Boxing in White City | ChessBase

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Not unprecedented

[Note that Jon Speelman also looks at the content of the article in video format, here embedded at the end of the article.]

The recent World Championship looks in retrospect to have been very one-sided, and indeed Magnus Carlsen’s margin of final victory was enormous. But the first five games were very close and hard-fought, and it wasn’t until after the epic sixth game that things changed completely.

The type of loss was the worst possible for Ian Nepomniachtchi, and it came at the start of a three-game streak – which in a game of this intensity is highly unusual and probably just too much. Nepo went into something like a shock, and although he was able to function normally for long periods of play, his “hand” lost its reliability: which is a terrible thing when you have to be able to rely on a game to play. less reasonable, because decisions must be made movement by movement under extreme stress over an extended period.

The Nepo collapse was dramatic but far from being (and here I find myself putting my life in danger using the you word) unprecedented. In match conditions, it is not uncommon for players to crack completely or for a few matches. And in this case, it brought them to the end of the match – which at 14 games was long by today’s standards – but short compared to battles of the past.

[Photo: Niki Riga]

Belgrade 1977

Thinking about the collapses, I came back to the famous battle between Viktor Korchnoi and Boris Spassky in Belgrade in 1977 and found Ray Keene’s book on my shelves.

“Only” the final of the Candidates, it was however planned in 20 matches, and in intensity, bad feelings and shenanigans, acted as a precursor of the World Championship Karpov v Korchnoi in Baguio 1978.

Having defected from the USSR in 1976, Korchnoi at this point was a “non-person” whose games they did not publish (at least not with her name attached). Spassky not only faced a formidable opponent, but also carried the weight of his country’s expectations (as he later did against Fischer), and in the first nine games Korchnoi racked up a massive 6½ lead. -2½.

It was in Game 10 that Spassky started behaving very strangely. Both players had a private box where they could relax when it wasn’t their move, but Spassky also started staying there during his moves, only returning to the board to move the pieces. Korchnoi won Match 10 despite losing position at one point, but as protests and counter-protests erupted over the box, Spassky, who at one point started appearing on stage with a visor, won. four consecutive wins from 11 to 14. Finally, the positions of the two boxes were reversed so that Korchnoi could at least see his opponent when he was in his “half-open box”. And after the draws in games 15 and 16, Korchnoi won the last two to finish as a 10½-7½ winner with two games remaining.

Boris Spassky, Viktor Korchnoi

I hope I gave a reasonable account of this. The exact details of every protest, counter-demonstration and statement by Chief Referee Bozidar Kazic and FIDE President Max Euwe don’t seem too important at this distance, but the general feeling is that the game is intense and brutal and that feelings can be very high even when international politics are not involved. (Indeed, this time some of the comments about Daniil Dubov’s decision to continue working for Magnus Carlsen against a compatriot Russian were very untimely.)

As for the real games in Belgrade, they went to the end. The most famous is the lower rank battle in game 7, and I’ve included a few more as well.

My next column will be January 2, 2022 and will likely contain at least some elements of retrospection, as well as prognosis.

Until then, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year everyone.

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