Viktor Korchnoi, the 71-year-old legend, returned to Curacao after 40 years and won an open tournament this past weekend on a tie-break over grandmaster Yona Kosashvili of Israel, after both players shared first place with seven points in nine games. Grandmasters Jan Timman of the Netherlands and Bartlomiej Macieja of Poland, together with IM Carlos Gallegos of Venezuela, finished just a half point behind the winners.
The tournament was staged to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the 1962 Candidates tournament. That was a controversial event where the top three winners, Soviet grandmasters Tigran Petrosian, Efim Geller and Paul Keres, prearranged short draws among themselves to save energy in the long 28-round competition. The pact annoyed American Bobby Fischer, who had to fight in every single game. He called it cheating and saw it as a major obstacle to his chances to become a world championship challenger. Korchnoi, who played in Curacao but was not part of the deal, confirmed after his defection from the Soviet Union in 1976 what Fischer had suspected.
Kosashvili and his wife, Sofia Polgar, made Korchnoi's victory bittersweet last week. Kosashvili won the blitz tournament, played before the main event, defeating Sofia in the final. But she eliminated Korchnoi in the semifinal. In the main event Korchnoi did not play better against her husband and lost to Kosashvili in the Spanish. The Israeli grandmaster kept the game closed, occupied the only open file with heavy pieces, and his two knights overpowered Korchnoi's bishop pair.
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.d3 (Preventing Korchnoi's favored defense, the Open variation 5.0-0 Nxe4.) 5...b5 6.Bb3 Bc5 7.a4 Rb8 8.Bg5 h6 9.Bh4 d6 10.axb5 axb5 11.Nbd2 (Less flexible is 11.Nc3. The game Arakhamia Grant-Motwani, Edinburgh 1999, continued 11...g5 12.Bg3 Bg4 13.h4 Nd4 14.hxg5 Nh5 15.Bxe5!, proposing a stunning double bishop sacrifice 15...dxe5 16.Bxf7+! Kxf7 17.Nxe5+ Ke6 18.Qxg4+ Kxe5 19.Rxh5! with a powerful attack.) 11...g5 12.Bg3 Bg4 13.c3 Nh5 14.Nf1 Nf4 15.Bxf4 gxf4 16.h3 Bh5 (Maintaining the pin, but leaving white with more control in the center.)
17.g4! (Breaking the unpleasant pin.) 17...Bg6 18.N1d2 Qf6 19.Ra6 Bb6 20.Qa1 0-0 21.h4 h5 22.g5 Qe7 23.Qa2 Qd7 24.Ke2 (The safest place for the king. It is not easy for black to find a counterplay. White can now turn his attention to the queenside.) 24...Rfe8 25.Bc2 Nd8 26.b4 Ne6 27.Bb3 c6 (Threatening 28...Nc7, forcing the white rook to retreat from a6. It was possible to achieve the same idea more aggressively with 27...c5, e.g. 28.Bxe6 fxe6 29.Ra1 cxb4 30.cxb4 Rec8 with a good game.)
28.Bxe6 Rxe6 29.c4 Qb7 30.Rc1 Re7 31.c5! (Driving the other bishop back from its active position gives white a clear advantage.) 31...dxc5 32.bxc5 Bd8 33.Ra1 Kf8 34.Qb2! (Finding a weak pawn on e5.) 34...Bc7 (After 34...Qc7? 35.Ra7 Qxa7 36.Rxa7 Rxa7 37.Nxe5 Rc7 38.Nxg6+ fxg6 39.Qh8+ Kf7 40.Nf3 white should win.) 35.Ra7 Qc8 36.R1a6 Rb7 37.Ra8 Rb8 38.Qa1! (The queen, the heaviest piece, lines up behind both rooks like a locomotive pushing two wagons. This heavy piece formation is known as "Alekhine's Gun," based on the game Alekhine-Nimzovich, San Remo 1930, where it was first employed. Fischer used it to perfection in the first game of the 1992 match against Spassky, gaining complete control of the a-file.) 38...Kg7 39.R8a7 Qe6 (Black tries hard to stay in the game, but does not have a good answer to white's next strike.)
40.d4! (Opens up the game in the center, threatening to win with 41.d5 and 42.d6.) 40...exd4 41.Qxd4+ Kg8 42.Qf6! (White wins a pawn by force and the black position collapses.) 42...Qd7 (After 42...Bxe4 43.Qxe6 Bxf3+ 44.Kxf3 fxe6 45.Rxc6 black's pawns begin to fall.) 43.Qxc6 Rd8 (Black cannot keep the queens on the board for long. After 43...Qd8 44.Kf1! b4 45.Kg2 b3 46.Qd5! white should win.) 44.Qxd7 Rdxd7 45.Kf1 Kg7 (After 45...Bxe4 46.Nxe4 Rxe4 47.Rb7 Kg7 48.Rc6 Ree7 49.Rxb5 the passed c-pawn decides.) 46.Rb7 Be5 47.Rxd7 Rxd7 48.Nxe5 Rxd2 49.f3! (Taking the black bishop out of play, white's c-pawn is ready to run.) 49...Rc2 50.c6 Black resigned.
Connoisseurs of chess history should welcome "The Steinitz Papers," edited by Karl Landsberger and issued by McFarland & Co., Publishers (Box 611, Jefferson, N.C., 28640; phone 1-800-253-2187; Web site www.mcfarlandpub.com.) The book includes correspondence and documents of the first world chess champion. Landsberger, Steinitz's great-grandnephew, collected and edited the material with great care and provided running commentary. Grandmaster Andy Soltis expands Steinitz's comments to his 1896 match against Schiffers. Very useful are biographical notes of those who played some role in Steinitz's life. It is fascinating reading, notably the negotiations for the world championship matches.
Solution to today's study by A. Maksimovskikh (White: Ka1,Be8,Ne6,P:a7,b2,b6; Black:Kb7,Qd5,P:a4,c3): 1.Bc6+! Qxc6 2.Nd8+ Ka8 3.Nxc6 c2 4.b7+ Kxb7 5.Na5+ Kxa7 6.Nb3! axb3 stalemate.