WHOEVER IS the world chess champion this time next year, one thing is certain: He will be a native of the Soviet Union. Whether the Russians (or more specifically the Soviet Chess Federation) will be happy about it remains to be seen.
Boris Spassky (a former world champion trying to make a comeback) has now fought his way to a final challengers' match against Victor Korchnoi which will begin in October or November at a location yet to be chosen - but certainly not in Russia. The winner of the Spassky-Korchnoi match will be eligible to play against Anatoly Karpov for his championship title next year. Like every world championship match since World war II (except for the Fisher-Spassky contest in 1972), it will be an all-Russian event, but one of the Russians has been denounced as a traitor in his native land and another is in a rather ambivalent position.
One of the basic questions chess fans are asking now is whether Spassky will shake Korchnoi's hand and say "Hello," before they sit down to begin playing. Korchnoi, who defected from the USSR last year, has played matches against two Russian grandmasters (both old acquaintances and one an old friend) this year to get to the finals; neither spoke to him during weeks of close contact. His old friend Lev Polugaevsky did shake hands with him at the end of their match, but that was after the official watchdog of Soviet chess, Victor Baturinsky, had given up and gone home.
Spassky has not defecred from the Soviet Union, but his wife, Marina, is a French citizen of Russian ancestry; he married her despite strong opposition from Soviet authorities and has been living in France with the grudging consent of his government. He is almost unique among Soviet grandmasters in his refusal to condemn Korchnoi publicly for leacing the Soviet Union and taking up residence in Holland.
Still, compared to Korchnoi, Spassky's sins are venial as the Soviet Union computes such things; he has not renounced his Soviet citizenship and he has not criticized champion Karpov, the Russian chess bureaucracy's fairhaired boy, in the same biting terms as Korchnoi. Spassky has said he thinks be can beat Karpov, which is permissible, and he has hedged it with an "if glause."
"If there is one man in the world who can beat Karpov, I am that man," Spassky told the press after winning his semifinal match with Lajos Portisch of Hungary. In contrast, Korchnoi has said that Karpov has "an extremely poor chess arsenal," the kind of remark that is considered nye kulturny.
An illustration of how the Russian officials feel about the two players is provided by the Russian weekly chess newspaper, "64," which printed all the games of the Spassky-Portisch match, including one insignificant 18-move effort that was called a draw when a power failure put out the lights. The match in which Korchnoi beat his former colleague and friend Lev Polugaevsky (by a runaway score of 81/2 to 41/2) was covered via four-line notices in "64" and the daily "Sovietsky Sport."
Spassky is the best hope the Russians have for a nice, manageable world championship match next year, but certainly not the man they would choose. One recent clash with Russian chess authorities concerned the seconds that are traditionally supplied by the player's national federation during match play; they are handy for running errands, arguing with officials, speaking to the press and analyzing adjourned positions overnight while the player gets some badly needed rest. Korchnoi had two young English grandmasters (experts in unorthodox openings) for his second in the Polugaevsky match, and Spassky told the Soviet federation that he, too, wanted non-Russian seconds. They refused, and he played without any help except the moral support of his wife. "Marina was my second," he told the press after beating Portisch.
Both players have been looking forward to this final match before one of them gets ready to take on Karpov. Before his match with Polugaevsky, Korchnoi said that "form a chess point of view" he would prefer to play Spassky in the last round, and after beating Portisch, Spassky said that he looks forward to playing Korchnoi again. He beat Korchmoi in a 1968 challengers' match en route to winning the championship in 1969, but he conceded that Korchnoi is "much stronger" now.
"We are friends, it is true, but during the final we will be enemies," Spassky said, leaving unanswered the question of whether they will talk to one another.
Spassky is probably the most volatile and moody player (with the obvious exception of Bobby Fischer) at the world championship level of chess - very uneven in his results because of personality factors that affect his playing strength at any given moment. He began the Portisch match at a low ebb and played several games far below his best form, but in the brilliant ninth game (presented below) he reached some sort of turning point. He claims that he has regained his championship form and is in "good physical condition and high spirits," and the games below indicate that he is right. They include some of the most brilliant chess played this year and they promise plenty of fireworks when Spassky and Korchnoi sit down for their climactic match. GAME 9
White: Spassky; Black: Portisch. 1. P-K4, P-K4; 2. N-KB, N-QB; 3. B-N5, P-QR3; 4. B-R4, N-B3; 5. 0-0, B-K2; 6. R-K1, P-QN4; 7. B-N3, P-Q3; 8. P-B3, 0-0; 9. P-K3, N-N1; (Portisch, who has just won the eight game resoundingly, may be playing psychological tricks here; he is using the Breyer system of the Ruy Lopez - oen of Spassky's specialist and a defense with which Portisch won the third game of this match. The first 19 moves here are identical with those of Game 3, and by allowing the replay to go this far Spassky is demostrating that he has recovered from the shock of that loss.) 10. P-Q4, N/1-Q2; 11. N/1-Q1, B-N2; 12. B-B2, R-K1; 13. N-B1, B-KB1; 14. N-N3, P-N3; 15. P-QR4, P-B4; 16. P-Q5, P-B5; 17. B-N5, P-R3; 18. B-K3, N-B4; 19. Q-Q2, K-R2; 20. N-R2, B-N2; 21. R-KB1, P-KR4; 22. P-B3, Q-K2?; 23. B-N5, Q-B1; 24. P-B4!, (Spassky sees the prospect of sacrificing his way to a breakthourgh.) PxP; 25. RxP, N/3-Q2; 26. R/1-KB1, N-K4; 27. NxP!, PxN; 28. Q-K2, Q-R1; 29. R-R4, K-N3; 30. B-Q1!, P-B4; 31. RcBP, R-KB1; 32. QxPch, QxQ; 33. BxQch, K-R2; 34. B-B7 dis. ch!!, B-R3; (This uncomfortable sacrifice is the only way to prevent instant checkmate; we must assume that Spassky saw this position when he made his 27th move.) 35. Rx-bch, K-N5-2; 36. B-B6ch!, KxB dis. ch, K-K1; 38. RxRch, KxR( 39. BxPch, K-N2, 40. N-N4, and black resigned. More important than the threat to the black knight is the threat to the QB, once white manages to give check on the seventh rank. For example: 41 . . . NxP; 42. B-K5ch, K-N1; 43. R-R8ch, K-B2; 44. R-R7ch and 45. RxB. GAME 13
White: Spassky; Black: Portisch. 1. P-K4, P-QB4; 2. N-QB6, N-QB3; 3. P-KN3, P-KN3, 4. B-N2, B-N2, B-N2; 5. P-Q3. P-Q3; 6. P-B4, P-K4; 4. M2R3, PxP; 8. BxP, N/1-K2; (Now it is Portisch who is avoiding the Ruy Lopez, after his loss in Game 9. Spassky replies with a most unusual treatment of the Sicilian Defense, which will culminate in a kingside attacking motif similar to his knight sacrifice in the game above). 9.0-0, O-KR3; 10. R-N1, 0-0; 11. P-R3, B-K3; 12. B-K3, N-K5; 13. N-B4, B-Q2; 14. K-R1, R-B1; 15. Q-Q2, K-R2; 16. P-R3, B-QB3; 17. P-KN4, Q-Q2; 18. R-B2, P-N3; 19. R/1-KB1, B-N2; 20. Q-K2, R/QB1-K1; 21. B-B1, K-N1; (is Portisch remembering what happened to this king on the KR file in game 9?) 22. Q-K3, P-QN4; 23. Q-N3, P-N5; 24. PxP, PxP; 25. N-Q1, P-Q4; 26. P-Q4, N/4-B3; 27. PxP, N/3xp; 28. P-B4, PxP e.p.; 29. PxP> n-N6; 30. B-R3, R-B1; 31. P-B4, N-R4; 32. R-K2, R/KB1-K1; 33. R/1-K1. B-B1; 34. N-R5!, NxQP; (34 . . . PxN; 35. PxP dis. ch loses rapidly) 35. PxN, pxN; 36. PxP dis. ch, B-N2; 37. B-N2, P-B3; 38. BxP, RxR; 39. RxR, Q-KB2; 40. R-K6, and black resigned. White's quickest way of winning is probably 41. BxB, QxB; 42. R-Kn6, capturing the queen. If 40. . . . K-B1; 41. BxBch, QxB( 42. Q-B4ch, the black king and queen will again be lined up for the same kind of attack. If black tries to counterattack with 40 . . . R-B8, white can finish it with 41, R-K8ch, K-R2 (not 41 . . . QxR; 42. QxR; 42. QxB, mate); 42. B-K4ch. This victory put Spassky ahead for the first time in the match (Portisch had held the lead twice), but game 9 was the psychological turning point, when Spassy came from behind to even the score for the second time.