This the 25th instalment of #deanehistory.

We turn to the chessboard today. It works for Netflix; why not #deanehistory?

(There will definitely be no chess moves in this thread, and definitely no pieces sliding on ceilings, and probably no wild binge drinking.)
In the most famous chess match in history, Bobby Fischer of the USA beat Boris Spassky of the USSR to win the world championships in Reykjavik in 1972, at the height of the Cold War. But, having won, the mercurial Fischer refused to defend his title.
He had conditions the governing body wouldn't grant; that was the premise on which he walked. Whether in truth it was that dispute that motivated him, or that having scaled the heights he couldn’t or wouldn’t repeat the feat, he won one and was done. The Sam Allerdyce of chess.
Normally, there would a competition between challengers (or “candidates”) to take on the champion, which took place in 1974. Anatoly Karpov won that, and became the champion by default, given the prodigy Fischer’s newly found Greta Garbo approach to public appearances.
So it was that in 1978 Karpov had to “defend” his title without having won it.

To be clear, Karpov did hard yards in the candidates’ tournament. But it always mattered to Karpov (& his critics) that he didn’t win the title from Fischer– that it was forfeited to him stung hard.
The 1978 Championship – the first for a whole six years since the Icelandic affair – was fought in Baguio in the Philippines, between two Russians. But these Russians could not have been more different.
Karpov, in his late 20s, was a model Soviet. He had cruised to the top of the chess world without a setback (barring the inability to beat Fischer for the title, which was no fault of his). A staunch Party member and happy Muscovite, he was the golden boy of the USSR.
His opponent, Victor Korchnoi, was in his late 40s. He had qualified for the candidates’ tournament on no fewer than 5 occasions; now his big chance had finally come.
The biggest differences between the men & their camps weren’t about chess. They were about politics & personality. Korchnoi was ever-rebellious and outspoken, and felt sidelined by the regime’s very clear preferment of Karpov as the face of the game.
The Russians felt, and said, that the generation which had been beaten by Fischer was not the one to take up the championship pursuit for the future. Korchnoi had made some spiteful comments about Karpov after his ascension; the Soviets banned him from tournament play for a year.
In 1976, Korchnoi was permitted to compete at a tournament in Amsterdam, probably in order to show that Karpov would face strong enough competition later to merit calling him world champion.
After the tournament, which he jointly won along with the Englishman Tony Miles, Korchnoi wandered into a Dutch police station & declared to the no doubt bemused desk officer that he wished to seek asylum.
(Irrelevant side note. The story goes that, straight after the tournament, as far as his minders were concerned, Korchnoi was apparently deeply discussing post-match chess analysis with Miles; he was in fact getting Miles to teach him how to spell “political asylum.”)
Rather than a fit of pique, this was astute of Korchnoi; it ensured that he would actually get to play the elite games for which his ability qualified him – if he hadn’t done it, he would never know when the USSR might ban him from the board again.
Thereafter, in swift succession, Korchnoi competed for the Dutch, then the Germans, then the Swiss. At the time of the championship, he was actually considered “stateless” – I can’t think of another world championship in any sport or pursuit in which that’s been the case..?
The USSR said all sorts about him; Korchnoi seemed to regard his new rootless status a badge of honour. The proposal was… declined, but in pre-match negotiations re flags for qualifiers, Korchnoi’s second, our own Raymond Keene, proposed he play under the Skull & Crossbones.Lad.
Russia tried to have him banned from the qualifying tournament. In that rare thing, an example of the sporting authorities being brave & getting it right, the Soviets were told to do one. Korchnoi won, gaining the right to face Karpov at last.
All well and good, but why do I choose to tell you about this rather less famous follow up championships?

Well, it was a decidedly odd affair.

For starters… Karpov had a hypnotist on his support team. Korchnoi had two locals who were, er, on bail for attempted murder.
This is unconventional.

(On the other hand, Karpov’s “ex” KGB Colonel acting as his minder can be regarded as entirely conventional.)

The chairs were x-rayed amidst talk of death rays. None were found.
The delivery of yoghurts to Karpov was the subject of wild allegations about messages from support teams, perhaps conveyed by the timing of such delivery or the colour of the yoghurt. Or perhaps the flavour.
But don’t worry. After prolonged negotiation it was agreed that yoghurt could still be served, if the colour was pre-agreed, the server pre-identified and the timing of the delivery pre-fixed. So that was the big issue taken care of.
Korchnoi also had a lady friend in tow who’d spent ten years detained by the Russians after trumped up charges of espionage. She wasn’t really a fan of the USSR & loudly & firmly expressed her political views throughout the championships with some regularity.
Several world championships had been played in an atmosphere of hatred. Alekhine and Capablanca, for example, could have been throwing knives rather than moving pieces.

Whilst Fischer & Spassky didn’t hate each other, they represented superpowers that did.
But the animosity here was on another level. Korchnoi used his public platform to air understandable grievances in his private life: urging the release of his wife & son prior to the match, he referred to Karpov as “one of the jailors of my family.” Oof.
Spectators were hard to come by after the championship kicked off with a record seven drawn games. Before the eighth, Karpov refused to shake Korchnoi’s hand as is customary, citing all the announcements as proof that goodwill was lacking anyway.
Always thinskinned, the offended Korchnoi lost his temper & played angrily, & Karpov had the first win of the match at last. Korchnoi’s play was referred to by Keene as “consistent, but suicidal” and Karpov’s needling an opponent so effectively as “immoral, but astute.” Quite.
Post-Yoghurtgate came Hypnotistgate. Vladimir Zukhar was a famous hypnotist in the Karpov camp; the Korchnoi group complained about him sitting close to the front of the audience, staring intently at their man.
The point is that, whatever your views on hypnotism, such things can be offputting when you’re trying to concentrate. The adjudicators met about this. For six hours. After, he moved back, a bit. Korchnoi’s lady friend took to kicking the hypnotist and stabbing him with a pen.
(The hypnotism issue was later settled over drinks between the groups in the absence of the players and Korchnoi’s LF: Zukhov would sit at the back, as long as Kirchnoi stopped wearing his reflective glasses designed to repel hypnotic rays.)
Complaints were now falling like rain, from both sides. At the board, Korchnoi drew even, 1-1 (with 9 draws), despite an academic writing from Cambridge to kindly let him know that distance hypnosis was indeed possible.
Fog rolled into the rooms from a storm, briefly managing the impossible feat of temporarily stopping the arguments.
Karpov suddenly won 2 games. In heavenly sympathy for Korchnoi, there was a prompt earthquake & lightning struck the hotel. I know you think I’m making this up by now but I’m not. A landslide behind the playing hall killed two people. Rain flooded out some of the hotel rooms.
Play carried on. The hotel generator exploded. No big fire, the first plus for a while, but all was in darkness for a day. When they next played, Korchnoi wasted 1/4 hour on his clock threatening the hypnotist with violence if he didn’t move back. He lost. Karpov 4, Korchnoi 1.
The pair on bail for attempted murder arrived. They were in Korchnoi’s entourage courtesy of his LF & were enlisted from a religious sect to send positive prayerful messages to the contender. Whether such ministrations were unavailable from penitents not on bail remains unknown.
In successive restrictions they were coerced into civilian clothes rather than robes & turbans, onto chairs in the conventional style & out of the lotus position, & finally banished from spectating by an agreement to exclude those with serious criminal convictions.
They continued to give mental comfort and spiritual guidance – seemingly productively. On the other hand, police investigation of a group of Filipinos threatening Korchnoi with violence for $15,000 in return for (unsolicited) black magic support distracted from things for a day.
One more win apiece, Karpov 5 Korchnoi 2 – with 20 draws. Then a major Korchnoi comeback, winning three out of four games in a row. Karpov was in a minor car crash before the 4th Korchnoi win & got severely sunburnt before the 5th.
So things were level, 5-5, with one more win for either player to decide things. At this point, organisers suggested that things had gone on so long, & the players were so tired, that the match should be cancelled and begun again the next year, with results reset at 0-0.
Understandably given the run of form and the remarkable damp squib it would have made the tumultuous championship for those watching around the world, Keene declined without even telling his player of the offer, to avoid throwing him off his game.
But Korchnoi lost the next game.

So, after three months (yes, months) of play, Karpov beat Korchnoi 6 wins to 5, with 21 draws.
What’s the lesson today? It seems invidious to say that sometimes an anticlimactic draw after all the emotion and slog is your best option after all. Avoiding spiritual guidance from those with murderous intentions seems trite, too.
Perhaps it’s that the more secondary disputes and distractions you pile up for yourself, the less likely your primary aim is to come off. This, if nothing else from the magnificently weird Baguio round of the World Chess Championships in 1978, seems a universal lesson.
Belated salute: @GM_RayKeene
You can follow @ajcdeane.
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