Raymond Keene

Korchnoi’s French

As we bid farewell to the great Viktor Korchnoi, it is worth pointing out that he was one of those rare players who at various times held a diversity of national titles. His record included winning the championships of the USSR, the Netherlands and finally Switzerland.

I conclude my tribute to him this week with one of his classic wins in the French Defence. This week’s game is a Korchnoi masterpiece that I found in a new book on one of his favourite defences.

   First Steps: The French Defence by Cyrus Lakdawala is published by Everyman Chess.
Braga-Korchnoi: Sao Paulo 1979; French Defence
1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 Nge2 White protects his c3-knight from the potential damage to his structure, but at a high cost: 1) White’s e4-pawn is sacrificed and there is no guarantee he regains it. 2) 4 Nge2 clogs White’s kingside development. 4 … dxe4 The most natural. Black grabs e4 and dares his opponent to either regain the pawn, or prove compensation. 5 a3 Bxc3+ The more adventurous path. 5 … Be7 6 Nxe4 Nf6 is a safer path to equality for Black. 6 Nxc3 Nc6 7 Bb5 After 7 d5 exd5 8 Qxd5 Be6 9 Qxe4 Nf6 Black’s development lead makes up for White’s bishop pair. 7 … Nge7 8 Bg5 White regards the capture of Black’s e4 pawn as superfluous. In any case 8 Nxe4 is met with 8 … Qd5 when White does not get full compensation for the pawn. 8 … f6 9 Be3 0-0 (see diagram 1) 10 Qd2 It isn’t so easy for White to regain his sacrificed pawn in this line.

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