Traps, Trcks & Mistakes: Time Trap

Viktor Korchnoi (1931 – 2016) was a Russian grandmaster who devoted his whole life to chess.
Born in Leningrad, he suffered as a child the terrible days of the siege of the city by the German army in the II World War.
His father died when he was 10. Because his mother was extremely poor and couldn’t afford to bring him up, she handed Viktor to his father’s family.

Because Korchnoi was always critical of the political system in the Soviet Union, he had difficulties with the authorities.
Finally, he defected to the Netherlands in 1976 and it created enmity with the majority of Russian chess masters who saw him as a betrayer.

Once outside the Soviet Union and shortly after his defection, he won the Candidates Final in 1977 defeating Spassky (10,5 – 7,5).
This victory gave him the right to fight for the World Chess Championship in Baguio (Philippines), 1978, against Anatoly Karpov.

The world was then divided into two political blocks: the socialist (led by USSR) and capitalist (led by the USA).
The Soviet Union dominated the chess arena because the strongest grandmasters were Russians.
Because of that background, the match acquired a big impact on the press.
Karpov had the support of his country. On the other side, Korchnoi was the defector and the Soviet Union wanted to punish him.

An indication of the different support for both players is the number of members in each player’s delegation in Baguio.
Karpov’s delegation counted 16 members while Korchnoi’s party consisted only of 5 people.

From the beginning, the match was full of tension and strange events with one of the most famous being the incident with psychologist Dr Zoukhar.

Officially, Dr Vladimir Zoukhar was a member of the Soviet delegation as an expert in problems of psychology and neurology.
Since the first rounds, he seated in the front rows of the playing hall.
But in round 17, Korchnoi argued that Dr Zoukhar was trying to hypnotize him or influence him into playing weak moves.

For his claim, Korchnoi wasted 13 important minutes on his clock at the start of the game which he would need in the endgame.
After the game, and perhaps forgetting the incident, he commented: “I don’t know where my time went. I thought I was moving quickly.”

It was a clever time trouble trap by Karpov.
Here is how Mikhail Tal described it: “Korchnoi has virtually a few seconds on his clock, and Karpov plays 38…Rc6!? quick. The very first reflex is to protect the first rank and because there is simply no time, Viktor plays 39.Ra1?? instantly”.
Korchnoi fell into Karpov’s trap and lost a game that he could have won.
After that defeat, Karpov had 4 victories and Korchnoi only 1.
Because the winner of the match would be the first player to win 6 games, not counting draws, Korchnoi’s position was really unpleasant.

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