02 November 2009

The Choice of Seconds

The subject of World Championship Opening Preparation is not just about players working with their seconds to prepare a repertoire. It's also about choosing those seconds. In recounting his preparations for the 1974 Final Candidates Match against Karpov, Korchnoi related several inside stories.

Faced with the likely refusal by Fischer to play the subsequent title match in 1975, the 1974 match was de facto for the World Championship. In case Fischer should decide to play, the Soviet federation considered Karpov the better bet to defeat the American and reclaim the World Championship lost by Spassky in 1972. Korchnoi wrote,

I already had one second, the master Osnos, and I didn't want to break with him, since we had worked together for the two previous matches [vs. Mecking and Petrosian]. I had to find someone who was insensitive to public opinion, and to the 'blows of fate' which could result from this opinion. There was no such volunteer among the grandmasters. My choice fell upon the inexperienced Dzhindzhikhashvili [more commonly spelled 'Dzindzichashvili'], a player with an 'indifferent' reputation in the world of officialdom. [...] I knew at least that, if the Party should ask him, Dzhindzhikhashvili would not betray me. But all kinds of weapon were to be used against me. [...] They very much wanted me not to trust my own seconds, who in any case were not all that strong. In the end they got their way.

By the efforts of the All-Union Chess Federation, a powerful staff was set up to help Karpov. Apart from the main trainers, there were Petrosian, Averbakh, Tal, and Botvinnik. Yes, Karpov persuaded even Botvinnik to give him advice. I was told a story of how once Tal and Vaganian arrived back from the Yugoslavia - USSR match. A car from the Communist Youth Organization Central Committee was awaiting them by the airport entrance. 'We're going straight to Karpov', said the executive, 'he's having trouble against the French Defense'. And they both went.

It is not surprising that for the match with Karpov I was weaker in the opening. After all, I was essentially alone. [...] One who made his sympathies for me well known was Smyslov. For this reason, when he returned to Moscow after the USSR First League championship, much as he resisted he was immediately sent off to a tournament in Venice.

From Korchnoi's 'Chess Is My Life' (p.105).

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