forks Karpovís queen and rook with move 52.
Nd6. It is clear now that Karpov had seen deeper into the position. He
realizes this fork is not as deadly as it looks and moves 52.. Qc6. From
this vantage point, Kortchnoi's rook on a4 is unprotected and under attack
by the Karpovís queen. A pair of rooks come off the board.
By move 61, the end is near. Karpov has a queen-rook battery on the
2nd rank, which has an absolute pin on Kortchnoiís knight on g2.
Karpov's bishop now commands the d4 square. Kortchnoiís heavy pieces, the
a3-rook and f1-queen are not coordinating. Kortchnoi desperately tries to
circle the wagons with 62 Rf3. His position is very defensive, maybe it can
hold. However Karpov realizes that Kortchnoi back rank is weak. He can chase
Kortchnoiís queen from the first rank with 62 ..Rb1. Kortchnoi responds with
63. Qd3, hoping for a queen exchange. However Karpov will have none of this
and plays 63.. Qc1. Now Karpov has a queen rook-battery on the first rank.
Faced with mate or major loss of material. Kortchnoi resigns.
Spassky and Kortchnoi first met over the board in 1948. 17 year old Victor
Kortchnoi defeated 11 year old Boris Spassky in 12 moves. The last
time these players met was in 2001 and it ended in a draw. In the first game
at Mainz between Kortchnoi vs. Spassky. The players debated the Queens
Gambit Accepted. By move 25 the game evolved into Kortchnoiís queen,
two rooks, knight and 7 pawns against Spassky's queen, two rooks, bishop,
and 7 pawn. Kortchnoi was able to immobilize Spasskyí queenside majority
pawns by posting his knight on b6. Kortchnoi had a space advantage and
Spassky heavy pieces were all on the back rank. Kortchnoi set his eyes on
Spassky's vertically isolated a5-pawn. By move 29, Kortchnoi had his a4-rook
and e1-queen bearing down on the a4 pawn. Spassky decided to sac the
exchange to defend this pawn and played 29.. ra8. A few moves later
Kortchnoi snapped off the rook with 31. Nxa8. Spassky responded
with 31.. Rxa8. Kortchnoi had won the exchange. The game concluded with
Kortchnoiís queen and two rooks weaving a mating net. Spassky resigned on
Kortchnoi vs. Spassky - 2005 Mainz -
In the 2nd game of this great rivalry, it would be Spassky's turn
to unleash the tiger trapped inside his heart. Spassky would get his
revenge in this game. Spassky decide to play 1.e4 and the game evolved
into the Sicilian Taimanov variation. Kortchnoi blundered on move 20 when
he played 20.. Ne7. Kortchnoi decided to swap his e6-pawn for whites
c2-pawn. Spassky responded with 21. Rxe6 and Kortchnoi followed with 21 ..
Qxc2. Spassky responded with 22 Qd1 creating a rook Ė queen battery on the
open d-file. Kortchnoi compounded his error by grabbing another pawn with
22.. Qxb2. Spassky cut off Kortchnoi's queen's retreat with 23. Bc5.
Kortchnoi lost his queen on move 26. Rxc3. Kortchnoi resigned on move
His rook, two knights and 4 pawns were no match for Spassky's queen, bishop,
knight and 4 pawns.
Spassky vs. Kortchnoi - 2005 Mainz -