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Korchnoi, on the other hand, could not be kept quiet with an ICBM. Says one old chess friend, "Since his defection, Viktor has discovered free speech. He's like a kid with a new toy." In fact, it was his free speech that got him into hot borsch in the first place—not free speech on political matters, but free speech at the chessboard, of all places. A few years ago, in a match against Tigran Petrosian, a former world champion and editor of 64, Korchnoi became infuriated because Petrosian was jiggling his leg, disrupting Korchnoi's concentration. Instead of complaining to the match judge, which is the prescribed procedure, Korchnoi leaned over and said to the older grand master, "Stop that, Petrosian. Where do you think you are, in a bazaar?" The resulting flap lasted for days and produced flurries of censure from various authorities. Finally Korchnoi was made to write a public apology.
In a match against Spassky, Korchnoi became infuriated at the spectators in the workers' gallery—the equivalent of the bleachers at Fenway Park—and walked to the edge of the stage, stuck out his imposing chin and yelled, "Shut up, you idiots." Again there was a flurry of editorials critical of Korchnoi's "unprovoked attack on the pride of Russia's working class."
Korchnoi prepared for the Belgrade match with Spassky by retiring to a secluded West German sanitarium overlooking Switzerland's Lake Constance, there to lose weight, quit smoking and study chess. Arriving at Korchnoi's retreat, a long, low Holiday Inn-looking building with a jogging and exercise circuit, a visitor is prepared for Korchnoi, at least the one he has read about. But it turns out that not only is there a Viktor the Loud and a Viktor the Slightly Mad, but there is also a Viktor the Charming, the Gracious, the Funny.
He sat in his room at the spa, spooning up nutritious-looking green soup and reading the International Herald Tribune to improve his quite serviceable English. "Look here," he said, pointing with his spoon to the front page of the paper, "Tito's wife has been put under house arrest for anti-government activities." He smiled, permitting a glimpse of a few gold molars. "I'll bet Tito just has a new girl friend and wanted the old woman out of the way for a while. Don't believe what you read in the papers!" His booming laugh reached a group of pudgy West German businessmen in jogging suits doing pushups on the lawn and they stared up toward his window.
"It is the same in chess," said Korchnoi. "Don't believe the political reasons for things, or even the technical ones. The human element, the human flaw and the human nobility—those are the reasons that chess matches are won or lost. Our humanity is all we really have, eh?"
In part, Korchnoi learned his humanity through suffering. The son of a Jewish father and a Catholic mother, he remembers his mother as "never having any furniture except vegetable crates and, of course, a piano, for she was a teacher." When his parents' marriage dissolved, he was shuttled among relatives. By the age of 10 he was living in a flat in Leningrad with 13 other families. It was the terrible winter of 1941, when the German army had the city cut off.
"I watched my older relatives die off one by one from complications caused by starvation," he says with a pained shrug. "When one would die, we'd put the body outside to freeze, and then my brother and I would have to drag it on a sled to the burial authorities. We kept the food ration cards, of course. The living have to go on living."
By the end of the war he had become inextricably bound up in chess. His days were spent in the Pioneers' Palace in Leningrad—one of the youth clubs that abound in the U.S.S.R.—where the teacher, grand master V. G. Zak, had recognized his promise. "One day when I was 12 or so, Zak made me sit with my back to the board," Korchnoi recalls. "He played white and called out the moves. I remember that I played the Hungarian defense and I lasted for 20 moves. Zak said, 'Good boy, someday you'll be a master.' "
Zak evidently had a talent for spotting promising youngsters. "I remember when Spassky's parents brought him to Zak," Korchnoi recalls. "Boris must have been 10 or so. Zak played a game with him and immediately put him on the state payroll. Like me, from his earliest days. Spassky's whole life was chess."
"Zak is still alive," says Korchnoi, "old now and lonely, but he taught us so much more than chess—literature, music, a love-of physical sports. Most important, he taught us to be fearless about the truth. He was a good man and gave us a sense of justice that has stuck with both of us, I think. That's why I have defected, and why Boris is having his own troubles with the regime. Justice."