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"My favorite grand master was Emanuel Lasker, the 'German Tiger,' who was world champion from 1894 to 1921. Lasker said that chess wasn't a gentleman's game; it wasn't a science or an art or a nice exercise in strategy. Chess, Lasker believed, was a damn rough sport. It is the ultimate battle of will and ego, the best that man has ever devised. It is the thing that nature most loves—a fight!" Korchnoi was practically shouting now. His chin jutted out, and the villagers cut a wide arc around him.
Korchnoi has been playing brilliantly of late. Last spring he beat his arch enemy Petrosian in the first round of the Candidates' Selection 6�-5� and this summer demolished Lev Polugayevsky 8�-4�. Yet he still worries about his reputation as a counterattacker. "I try to get away from it," he said. "To sit there waiting to get attacked—it's too much a female fate." He winked.
In the Dom Sindikata Theater, Korchnoi will not have an easy time of it with the former world champion, his old friend and political half-ally Boris Spas-sky. Although Spassky didn't get to the final round of eight among the candidates in the elimination leading up to the title match (he was ranked ninth and won a seat only because, as expected, Fischer declined to play), and although he had a great deal of trouble beating first the Czech grand master, Vlastimil Hort, 8�-7�, and then squeaking by the tough Hungarian, Lajos Portisch, 8�-6�, he is hardly a pushover.
His main fault, according to American grand master Robert Byrne, "is a certain sterility in his thinking at the board. Spassky occasionally has to do something daring, like an early queen sacrifice. That seems to clean out his brain, and he can settle down for the match."
Korchnoi himself measures Spassky as much in political as chess-oriented terms. "I know of no man more capable of perfection than Boris," he says. "From an average member of Soviet society—featureless, unreasoning, submissive—he has become an independent, discerning thinker.
"As a player, Boris has the imaginative ability to sacrifice material for gaining the initiative in a game. He is very strong in the middle game, where I am weak." Korchnoi shrugs and then smiles. "But other than that he is a quite ordinary grand master."
Says Colonel Edmondson, "Spassky is at the top of his form psychologically, but on the other hand, Korchnoi has been playing brilliantly. Although Viktor can irritate opponents with his wild play, nothing much unnerves Spassky. He's seen Viktor's game for 30 years now and he's not likely to fall into some trap. I wouldn't put any bets on this one."
And Korchnoi, in turn, must watch out. "Spassky starts a game lazily, lulling an opponent into a false sense of security," says Byrne. "Then he pounces."
If Spassky should win, the Soviet Chess Federation—under FIDE rules—would have the right to select the site for the world championship, because both Karpov and Spassky are Soviet citizens. The Soviets would certainly pick a city in the U.S.S.R., which would be to Spassky's disadvantage, for there is speculation that if he indeed agreed to go, he might not get back out again. A Korchnoi victory would be to the Soviets' disadvantage. It is unlikely that the match would occur in the U.S.S.R. and, furthermore, how can someone regarded as a non-person actually play against Karpov? It would tax even the experts at Tass to report the match without mentioning Karpov's opponent.
At the recent FIDE meetings in Venezuela, however, there was an indication that the Soviets might be loosening up a little on their usual non-negotiable demands about the world championship format and their paranoiac protection of Karpov. "I had time to talk a bit with Karpov," says Edmondson. "He's 26 now, and he's beginning to see the light about international competition.