Matches won by Viktor Korchnoi

Korchnoi v. Spassky, Candidates' Final, game 14 at Belgrade 1977-78. Spassky, then living mostly in France, playing under the Soviet flag, wearing a sun cap. Korchnoi, stateless had no flag.

What a bizarre battle this was! Can't think of another high calibre fight in classical chess where a guy won 4 games in a row and yet lost by 3.

Possibly the most curious match course on record in modern times: After ten games, Korchnoi had a commanding lead by 7.5 to 2.5 points (five wins, and five draws), then losing four games in row, and was pegged back from 5-0 to 5-4 wins.

Each player's box was located behind his opponent (Spassky's box behind Korchnoi, and vice versa), which felt like your opponent was staring at you from behind. Note that Spassky’s run of successes coincided with his discovery of the box method of play, and various capers. After Korchnoi had become accustomed to it, he struck back with great force, winning game 17 and game 18, and thus won the match with 10.5 to 7.5 ahead of schedule (20 games).

Those were the days: Eleven decisive games and only seven draws, and all draws were hard fought.

Good games, too. Spassky wasn't playing crappily, he was playing well, and still getting drubbed by the six years older Korchnoi this time. Remember, three cycles before, in the Candidate's final in Kiev 1968, Spassky (who had previously eliminated Larsen) beat Korchnoi (who had eliminated Tal) with 6.5 to 3.5 to challenge Petrosian for a second time, dethroning him to become the new World Chess Champion in 1969.

In lifetime score, Viktor Korchnoi beat Boris Spassky with 20 to 16, and 33 draws in classical chess. Korchnoi also beat Spassky overall in active or speed exhibition chess with 5 to 2, and 5 draws (Chessgames stats).

They met each other over the chess board between 1948 and 2009, more than fifty years! (summary of content from Chessgames contributors).

Viktor Korchnoi won about 30 individual matches and additionally numerous mini-matches in team events against strong opposition. Candidte's matches in those days were longer than current World Champion matches! Note: individual and team wins of the same event, count only once for the overall records, compare the 1st Prizes chronology.


  • Candidates (in total 13 wins):
    won vs. Sam Reshevsky, quarterfinal (Amsterdam, 1968)
    won vs. Mikhail Tal, semifinal (Moskau, 1968)
    won vs. Efim Geller, quarterfinal (Moskau, 1971)
    won vs. Henrique Mecking, quarterfinal (Augusta 1974)
    won vs. Tigran Petrosian, semifinal (Odessa, 1974)
    then a stretch of 7 won Candidates matches in a row:
    won vs. Tigran Petrosian
    , quarterfinal (Ciocco 1977)
    won vs. Lev Polugaevsky, semifinal (Évian 1977)
    won vs. Boris Spassky, final (Belgrade 1977/78)
    won vs. Tigran Petrosian, quarterfinal (Velden 1980)
    won vs. Lev Polugaevksy, semifinal (Buenos Aires 1980)
    won vs. Robert Hübner, final (Meran 1980/81)
    won vs. Lajos Portisch, quarterfinal (Bad Kissingen 1983)
    and later (in 1985 there was a Candidate's tournament)
    won vs. Gyula Sax, 1/8-final (Wijk aan Zee 1991)


  • Candidates (in total 6 losses):
    lost vs. Boris Spassky, final (Kiev 1968)
    lost vs. Tigran Petrosian, semifinal (Moskau 1971)
    lost vs. Anatoly Karpov, final (Moskau 1974)
    lost vs. Garry Kasparov, semifinal (London 1983)
    lost vs. Johann Hjartarson, 1/8-final (Saint John 1988)
    lost vs. Jan Timman, quarterfinal (Brussels 1991)


  • Friendly matches, among others:
    lost vs. David Bronstein (Leningrad 1970, training)
    won vs. Robert Hübner (Solingen 1973)
    won vs. Jan Timman (Leeuwarden 1976)
    won vs. Werner Hug (Zürich 1977)
    won vs. Hansjörg Känel (Emmenbrücke 1981, blitz)
    won vs. Ivan Morovic (Vina del Mar 1988)
    lost vs. Ivan Morovic (Santiago de Chile 1991)
    won vs. Jereon Piket (Nijmegen 1993)
    won vs. Alon Greenfeld (Beersheba 1995)
    won vs. Xie Jun (Wenzhou 1995)
    won vs. Lucas Brunner (Zürich and Bern 1996)
    won vs. Gilberto Hernandez (Mérida, Yucatán 1996)
    won vs. Etienne Bacrot (Albert (France) 1997)
    won vs. Kamil Mitoń (Krynica-Zdrój 1998, rapid)
    won vs. Boris Spassky (St. Petersburg 1999, active 1h)
    won vs. Maria Kouvatsou (Rethymno, Kreta 2002, rapid)
    lost vs. Artyom Timofeev (Kazan 2002)
    lost vs. David Navara (Prague 2003)
    won vs. Vlastimil Hort (Stara Vraz, 2010, combined: classic and rapid)
    won vs. Wolfgang Uhlmann (Leipzig 2014, active 1h)
    won vs. Mark Taimanov (Lucerne 2015, rapid)


  • Friendly matches in an equal result, among others:
    drawn vs. Anatoly Karpov (Leningrad 1971, training,
    5 out of six games with black)
    drawn vs. Jan Timman (Hilversum 1982)
    drawn vs. Ruslan Ponomariov (Donetsk 2001)
    drawn vs. Boris Spassky (Elista 2009)
    drawn vs. Wolfgang Uhlmann (Zürich 2015, rapid)


  • Mini-matches within team events, among <many> others:
    won vs. Botvinnik (Moscow 1960)
    won vs. Petrosian (Moscow 1965)
    lost vs. Portisch (Belgrade 1970, USSR vs. Rest of the World)
    won vs. Keres (Tallinn 1975)
    won vs. Polugaevsky (London 1984, USSR vs. Rest of the World)
    ==> for full statistics, see chronological listing of 1st prizes


A rare picture from the Candidate's Final in Belgrade 1977-78 (Photo: DIE TAT, a former daily newspaper in Switzerland)

Korchnoi (born 1931) and Petrosian (born 1929) faced each other five times in a Candidate's cycle, namely in 1962 (held as tournament in Curaçao, won by Petrosian), and later again four times consecutively, now organised as knock-out matches, namely in 1971 (Semifinal, Petrosian won), 1974 (Semifinal, Korchnoi won), 1977 (Quarterfinal, Korchnoi won a third time in a row), and 1980 (Quarterfinal, Korchnoi won) at Velden in Austria from where this picture has been taken (Photo: AP)

In lifetime score, Viktor Korchnoi beat Tigran Petrosian with 12 to 10, and 48 draws in classical chess (Chessgames stats).

  • Korchnoi vs. Tal

    Korchnoi, the great counter-attacker, eliminated Tal, the great attacker in the Candidate's Semifainal in 1968 in a very close result with +2 -1 =7. Before that match in Moscow, Tal had won only once against Korchnoi, but lost eight times.

    This photo is from the USSR championship 1957 in Moscow, with Mikhail Tal, born in 1936, died in 1992, becoming then in 1957 the youngest Soviet Champion.

    In lifetime score, Viktor Korchnoi beat Mikhail Tal with 13 to 4, and 27 draws in classical chess (Chessgames stats).

  • Korchnoi vs. Polugaevsky

Korchnoi beat Hübner in the Candidate's Final 1980 at Merano in Italy (Photo: Marcel Antonisse, Anefo, from 1984 at Wijk aan Zee tournament)

Amsterdam, May 1968. Viktor Korchnoi defeated Samuel Reshevsky at the Candidate's Quarterfinal match (5½-2½). Korchnoi advanced to the semifinals where he would meet and beat Mikhail Tal (Photo: Anefo, Ron Kroon, Amsterdam, 8 May 1968)

Reshevsky was 20 years older than Korchnoi, exactly the same age odds as in reverse between Korchnoi and Karpov.

After eliminating Petrosian (Quarterfinal 1977), Polugaevsky (Semifinal 1977) and Spassky (Final 1977-78), Korchnoi played for the World Chess Champion title against Anatoly Karpov at Baguio City in 1978, 32 games, +5 =21 -6 (Photo: Douglas Griffin)

Korchnoi's record in the Candidate's

Korchnoi and Portisch, pictured as veterans at Wijk aan Zee in 2008.

Portisch won their prestigious individual mini-match on board 3 during the famous "USSR vs. Rest of the World" battle at Belgrade in 1970. Korchnoi later beat Portisch in their Candidate's match (Quarterfinal) at Bad Kissingen in 1983.

  • Multiple Challenger: 1974 Challenger de facto, 1978 and 1981 consecutive Challenger
  • Candidate ten times (a cycle back then lasted three years with normally eight players), world record!
  • Qualified in Candidate Cycles 1960-1963, 1966-1969, 1969-1972, 1972-1975, 1975-1978, 1978-1981, 1981-1984, 1984-1987, 1987-1990, 1990-1993
  • Candidates stretch from Curaçao 1992 (quadruple round robin of eight players) to Brussels 1991 (with four quarter-finals organised parallel): a range from Petrosian, Keres, Geller, Fischer, Benko, Tal, Filip in 1962 (tournament) to Short, Timman, Karpov, Yusupov, Gelfand, Anand, Ivanchuk (matches) in 1991 respectively
  • 19 Candidate matches played, 13 won (without mini-matches in round robin Candidate tournaments)
  • Korchnoi played 50 games in World Chess Championship matches
  • Plus a world record of 251 games as a Candidate! Korchnoi is followed by Spassky 168, Petrosian 166, Smyslov 153, Keres 137, Tal 126, Portisch 117, Geller 113 games, these are the eight players with the most games in the Candidate's (of course, this one is trivia, incumbent World Champions have the handicap not to play)
  • Winner of Interzonal twice (1973 & 87, between these cycles, he always was prequalified due to his results).
  • Oldest winner ever of an Interzonal at Zagreb in 1987. Nota: Only Smyslov, the oldest Candidate ever, and Korchnoi could play as a Candidate at age of 60plus
  • Participant K.O. - FIDE World chess championship in 1997, 1999 (advancing 1/16-finals against Kramnik) and 2001

Korchnoi's last appearance in the Candidate's at age of 60 and some months: After beating Gyula Sax, Korchnoi lost in August 1991 in Brussels (picture above) to Jan Timman, then at the heights of his power.

Note: with three exceptions, Viktor Korchnoi faced in the Candidate matches always a younger player (the exceptions are Petrosian by a nose, Geller, and of course Reshevsky). Karpov is twenty years younger than Korchnoi, Kasparov thirty-two years. Ponomariov (drawn friendly match in 2001) even fifty-two years! 

Play-off matches to decide a tournament, from Korchnoi vs. Kotkov (play-off after Poltava 1956) to Korchnoi vs. Gallagher (Swiss national championship 2011) are NOT counted for obvious reasons, they are (only) used as tie-breaker, and if won, listed under the corresponding tournament event.

Knock-out encounters within a closed competition (in the mid and late 1990s some tournaments switched to a k.-o. format as in tennis for one or the other edition, and the FIDE World Chess Championships were decided this way) are naturally NOT counted even if there was a considerable number of games (eg. Korchnoi vs. Dolmatov 4.5:3.5 after extra-time rapids, 2nd stage at Las Vegas FIDE WCC 1999).

The Candidates matches vs. Hjartarson in 1988 (lost) and vs. Sax in 1991 (won) were in fact rather 1/7-finals than 1/8-finals, because in both cycles Anatoly Karpov was directly seeded in the quarterfinal, subsequently there were seven (and not eight) matches in the prior round. 

Video of the match Korchnoi vs. Polugaevsky in Évian, France in 1977: