The name of the game currently in world championship chess is David and Goliath: the individual against the bureaucracy. Most of the time since World War II, the winner has been Golaith - the massive Soviet chess factory that turns out grandmasters the way General Motors turns out cars, and crushes them, when they don't toe the line, like those giant junkyard machines that can squeeze an El Dorado into a cubic foot of scrap metal. This month, at the posh Casino Royale in the French resort town of Evian-les-Bains, a new David has dealt the giant his second staggering blow in a row. Victor Korchnoi, formerly of Russia and now of the Netherlands, won his match with Lev Polugaevsky of the Soviet Union by the humiliating score of 8 1/2 to 4 1/2.
At first glance, Korchnoi looks slightly miscast as David. Generally acknowledged to be the second-strongest active player in the world (you have to say "active" because Bobby Fischer has been an unknown quantity for five years), he is a product of the Soviet chess machine. Until a year ago he seemed to be one of its choicest and most pampered properties. Then, in July 1976, at the end of the IBM tournament in Amsterdam, Korchnoi asked the Dutch government for political asylum, and the balance of power in world chess shifted drastically.
In 1974, Korchnoi had come as close to winning the world championship as a nonwinner can come. The new champion, Anatoly Karpov, had played 60 prechampionship games, in an interzonal tournament and three matches, and had won 20 of them. Korchnoi, in the same process, played 59 games and won 19. The climax was a 23-game match between them, in which Karpov won three games and Korchnoi won two with 18 draws. It was not, you might say, an overwhelming margin, and Korchnoi complained later that the Soviet Chess Federation had done everything it could to stack the odds in Karpov's favor. Karpov has the kind of image the Russians would like to project: He is young (26), modest and studious, a hard worker and one who doesn't rock the boat. Korchnoi, 20 years older and a bit of a maverick, is much further from the chess bureaucracy's ideal - as he proved by jumping ship in Amsterdam.
Clearly, Korchnoi's Dutch gambit was the first in a long, elaborate combination of moves with one objective: to get another crack at Karpov, this time on neutral territory. To do so, he has to fight his way through three preliminary matches: the series with Polugaevsky was the second of these, and so far everything seems to be going Korchnoi's way. The fact that his opponents in both of the first two matches were Russians must make the process that much more satisfying.
When Korchnoi abandoned the Soviet chess machine, the machine retaliated with an immediate, massive counterattack; he was denounced in the Russian press as a traitor and a pirate, and a Soviet Chess Federation spokesman announced that his international chess career was all washed up. in the future, no Russian grandmaster would participate in a chess event that included Victor Korchnoi, and of course he would not be allowed to play for the world championship, since he had earned his right to do so only as a representative of the Soviet Union. The International Chess Federation, which regulates world championship competition, had a somewhat different view: Korchnoi's right to play for the title belonged to him as an individual, and if Russian grandmasters refused to compete with him in the championship preliminaries, Korchnoi would win the games by forfeit.
The Russian playes showed up for their games, but the chess machine showed its disapproval as graphically as possible. During two mathces, first with former world champion Tigran Petrosian and later with Polugaevsky, the Russian players have avoided all the normal courtesies of chess competition; they have not spoken with Korchnoi or shaken hands with him, and when Korchnoi shows up at a social function, all the Russians disappear. When Korchnoi was playing Petrosian, this way probably no hardship; during the decades when they were both grandmasters in the Soviet Union, there was little love lost between them. But Korchnoi and Polugaevsky used to be friends (they were students together in Russia), and there may have been psychological tensions arising from the social chill. If so, they worked primarily against Polugavesky, who lost the first three games in a row. Observers at Evian noted that Polugaevsky seemed much more relaxed toward the end of the match, after Soviet chess czar Victor Baturinsky packed up and went home; the match was hopelessly lost, but at least the pressure was off.
Soviet harassment went to extremes of petty detail, but this seemed to have little effect on Korchnoi's peace of mind or playing ability. There was, for instance, the question of the flags. In international chess competition, it is customary to have a small flag of the player's country displayed on his side of the table. When Korchnoi proposed to use a Dutch flag, Baturinsky protested; the rules require that a player be a resident of a country for a year before he can play under its flag, and at that time Korchnoi was still a few weeks short of one year's residence in Holland. One of Korchnoi's seconds, British grandmaster Raymond Keene, suggested that Korchnoi could fly the skull and crossbones instead. President Max Euwe of the International Chess Federation (a former world champion and coincidentally a Dutchman) said he could find nothing in the rules against this. And then Polugaevsky's hammer and sickle quietly disappeared.
The other semifinal match in the world championship challengers' series is proceeding much more slowly in Geneva, where former world champion Boris Spassky and grandmaster Lajos Portisch of Hungary are more closely matched than Korchnoi and Polugaevsky were. The winner of this match will have the right to meet Korchnoi later this year in a final match, whose winner will play Karpov for the championship next year. At present, a competition for the right to play Korchnoi looks curiously like a competition for the right to stick one's hand in a meat-grinder.
A look at some of the games from the Korchnoi-Polugaevsky match shows Korchnoi in top form; the thought behind the games below has a depth, an intricacy, a variety of stated and implied detail which is characteristic of art in its highest forms.
One thing that usually happens in a prolonged series of games between two grandmasters is a complex, wordless, across-the-board discussion of a particular opening motif. In the Korchnoi-Polugaevsky match, one such subject of discussion was the Meran Variation of the Slav Defense to the Queen's Gambit. Bot the third and the seventh games (with Korchnoi playing white in both cases) had the same 12 opening moves: 1. P-QB4, N-RB3; 2. N-QB3, P-K3; 3. N-B3, P-QB; 4. P-Q4, P-B3; 5. P-K3, QN-Q2; 6. B-Q3, PxP; 7. BxBP, P-QN4; 8. B-Q3, B-N2; 9. 0-0, p-N5; 10. N-K4, B-K2, 11. NxNCH, NxN; 12. P-K4, 0-0.
From this point, the two games diverged radically, exemplifying the tremendous variety that is one of the attractions of chess. Game Three developed into a long endgame in which Korchnoi had a theoretical advantage but one difficult to translate into victory. His exploitation of that advantage is a textbook example of pure technique. In Game Seven, apparently unsatisfied with the way the earlier game had gone, Korchnoi made a different 13th move, and the game became a relatively short one, with a complex middle game full of subtle tactical points leading to a violent conclusion.
Game Three continued (from the diagram): 13. P-K5, N-Q2; 14. Q-B2, P-KR3; 15. B-R7ch, K-R1; 16. B-K4, Q-N3; 17. B-K3, P-QB4; 18. PxP, BxP; 19. QR-Q1, BxB/6; 20. RxN, QR-B1; 21. Rxb, RxQ; 22. RxQ, RxBP; 23. RxR, BxR/3; 24.K-B1, BxR; 25. KxB, R-B1; 26. N-Q4, R-B3; 27. N-N3, R-KR8; 28. P-KR3, K-N1; 29. P-R3, PxP; 30. PxP, K-B1; 31. P-QB4, K-K1; 32. P-R5, K-Q2; 33. K-K2, K-B2; 34. K-Q2, R-KB8; 35. K-K2, R-KR8; 36. K-Q2, R-KB8; 37. K-B3, R-K8; 38.N-B5, R-QR8; 39. K-N4, R-K8; 40. K-N5, K-N1; 41. K-R6, P-R4; 42. B-B3, P-R5; 43. N-K4, R-K6; 44. N-Q6, P-B3; 45.PxP, PxP; 46. N-N5, P-K4; 47. NxP, P-K5; 48. B-N4, K-B2; 49. N-N5ch, K-B3; 50. N-Q4ch, K-B4; 51. N-B5, R-R3; 52.NxP, K-N5; 53. K-N6, RxQRP; 54. N-B5, R-K4; 55. K-B6, K-B6; 56. N-N3, K-Q7; 57. K-Q6, K-K1; 58. N-R5, P-K6; 59. NxP, R-QR4; 60. N-K4, P-K7; 61. B-B3, R-R3ch; 62. K-B5, R-R4ch; 63. K-N4, and black resigned.
Game Seven (continuing from the diagram) was shorter and more spectacular: 13. Q-B2, P-KR3; 14. B-K3, R-B2; 15. KR-Q1, P-B4; 16. PxP, N-N5; 17. B-Q4, P-K4; 18. P-KR3, PxB; 19. PxN, RxP; 20. Q-Q2, P-QR4; 21. QR-B1, Q-Q2; 22. RxR, BxR; 23. P-N5, PxP; 24. QxKNP, Q-K2; 25. Q-R5, P-N3; 26. Q-R6, Q-B3; 27. B-B4, P-Q6; 28. P-K5, Q-B4; 29. RxP, B-K5; 30. R-Q6, Q-N5; 31. R-KB6, B-B4; 32. P-QN3, B-Q5?; 33. NxB, QxN; 34. RxPch, BxR; 35. QxBch, K-R1; 36. Q-R6ch, K-N1; 37. P-K6, Q-K5; 38. PxPch; RxP; 39. Q-KB6, Q-N8ch; 40. K-R2, Q-R2ch; 41. K-N3, Q-Q6ch; 42. P-B3, QxB; 43. Q-Q8ch, and black resigned. After a few simple maneuvers to safeguard his own queen, white can capture the black queens.
One of the most original games of the match was the first, in which Polugaevsky (possibly playing a prepared opening variation) offered a very risky exchange sacrifice, but could not keep the initiative thus gained. White: Korchnoi; Black: Polugaevsky: 1. P-QB4, N-KB3; 2. N-QB3, P-K3; 3. N-B3, P-QN3; 4. P-K4, B-N2; 5. B-Q3, P-QB4; 6. P-K5, N-N5; 7. P-KR3, BxN; 8. QxB, NxP; 9. QxR, NxBch; 10. K-K2, N-B5ch; 11. K-B1, N-B3; 12. QxQch; KxQ; 13. P-QN3, N-Q6; 14. P-KR4, B-K2; 15. R-R3, NxB; 16. RxN, P-KR4; 17. R-Q1, P-QR3; 18. P-R3, K-B2; 19. N-K2, B-B3; 20. R-N1, P-QN4; 21. N-B3, R-QN1; 22. PxP, PxP; 23. N-K4, B-Q5; 24. R-QB1, R-QR1; 25. NxP, RxP; 26. R-Q3, P-K4; 27. P-B4, P-Q3; 28. N-K4, K-Q2; 29. PxP, BxP; 30. N-N5, N-N5; 31. R-KB3, P-B3; 32. N-B7, B-Q5; 33. R-N3, P-B4; 34. K-K2, B-B3; 35. N-N4, N-B3; 36. K-Q1, N-Q5; 37. R/3-QB3, R-R22; 38. N-B3, N-K3; 39. R-B8, R-R6; 40. R-QN8, RxP; 41. R-N7ch, K-Q1; 42. N-N5, BxN; 43. PxB, R-N5; 44. P-N6, R-N5; 45. R-R1, N-B2; 46. R/1-R7, R-QB5; 47. P-Q3, R-B6; 48. K-Q2, R-B4; 49. R-N8ch, K-K2; 50. R-QB8, K-Q2; 51. R-KN8, K-K3; 52. RxP, N-Q4; 53. R/N-KB7, R-B1; 54. P-N7, R-KN1; 55, P-N3, P-N5; 56. R-B8, N-B3; 57.K-B2, P-R5; 58. PxP, P-B5; 59. P-R5, P-B6; 60. P-R6, and Polugaevsky resigned.