Forever young!?

The World's two strongest players (in the over-seventies category!) battled it out over eight games in Kalmykia.
With a combined age of 150 and with their main achievements some decades old, the match is perhaps most of interest for the nostalgic observer!
It does show however that the chess is not just a young man's sport!

Both of these living legends, Boris Spassky and Victor Korchnoi, hail from Leningrad, but have a rather different attitude towards chess. Spassky is laid back and relaxed and not that bothered by playing, whereas Korchnoi is always highly competitive and very active in the chess scene.

One could naturally have anticipated that 78-year-old Korchnoi was favourite to take this match but Spassky (six years younger) showed that when pushed he can still play a reasonable game of chess.

Here are their personal records which demonstrate that Korchnoi has generally had an edge. His advantage would be even more evident if it weren't for the fact that in 1968 Spassky crucially won their match in the candidates final (4 wins to 1) and went on to become World Champion.

Korchnoi pushed Karpov close in the late seventies but never took the world crown.

Their highest ratings both came in 1979: Spassky at 2640, Korchnoi at 2695.

DecadeSpassky's recordwinsdrawslossesversus Korchnoi
1950'sBoris Spassky 221Victor Korchnoi
1960'sBoris Spassky 5106Victor Korchnoi
1970'sBoris Spassky 498Victor Korchnoi
1980'sBoris Spassky 062Victor Korchnoi
1990'sBoris Spassky 254Victor Korchnoi
previously in 2000'sBoris Spassky 111Victor Korchnoi
2009 matchBoris Spassky 242Victor Korchnoi

Spassky twice came from behind to tie the 2009 match as follows.

GameWhite - BlackResultNumber of movesOpening (ECO code)
1Korchnoi-Spassky1-047Nimzo/Queen's Indian hybrid (E21)
2Spassky-Korchnoi½-½46French Defence, 2.c4 (C00)
3Korchnoi-Spassky½-½50Nimzo/Queen's Indian hybrid (E21)
4Spassky-Korchnoi½-½22French Defence Classical (C14)
5Korchnoi-Spassky0-126English Four Knights (A28)
6Spassky-Korchnoi0-135Four Knights Defence (C49)
7Korchnoi-Spassky0-146Bogo-Indian Defence (E11)
8Spassky-Korchnoi½-½11Petroff's Defence (C42)

A score of 4-4 was something of a success for the inactive Spassky. However a younger (and more ambitious!) former World champion would probably have tried harder with White in the eighth game.

It turned out that in the sixth game Spassky almost threw the match away with a blunder.

Boris Spassky (2548) - Victor Korchnoi (2567)

Kalmykia (matchgame 6) 24.12.2009

Four Knights Defence (C49)

1.e4 e5 2.♘f3 ♘c6 3.♘c3 ♘f6 4.♗b5 ♗b4 5.0-0 0-0 6.d3 ♗xc3 7.bxc3 d6 8.♗g5 ♗d7 9.♘d2 h6 10.♗h4 g5 11.♗g3 ♘e7 12.♗xd7 ♕xd7 13.♘c4 ♕e6 14.♘e3 ♔h7 15.c4 ♖g8 16.♖b1 b6 17.c3 ♘g6 18.♖b2 c6 19.f3 d5 20.cxd5 cxd5 21.d4 dxe4 22.d5 ♕c8 23.fxe4 ♘f4 24.♕c2 ♕a6 25.c4 ♖ac8 26.a4 ♘e8 27.♖c1 ♘d6 28.♗e1 ♖c7 29.g3 ♘h3+ 30.♔h1 g4


An imprecision that allows Black to free himself or, more exactly, preparation for the blunder that follows!

Instead 31.♗c3! maintains an advantage e.g. 31...♖gc8 (after 31...f6 32.♗b4 ♘xc4 White has 33.♕e2! as here if Black captures on b2, White takes on c7 with check, and 33...♖gc8 34.d6 is clearly good for White) 32.♗xe5 with advantage.


Now Black can get away with this.


Now 32.♕e2?? loses to 32...♘xb2! as White's first rank is a problem.

Correct however is 32.♘xc4 e.g. 32...♖gc8 33.♕e2 ♖xc4 34.♖f1 h5 with chances for both sides.

32...♘xd6 33.♕xc7 ♖c8



34.♕xd6 unfortunately allows 34...♖xc1+ 35.♔g2 ♖g1#.

34...♘xc8 35.♘xg4 ♘d6


However in the following game he managed to defend well and later pick off a pawn, thus equalizing the match.

Victor Korchnoi (2567) - Boris Spassky (2548)

Kalmykia (matchgame 7) 25.12.2009

Bogo-Indian (E11)

1.d4 ♘f6 2.c4 e6 3.♘f3 ♗b4+ 4.♘bd2 d5 5.a3 ♗e7 6.♕c2 b6 7.e4 dxe4 8.♘xe4 ♗b7 9.♗d3 ♘bd7 10.b4 a5 11.b5 c5 12.bxc6 ♗xc6 13.♘ed2 ♖c8 14.♕b1 0-0 15.0-0 ♕c7 16.♖e1 ♗d6 17.♗b2 ♖fd8 18.♕d1 ♗f4 19.♕e2 ♕d6 20.♘f1

White's central pawn couplet are known as 'hanging pawns' which tends to be considered as a double-edged structure. They can offer attacking chances (they cover several key squares, yield an advantage in space and have a lust to expand) but as they lack pawn support they can come under pressure.

20...♘c5! 21.♗c2

After 21.dxc5 ♕xd3 22.cxb6 ♕xe2 23.♖xe2 ♘d7 Black will regain the pawn with the superior structure.


Obtaining the bishop pair and thus reducing White's attacking chances.

22.♗xa4 ♗xa4 23.g3 ♗h6 24.♘e5 g6

Spassky now reorganizes his kingside defences.

25.♕f3 ♗g7 26.♘e3 ♗e8 27.♖ab1 ♘d7

White's 'more active' pieces have nothing much to bite on. 28.♘xd7 ♗xd7 29.d5 e5!

Retaining the dark-squared bishops for now leaves his opponent with no real targets.

30.♕e2 ♖b8 31.♘d1 ♖dc8!?

Although 31...f6 is plausible it could lead to some weaknesses. In any case Spassky isn't afraid of simplification.


The exchange of the c-pawn for Black's e-pawn leaves White with an isolated d-pawn.

32...♗xe5 33.♕xe5 ♕xe5 34.♖xe5 ♖xc4 35.♖e7 ♗h3!

This move is often rather a nuisance as White's first rank can become a serious weakness.

36.♘e3 ♖c3 37.a4 ♔f8 38.d6?

Ambitious but ultimately self-weakening.

Correct is 38.♖e4 ♗d7 39.♖h4 (not 39.h4? ♖a3; and definitely not 39.♘c4?? ♗f5) 39...h5 40.♘c4 ♖d3 41.♘xa5 ♖xd5 42.♘c4 ♗xa4 43.♘xb6 ♖b5=.


Threatening mate.


Loosening, but what else?

39...♖d3 40.♖e4 ♗e6 41.g4 ♖xd6

The d-pawn falls. Clearly it would have been safer left on d5!

42.♔f2 ♖c5 43.♖b2 ♔e7 44.♔g3 ♔d7 45.h4 ♔c7 46.h5


More details (in Russian!) on the official site

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