37 responses to “Anti-hero? Evgeny Vasiukov on Viktor Korchnoi”

  1. A great read! Thank you, mishanp!
    I have been following (let me use Polish spelling) Korcznoj for 50 years and he is such a fascinating personality. A touch of genius mixed with a lot of human frailty. I guess I would not like him at all in person, but I greatly admire him.

  2. An interesting interview.

    But I find your timing strange. Why post such a negative article just now when Korchnoi is celebrating his birthday?

  3. Thanks for the good read, mishanp! I love your site. I think it´s nice and refreshing to read something other than “great Korchnoi turned 80″, and anyway this is only another opinion, which you´re not presenting as the only universal truth about Korchnoi.

    As for Korchnoi and Kasparov´s personalities, I don´t know about the former, but the latter can be a nice chat if you catch him on a good day (otherwise, from what I know, beware! :P)

  4. Vasiukov’s comments are full of half-truths.Here is a check list:

    1)In 1958 Fischer was the U.S.Champion.He had every right to be shown respect.The Soviets were condescending and treated him as a kid. Contrary to Vasuikov’s statement he was ready to play serious games with any of the leading grandmasters, if Botvinnik was not available. The Soviets did not oblige.
    2)In blitz games at Moscow Central club only Petrosian held his own against Fischer, not Vasuikov or any one else (Russians versus Fischer by Plisetsky and Voronkov)
    3)Vasuikov exaggerates his own importance in Korchnoi’s preparation for the 1967 Interzonal. Here is what Korchnoi had to say:
    I engaged the assistance of Vasuikov, a diligent and hard working man. But his chess repertoire was quite different to mine, and each of us had to do some relearning.
    4)Contrary To Vasuikov’s perception, Korchnoi did get along well with contemporaries like Spassky and Tal, not to mention older colleagues like Bronstein and Keres. In his autobiography, he expresses his admiration for the style of most of his these players. He did call Tal a routine attacker. The Latvian seldom played well against Korchnoi till 1980s.
    5) Korchnoi fought for the return of his first wife and son from the Soviet Union. He continues to maintain good relations with his son Igor who contributed a whole chapter on his father’s autobiography, Chess is My Life. Korchnoi divorced his wife only when she was safe and secure. Vasuikov quotes Tal, mentioning that she was served a divorce notice right on her arrival. Misha seldom indulged in this kind of gossip about others. He is dead. So is Korchnoi’s first wife. The dead cannot speak. Can they?

    Vasuikov actively participated in the Soviet propaganda against Korchnoi. His speaking for the plight of Viktor’s deceased wife and son after all these years is hypocritical.
    He benefited from the official patronage throughout the Soviet era. He accuses Korchnoi of not doing public work. Viktor has not retired from play and he continues to represent the Swiss team in Olympiads. This is public work.

  5. Dear Mishanp,

    Thanks for the comment.

    1)The point that young Fischer beat Vasiukov and Nikitin in game after game and Petrosian was summoned to deal with the wunderkind comes from an authoritative source, Yuri Averbakh in a first person narration in Russians versus Fischer. I need not mention others like Frank Brady and Harry Golombek who confirm the same. Vasiukov is making this claim for the first time after all these years. If he was really beating Fischer as he belatedly claims there would have been no need to call Petrosian at all.

    2)In his autobiography, Chess is My Life Korchnoi writes that he had kept himself free on the scheduled day of arrival of his family. Then the date was suddenly put back by a week and it so happened that he was giving a simultaneous display. It was in these circumstances that he sent his lawyer to receive them at the airport. The arrival of the family was in 1982 and the divorce proceedings started long after in 1988. During the interim period Korchnoi did look after his family.
    In the autobiography he offers a sensitive account of his estrangement from his wife, never blaming her for anything. Even after the divorce her illness continued to be cause for concern and he remained in touch trying to help.

    3) On the fluctuating relationship between the father and son I would accept your point as it is backed by evidence.
    Here is the link to Igor’s participation at his father’s birthday celebration:
    http://www.chessbase.com/newsdetail.asp?newsid=7111

  6. Dear mishanp,

    Thanks for the info. in both responses. We are on a slippery ground.

    1)The account of Vasiukov is diametrically opposite to that of Averbakh. I would rely on the latter as both western and Soviet accounts support the same.
    2)The Time magazine report manages to get the wife’s name wrong. It’s Bela, not Beta. But this could be the printer’s devil. In his autobiography Korchnoi writes,
    After temporarily staying in Zuruch, the family moved to Lausanne…in this university my son intended to continue his education.Indeed, in 1983 he entered the university physics faculty and successfully completed the course in 1988.
    (Paragraph)
    My wife and I began divorce proceedings… and these continued for three years. “
    I linked the year 1988 to the divorce proceedings. But this does not appear to be correct.
    1988 is the year of Igor finishing the course. Earlier in the chapter My family in the West Korchnoi says that the marriage had fallen apart through six years of separation among other reasons. He defected in 1976. So 1983 could be the correct year for marking the beginning of divorce proceedings.
    The education of his son, providing for his foster mother and Bela’s own need to start an independent career were all important factors before both went on this painful course. Last but not least was his emotional involvement with Petra, his comrade-in-arms. He married her after the divorce had come into effect.
    That Time magazine bit is just invaluable. Thanks again.

  7. Interesting read. Unlike the prof. I find Vasiukov’s story fairly plausible, both on him meeting & beating Fischer and his stories on Korchnoi.
    I don’t see why statements by Averbakh or books by Korchnoi himself (both masters have sort of a reputation) should be seen as strong evidence against Vasiukov’s recollection.

  8. Dear friend,

    Sorry about disagreeing with you and no offence meant otherwise:

    1)When a player like Vasiukov makes a serious claim he should produce either documentary evidence or a credible eyewitness. All the more so as against Bobby Fischer.
    In 1958 Vasiukov had just managed to become an IM. He could not qualify for the Soviet Championship final. When he did in later years he landed up in the lower half of the score table most of the time. In contrast Fischer was already a GM, having won the US Championship in succession (1957 and 1958). He beat Reshevsky in the National Championship and defeated Larsen in the Interzonal. None of the Soviet GMs (Tal,Petrosian, Bronstein and Averbakh) could beat him in that tournament. When he qualified for the Candidates’ he was only 16-years-old. Vasiukov’s record in 1958
    is poor in terms of rating and performance in comparison with Bobby.
    In blitz again the acknowledged masters were Petrosian, Tal, Korchnoi and Bronstein. Did Vasiukov ever manage to win one blitz championship ahead of them? Who saw him win against Bobby? No one.

    2)Enough documentary evidence has been mentioned here by way of Igor Korchnoi’s own essay (in Chess is my life by Viktor Korchnoi, Edition Olms 2005) and a recent photograph of his participation in his father’s birthday on ChessBase site. The Time magazine notice about divorce proceedings is dated 1983, a full year after the arrival of the family. It is patently false and even absurd to suggest that a divorce notice is served by a lawyer at an air port on a family arriving from abroad. If this was true, the Soviet propaganda machinery would have seized the opportunity to paint Korchnoi in the vilest of colours. It didn’t because charges of irresponsibility and callousness towards his family would not have stuck. Vasiukov ought to know better than making serious personal allegations without producing one living witness or even a little piece of paper.

  9. Dear mishanp,

    I am aware of the extraordinary strength of the Soviet Championships. But the US Championship with the participation of Samuel Reshevsky, Robert Byrne, Pal Benko and Larry Evans is not bad in terms of comparison.
    To return to Vasiukov, he could only manage a modest 10.5 out of 19 in the Semi-finals and failed to qualify for the 1958 Soviet Championship.
    He claims in the other interview that he “whitewashed’’ Geller also on the occasion of meeting Fischer at Moscow Central Club. Geller was a Soviet champion and also a world championship candidate. A Soviet master beating both the US and the USSR Champions on the same day in blitz stretches credulity. At this rate any grand dad could boast about anything, with no one being wiser.
    However, I would accept your info. that he was a blitz champion. These sources are not easy to trace.
    I was looking at the cross tables of Soviet Championships and unable to locate his name near the top most of the time. After checking the years on the basis of your info. I can confirm the following. He shared third to fifth place with Taimanov and Platonov in 1967, scoring 9.5 out of 13.This was an open tournament with 130 players. One of his best results. Similarly he shared 6th to 7th place with Balashov in 1972 (the year you meant), scoring 11.5 out of 21.
    The point I was making was that he was nowhere near Fischer in 1958 in terms of playing strength.
    Over all, his record is modest as compared to that of others.
    On the business of Korchnoi’s divorce there is little to add by way of facts.
    This has been an interesting debate. At the end of the day let us all agree to disagree.

  10. Dear Professor,

    Please see: http://db.chessmetrics.com/CM2/PlayerProfile.asp?Params=199510SSSSS3S136908000000111000000000032010100

    Vasiukov is rated there #11 in the world in 1962. Calling him just “a Soviet master” does not give him enough credit. I began subscribing to a Polish chess journal “Szachy” in 1961. Vasiukov’s name was pretty close to the very top, almost all of the time, at the time (I lost my entire collection of issues from 1961-1981, so I have no proof, but you have no proof either :)

    Comparisons of that kind are silly, but since you started, here’s my take on it: Vasiukov rates certainly below Fischer, about even with Reshevsky, all others mentioned by you would be rated lower.

    Another professor.

  11. Sorry, one more item for the Dear Professor:

    “Evgeny Vasiukov excels at Manila, winning the tournament with 10½/14, ahead of Tigran Petrosian (9½/14) and Bent Larsen (9/14).”
    [this from Wikipedia article "1974 in chess"]

    (I think I heard somewhere the names Petrosjan and Larsen :) Also, Gligoric, Ljubojevic, and Portisch were far behind a certain “Soviet master”.

  12. Dear friends,

    In 1958 Vasiukov became an IM. When I used the term Soviet master, all that I meant was that he was not a GM yet like Geller or Fischer. He became a grandmaster later. It is probable that the 4th place in the 29th USSR Championship (along with other results) put him among the top twelve around 1962.
    In terms of sporting performance and creative achievement the hierarchy of players in chess history is open to debate. But there should be some objective standards in attempting the same. Otherwise it becomes a farce.

  13. Dear Mishanp,

    There are two authoritative studies, Soviet Chess by Andrew Soltis and The Soviet Championships by Bernard Cafferty. Both are strong on contemporary Russian sources. I use them all the time apart from an earlier work on the same period by Robert Wade. Where does Vasiukov stand in comparison to his contemporaries? Only by way of occasional mention in these books. Probably a more sympathetic historian might come up with a comprehensive assessment of his work.
    About titles and ratings: I do not wish to overemphasize their importance for the same reasons you have mentioned. Weren’t there several other players like Nezhmetdinov who did not even receive the grandmaster title? So I am aware of the problem with these titles and ratings. But they have their place even as you prefer to use Sonas. You are entitled to accept Vasiukov’s version of his beating Fischer. Others like me are entitled to believe observers like Averbakh.

  14. Oh dear, that photo halfway down the page is badly mis-titled. It’s clearly from the 1974 Candidates Final, not Merano 1981. I know because I’ve seen it before anyway, but there are several visual clues that should make it obvious (age of the players, two Soviet flags, hideous decor)…

  15. Interesting interview and debate, tks.
    Reading both statements I conclude that Vasiukov was among the strongest soviet blitz players at that time and he could have perfectly beaten Fischer, who perhaps was quite tired after playing the whole day, game after game, while the soviet masters were mostly waiting to give a lesson to the young “impertinent” american wonder boy. As Averbach is still alive, would be interesting to ask if he was present in the blitz match and if he remembered what the score was.
    In the interview I found Vasiukov lack of autocritithism to his role in the prooven soviet colluding chess system. It’s interesting his criticism to Korchnoi and Kasparov, the only two soviet GMs who had the courage to confront a system, even putting in risk their personal safety, while Vasiukov himself made a good living backing such an unfair establishment.

  16. I am not an expert in chess history, but I lived there in the 70′s. I was a classmate of Sasha Furman, whose dad at the time was Karpov’s coach. He was nervous about the matches, because their outcome was important to his family livelyhood. Perhaps he was the only one I knew who unwillingly rooted for Karpov. To me the bottom line is that Vasyukov was part of the Soviet chess machine, which was as corrupt as the country itself. I would not trust a word he says.

    In 1976, VK’s son was kicked out from the college, right after passing his entrance exams, because of his father. Karpov lived within a 10 minutes walk from the school, and probably was cheering the expulsion.

    VK never had a reputation of being a nice guy, but he is a chess player and not an apparatchik like Vasyukov.

  17. I hardly understand people writing about Korchnoi “fighting the system” and Vasyukov making good living for himself. Korchnoi escaped from the USSR to give his professional carear more perspectives, that is exactly to make better living. Meanwile Vasiukov – not by far a worse player, actually – is barely known to anyone.

  18. A postscript on Vasiukov’s claim that he literally crushed Fischer in their meeting at Moscow Central Club 1958 and from that point on whenever they met, Bobby always treated him with respect.
    This is what Bobby said in an interview with Toran in 1961:
    http://www.chesshistory.com/winter/extra/fischer3.html
    Fischer: Before the [1958] Interzonal I was invited by the USSR Chess Federation to visit Moscow, and I played some interesting training games there with notable young stars like Vasiukov, who was then champion of Moscow. Yes, the trip was very useful.
    Torán: They clearly like you, don’t they?
    Fischer: They recognize who’s going to beat them.
    There are two file pictures with Vasiukov as a spectator, with Fischer playing blitz
    against Petrosian.
    http://kevinspraggett.blogspot.in/2011/03/fischer-interview-from-1960.html
    What Averbakh and Petrosian had to say on the same meeting at Moscow Central Club also contradicts Vasiukov’s claim:
    A t the Central Chess Club he managed to play some lightning chess with several young masters, notably, with Nikitin and Vasyukov. He also played a few fast games with Petrosyan (Tigran afterwards recalled, “I was the person summoned to the C l u b to
    ‘cope” with a youth who was beating the Moscow masters at lightning chess “)
    ( From preface by Averbakh to the book, Russians versus Fischer by Plisetsky and Voronkov)
    Who are the Moscow masters beaten by Fischer, if not Vasiukov and others?
    So we have the testimonies of Petrosian, Averbakh and Bobby himself, none supporting Vasiukov’s exaggerated claim, “I literally crushed Fischer.”
    In fairness Bobby was sufficiently impressed by Vasiukov’s play to mention him in the 1961 interview cited above.
    Petrosian passed away in 1983 and Fischer in 2008. In their life time Vasiukov never made any such claim and after 50 years of the said encounter he comes up with this statement that still goes against documented testimony.

  19. I would gladly ask any of Vasiukov’a contemporaries if there is some truth to his claim “I literally crushed Fischer”. Many are no more. The surviving ones are very old and not easy to reach.Some might not want to be drawn into controversy. Nevertheless, I have asked mutual friends to see if any one can be contacted and care to remember what happened then.

  20. In wikipedia it says that,
    ” Karpov, in his book Karpov on Karpov (Atheneum 1993), writes that, because of Fischer’s overwhelming form at that time, Korchnoi and Petrosian were asked by Soviet chess authorities to choose between themselves, before the match, who they thought would have the better chance of stopping Fischer in the finals. Petrosian apparently believed strongly in himself, and so Korchnoi was asked to throw the match, receiving as compensation invitations to the three most prestigious tournaments in western Europe. Petrosian, however, lost to Fischer by the score of (+1 −5 =3) late in 1971.”

    and

    “With his victory over Petrosian, Korchnoi advanced to the Candidates’ Final, the match to determine who would challenge reigning World Champion Bobby Fischer in 1975, to face Karpov. In the run-up to the match, Korchnoi was constantly subjected to threats and harassment, and was virtually unable to find any Grandmasters to assist him. Bronstein apparently assisted Korchnoi, for which he was punished. Bronstein, in his last book, Secret Notes, published in 2007, wrote that he advised Korchnoi before the match began, but then had to leave to play an event himself; when he returned, Korchnoi was down by three games. Bronstein then assisted Korchnoi for the final stages.”

    I don’t understand why officials supported Karpov, or Petrosian, isn’t it better to let chess decide who is better ?

  21. Karpov’s word should be taken with a pinch of salt.
    In 1971 Candidates’ Match Petrosian happened to the stronger player. He deserved to win. There is a very interesting report on the match by Spassky in Chess Life & Review. He too confirms the same.
    In 1974 the picture had changed. The authorities had come to believe that Karpov was their hope in beating Fischer.
    It is true that they were partial to him and this was unfair to Korchnoi. But he also spoiled things for himself by declining the help of Keres who offered to assist him. In his autobiography, Chess is my life he writes, “On the eve of my match with Karpov Keres was one of the few grandmasters who offered me his help. I was forced to decline. So overwhelming was his authority over me.” Keres was an outstanding analyst. His advice and assistance would have made a difference.
    In the end Korchnoi’s habitual time trouble and suspect opening repertoire did him in notwithstanding determined resistance till the end.This should not detract from Karpov’s outstanding form that disposed of rivals like Polugaevesky and Spassky, not to mention Korchnoi.
    Still, I agree with the basic observation that all players should start with fair and equal conditions from the organisation. Let chess decide.

  22. Thank you for your response Prof.Nagesh Havanur,

    I don’t think Karpov would say something like that if is wrong. What is his benefit from this? Isn’t that propose that Korchnoi could have won the match ?

    Also here “I was forced to decline. So overwhelming was his authority over me.”, who’s authority Korchnoi is talking about ? And how you decided that he is not forced but declined by himself?

    Best Wishes,

  23. Dear friend,

    Glad to see your interest.In matters of chess history do not take any one’s word for granted. Look for others’ testimony, documentary evidence and most important, what happened over the board.
    Do read autobiographies of Karpov, Korchnoi, Averbakh and more comprehensive books like “Soviet Chess” by Soltis and “Russians versus Fischer”.
    Petrosian-Korchnoi Match, 1971 was tough with both players missing chances. There is no question of either opponent throwing a game. Not even Fischer or Spassky ever made that suggestion. There was no love lost between Karpov, Korchnoi and Petrosian. So he has discredited them with this allegation.
    Petrosian lost his job as Editor-in-Chief of “64” Magazine after Korchnoi beat him in Candidates, 1977 and Karpov took over the editorship of the magazine renamed as “64 review”. Petrosian in turn supported Kasparov, Karpov’s new rival. So there was a lot of politics here.
    About Keres: In his autobiography Korchnoi says that he never won against him.* He either lost or drew. So Keres had a kind of moral authority over him. Suppose the Soviet authorities had forced Keres not to help Korchnoi Viktor would have mentioned it in his book. Somehow he was not comfortable with the idea of taking help from Keres. He does not explain why.
    (Korchnoi did win a game against Keres in 1975. But he does not care to remember.The lifetime score between the two was: +1, -4, =12)

  24. Independent of there I believe it is true Korchnoi was under huge pressure (Brostein says he is punished for his assistance), also note that Kasparov’s surname was Weinstein, I believe he didn’t change his surname gor nothing.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antisemitism_in_the_Soviet_Union
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rootless_cosmopolitan *
    * In a December 1, 1952 Politburo session, Stalin announced:
    “Every Jewish nationalist is the agent of American intelligence service. Jewish nationalists think that their nation was saved by USA (there you can become rich, bourgeois, etc.). They think they’re indebted to the Americans. Among doctors there are many Jewish nationalists.”[9]

  25. Dear friend,

    Of course Korchnoi was under pressure. As for antisemitism,it has a long and complex history in Russia. When it came to chess in the former USSR its impact was ambivalent and contradictory varying from period to period. As compared to other spheres of life in the Soviet era, its presence in chess life was comparatively less.But then everything is relative when we are looking at the past and its relationship with the present.

  26. Off topic:
    Why in qualification World Championship 2007, fide averaged over rating lists of January 2005 and July 2004. http://en.chessbase.com/Home/TabId/211/PostId/4002791

    It seems that fide announced this at November-December 2005,so it should choose October list. How unfortunate for Ivanchuk!
    http://ratings.fide.com/top_files.phtml?id=14100010
    Same thing in World Championship 2005,
    http://www.chess.co.uk/twic/twic546.html
    Fide announced it in late April, if fide have used April list, Ivanchuk would participate easily (Number 5).

Leave a Reply