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Birthday Boys

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Posting at midnight so I can split the difference between the March 23rd birthday of Viktor Korchnoi and that of Vassily Smyslov on the 24th. (No adjustments for the Julian calendar necessary, but it's a close call.) Korchnoi is 75, Smylov 85. Both, along with Lasker and Najdorf, stand out for peak performance and longevity.

Korchnoi was more active in the 80's and 90's than any other period of his career. His clear first in the category 16 Biel 2001 event ahead of Svidler and Gelfand put him into his own septugenarian category. His two world championship matches against Karpov (2.5 if you include 74) and his sheer longevity make him the leader of the "best never to win the title" pack. ChessBase has an item with some nice pics up. My pic of Korchnoi here. The recently released Volume 5 of Kasparov's My Great Predecessors series is on Korchnoi and Karpov. Viktor is the only non-champion to get such cover status and the games and stories fully back up the choice. Tons of fascinating material. In a business speech given in Luxembourg on Wednesday, Kasparov paid tribute to Korchnoi's 75th with a closing note:

"This date in history also has meaning in the chess world. Seventy-five years ago today the great player Viktor Korchnoi was born in Leningrad and I would like to pay him tribute. He was already a veteran when he played Karpov in three world championship matches. He was well over twice my age when we met in 1984 in a world championship qualification match. Now Karpov has retired from serious play. I have retired from professional chess. But Viktor the Terrible is still playing strong tournaments all over the world at the age of seventy-five! From time to time he still beats the teenage prodigies. He has lost none of the fire and spirit that have made him great for over fifty years."

Smyslov has been largely forgotten by the current generation of fans. His world championship reign, like Tal's, was a single year thanks to Botvinnik's rematch clause and his deadly efficiency in such matches. He also had success well into what are usually the golden years, facing Kasparov in a final candidates match in the same cycle as Korchnoi did. His last notable results were in that period, the mid-80's. His vision became so bad - he is now blind - that although he continued to play he spent much of his time at the board with his eyes closed. I treasure having met Smyslov in the at the 2001 Botvinnik Memorial matches between Kasparov and Kramnik. His wife watched the screen and spoke the moves to him. A pic of Kramnik meeting Smyslov at that event here. Smyslov has continued with chess composition.

Both players had distinct styles, if not as clear-cut as the stereotypes would have it. Smyslov's is usually called "harmonious," perhaps influenced by his serious interest in music as much as his maneuvering play. Korchnoi's is inevitably called materialistic, awkward, and defensive. As with all such capsule evaluations, they represent things invisible to 95% of chessplayers and ignore that you have to be great at every facet of the game to play at that level. They met over the board 20 times, Korchnoi having a +1 score. Both are justly renowned for their endgame prowess. Smyslov was occasionally called "the Hand" for his intuitive feel. Korchnoi's nickname "Viktor the Terrible" stems from his combative nature as well as his devastating results.

Happy Birthday to these living legends. Thanks for all the great chess, past and future.


Happy Birthday to both of these great men! I never knowingly met Smyslov (I may have met him without knowing it at some of the many Moscow chess events I attended), but I did meet Korchnoi a couple of times, and he was a very gracious gentleman. I was even embarrassed the second time (British Embassy in Moscow 1994), because I got up the nerve to ask him for his autograph and speak with him a bit, only to realize I had left my autograph sheet across the room. I was embarrassed, but he came right across with me and signed it. I treasure your fighting spirit, Victor!

March 24th is GM Yasser Seirawan birthday also but he is only 46. He has quit playing international tournament chess.

Best wishes to both great players!
Still can remember getting first the idea of plan in chess by reading Bronstein's Zurich '53. "That is the plan, simple...well for Smyslov!"
Also regard Victor Korchnoi as best non-WC, which is disputable. But a compliment from me here, because I am such a big admirer of Akiba Rubinstein. ;o)

My great respect to these two players! Just a side note; the fact that K sometimes is called "Victor the Terrible" surely also has something to do with his outspokenness and direct manner? :-)

I first saw chess notation in my daily newspaper during the Spassky-Fischer match of '72, but I really didn't catch the chess flu until Victor's match with Karpov in 78. We have no marathon World Championships anymore, it saddens me to say, but I'm very grateful to Victor and his fighting spirit which will hopefully burn within myself during hopefully, many years I have left to play the Royal game. So many players retire, this guy is one hellava fighter, thanks Mig for giving him his due.

BTW, according to Chesscafe, exactly 60 years ago Alekhine died...

Connecting this threat with an earlier one (the humans-vs-computers debate), I stumbled upon the following witty Smyslov comment, from a 2003 interview with him (http://www.gmsquare.com/interviews/smyslov.html):

"Like any human activity chess has two origins: the divine and the devilish. Chess as an art has a divine origin, while chess as a sport (when victory counts at all costs sacrificing the beauty of the game), springs from Devil. There is a striking evidence of this now. After all, a computer is nothing if not the Devil because it does not create anything. It is an inspector, or more precisely an accuser. In his book 'My Great Predecessors', Garry Kasparov highlights that computers can examine the games of the great chess players and reveal their mistakes. It now appears that the brilliant combinations of Alekhine, Tal and other outstanding players were flawed."

I’m with Bruce. It was Victor’s epic struggles with Karpov that made me love chess. Victor truly was the one who battled the old Soviet machine, while they kept his family hostage, that was the true high drama moment when Chess and the cold war came together. How Chess history would have been different if Victor had won, we’ll never know. But Victor won his struggles with the soviets in the end. His family was reunited, he had many more years of great chess and the Soviet Union is in the dustbin of history. Happy birthday Victor! I love happy endings.

I was fortunate enough to see Smyslov twice. The first time was when he played a simul in Vienna c. 1967 along with Keres and Flohr. I was of tender age; seeing these maestros made a great impression on me and did indeed bring the spark of enthusiasm for chess that I had in me to a bright flame.
The second time was in Kapfenberg 1970 at the European Team Championship. The USSR team at that time consisted exclusively of what we might call legends today (only Spassky was missing).
(Worth mentioning perhaps that Kholmov was there, too. He did NOT only play in "Socialist countries" _pace_ ChessBase: but they get so VERY much wrong, anyway...)

And Korchnoi - well, I must have seen him almost a dozen times. Vienna (on one occasion playing a 45-minute game against another legend of a different kind: Tony Miles), Zürich, Biel...
And once I played against him in a simul. That was right after the Kapfenberg tournament I mentioned above. He, Petrosian, Tal, Polugayevsky, and Gipslis each played 36 boards. He gave me chances in a rather sharp position; I had the remarkable good fortune to win a miniature.

Both of these titans have made an immense contribution to my love of chess. I am deeply grateful.

Post your simul game Charles!

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 d5 4. Bg5 Be7 5. e3 0-0 6. Nf3 h6 7. Bxf6 Bxf6 8. Qb3 c6 9. 0-0-0 a5 10. cxd5 cxd5 11. Kb1 Bd7 12. e4 a4 13. Qc2 Qa5 14. exd5 exd5 15. Ne5 a3 16. Nxd7 Nxd7 17. Bb5 Nb6 18. Qf5 Qb4 19. Rd2 Bxd4 0-1

I have to say that personality-wise Smyslov is probably my favorite of the WCs. I look forward to any great stories somebody might have about him or examples of great games of his to look at.

i was really thrilled when i came to know that vassily and i have got the same birthday.please email me his email address if it is available to somebody.i, too,was supposed to be a musician like him!!!!

i was really thrilled when i came to know that vassily and i have got the same birthday!!please mail me his email address if somebody knows it.i,too,was supposed to be a musician like him!!!

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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on March 24, 2006 12:00 AM.

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