Viktor Korchnoi

Viktor Korchnoi (1931-2016) is generally acknowledged as one of the best chess players who never won a World Chess Championship.

Viktor Korchnoi

Korchnoi became a USSR chess champion four times. As a USSR team member, he co-won the European Chess Championship five times, and the Chess Olympiad six times.

He was a candidate for the World Championship no less than ten times: 1962, 1968, 1971, 1974, 1977, 1980, 1983, 1985, 1988 and 1991.

At age 75, he won the 2006 World Senior Chess Championship and also broke the record for oldest person ranked among the world´s top 100 chess players.

Korchnoi vs Karpov

Korchnoi and Anatoly Karpov played a total of three official tournament matches against each other.

In 1974, Korchnoi lost the Candidates final to Karpov. This victory gave Karpov the World Championship title without having to play a final, since the reigning champion Bobby Fischer refused to come and defend his title.

Korchnoi won two consecutive Candidates cycles (in 1978 and 1981) and thus qualified for World Championship matches against Karpov, but lost both.


Viktor Lvovich Korchnoi was born in Leningrad (today named St. Petersburg) in 1931. His mother Zelda Azbel was a Jewish piano-playing alumna of the Leningrad Conservatory of Music, while his father Lev Korchnoi was a Polish-Catholic engineer who worked at a candy factory. Both of them had moved to Leningrad, Russia from Ukraine with their families in 1928.

The parents divorced when Viktor Korchnoi was still very young, and he lived with his mother until 1935 when he moved to his father and paternal grandmother. His father was killed during World War II, and Viktor was afterwards cared for by his adoptive mother Roza Abramovna Fridman.

Viktor Korchnoi learned to play chess from his father at the age of five, and joined a chess club at the Leningrad Pioneer Palace in 1943. There, he was trained by Abram Model, Andrei Batuyev, and Vladimir Zak. Model had previously trained Mikhail Botvinnik and Zak had trained Boris Spassky.

Early chess achievements

  • Korchnoi won the Junior Championship of the USSR in 1947. The following year, he shared the title.
  • Korchnoi earned his Soviet Master title in 1951, after finishing second in the 1950 Leningrad Championship with 9/123.
  • In 1952, Korchnoi qualified for the finals of the USSR Chess Championship. He advanced from the semifinal in Minsk, and ended up at sixth place in the final in Moscow. (The tournament was won by Mikhail Botvinnik and Mark Taimanov.)
  • In 1953, Korchnoi achieved a shared 3rd-4th place at the USSR Chess Championship.
  • In 1954, he finished on a shared 2nd-3rd place in URS-ch21 in Kiev.
  • His first international tournament occurred in Bucharest, Romania in 1954. Korchnoi won the event by a comfortable margin with 13/17.
  • In 1955, Korchnoi won the 1955 Leningrad Championship with 17/19.
  • He finished on a shared 1st – 2nd place at Hastings, England in 1955-56 on 7/9.


Korchnoi graduated from Leningrad State University with a major in history.


Korchnoi became a FIDE chess grandmaster in 1956.


Korchnoi defected to the Netherlands in 1976. He moved to Switzerland in 1978 and became a Swiss citizen in 1979. He lived in Switzerland for the rest of this life, and died in Wohlen in 2016.