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


They played four Candidate's matches in 1971, 1974, 1977, and finally in 1980 at Velden in Austria (Korchnoi won three of them, the last three), and one Candidate's tournament in 1962 (Petrosian won this notorious contest, subsequently became Challenger and a year later World Champion). In lifetime scores, Viktor Korchnoi (born 1931) beat Tigran Vartanovich Petrosian (born 1929) 12 to 10, with 48 draws in classical chess (Photo: AP)

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: