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Monday, February 19, 2018

Korchnoi on Curacao 1962

     Who are we going to believe?  In the last post I touched on the fact that it had been rumored that Korchnoi had been instructed to throw games at Curacao in 1962, so thought it would be interesting to see what Korchnoi himself had to say about the tournament.
     Korchnoi wrote that the Soviet delegation included a man who had nothing to do with chess...a KGB colonel in civilian clothes. On the player's return to the Soviet Union, the colonel wrote a report on Korchnoi's improper behavior by visiting a casino. By that time Korchnoi's personal file was already substantial. For example, at the European Team Championship at Oberhausen in 1961 he had been reported for behaving badly because he had asked a German lady to a movie. They didn't go, but it didn't matter; he had committed a sin by asking.  
     Korchnoi was also having problems with other Soviet players and officials. Although the organizers of the 1963 Piatagorsky Cup in Los Angeles had sent three tickets for Soviet players, the Soviet Chess Federation had arranged for only two, Korchnoi and Keres to play. However, Petrosian insisted that he be allowed to play so Korchnoi was out.  
     Korchnoi reached Curacao by tying for fourth place with Dr. Miroslav Filip in the Zonal.  He wrote in Chess Is My Life that had he known what was going to happen later he would have stepped aside and let Leonid Stein go in his place! He wrote that everything was arranged by Petrosian, who along with his friend Geller, agreed to play draws in all their games together and they then persuaded Keres to join them.  
     In the tropical heat it was important to conserve physical energy and the arrangement gave the conspirators an advantage over the other players. Korchnoi thought Keres made a mistake by agreeing to the arrangement because he was playing better than the other two and it wasn't to Keres' advantage to take draws against his main rivals. Korchnoi opined that a more crafty Keres, upon learning of the pact, would have sought out a separate alliance.
     Korchnoi claimed that at first he didn't grasp what was happening and when he saw a 10-move draw between Geller and Petrosian in the second cycle he asked Geller who he was intending to beat and Geller replied, “You!” 
     In the meantime fatigue was beginning to creep up on those not in on the Geller-Petrosian-Keres alliance. Dr. Miroslav Filip of Czechoslovakia started to play weakly.  Later Tal fell ill after the third cycle with kidney problems, was hospitalized and withdrew.  
     At the completion of the first cycle Korchnoi was in the lead, but then he began suffering the effects of fatigue. It was so bad that in one game he had a big advantage against Fischer, but then blundered away a piece. Even a week's rest on the island of St. Maarten didn't help. The tropical conditions were sapping energy. 
     By the time the last cycle rolled around Korchnoi lost to the three leaders and that's what prompted Fischer's claim that Korchnoi had been chosen as a sacrifice by the Soviet authorities. Korchnoi couldn't believe Fischer was serious because, as Korchnoi wrote, by nature he was incapable of being a sacrificial lamb. 
     It's well known Korchnoi didn't like Petrosian and as he was quick to point out, had he won those games Petrosian wouldn't have won the tournament. In the end, Petrosian finished ahead of Geller and Keres by a half point with the decisive game being Benko – Keres in the fourth cycle. 
     The position was adjourned with Benko having a slight advantage. Up until that time Keres had defeated Benko every time they had met and their individual score stood at 7-0 in favor of Keres; he had won four games in the 1959 Candidates and three at Curacao.
     According to Korchnoi, it was on the initiative of Petrosian's wife that Petrosian spent the night analyzing the game which Benko won. Later his wife bragged how she had made her husband champion. If Korchnoi's version of what happened is correct then Benko's claim, as mentioned in the previous post, is not true and he did accept the analysis offered him by Petrosian and Geller. 
Rona Petrosian

     It seems doubtful to me that Petrosian would have invested a whole night's work if Benko had been unwilling to accept any help.  The only second Fischer and Benko had was Arthuir Bisguier. Also, remember that after one of the rounds, Bisguier was in Fischer’s room when Benko entered, looking for help from Bisguier. Fischer dismissed Benko’s request, mocking him, because Fischer regarded Bisguier as his personal assistant since he believed that he had the better chance to win the tournament. An argument ensued with Bisguier trying unsuccessfully to diffuse it. Benko ended up slapping Fischer and Bisguier stepped in to separate the two.  So it is conceivable that under the circumstances Benko would have welcomed some analytical help. 
     After the Soviet payers visited St. Maarten, Korchnoi's game collapsed and the rumors began spreading that he was involved in the plot. Writing in Curacao 1962, Jan Timman said that “a former World Champion” told him that Korchnoi had been told to lose his game as black against Petrosian in round 23. Petrosian's wife, Rona, had put great pressure on Korchnoi's wife, Bella and it was a telling detail that both women were Armenian, as was Petrosian. See that game and discussion HERE.
     In 2002, Korchnoi's explanation for the loss was that he simply did not understand the line of the English Opening well enough, but in a 2003 interview in New in Chess, Korchnoi was asked if the events at Curacao were like a scene from a novel. He replied, “I would say that the part played by my wife in this situation should not be underestimated. She was Armenian and in some ways she believed like Petrosian's youngest sister...When Petrosian was around, she always acted like a pupil, like a younger sister.” 
     In any case, Keres finished second in the Candidates matches again and Petrosian went on to defeat an aging Botvinnik in a titanic struggle in 1963 in which he exhausted Botvinnik with draw after draw in the first half of the match. In a fit of sour grapes, Botvinnik wrote that Petrosian was a player who destroyed the creative process. Korchnoi agreed, adding that the statement applied to more than Petrosian's chess, but you could not “help but admire the devilish determination of the man.” 
     The following game from round 5 in which Korchnoi defeated Fischer is one of the better known games from Curcao. Fischer was lost right in the opening and his play was so anemic that Korchnoi didn't think enough of the game to even bother including it in his best games collection.

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