"Korchnoi has to stabilize himself so that he quits losing," said Byrne. "One advantage of this kind of match is that you always have time. Korchnoi could chip away: win one game a week and draw the other two. But that's not his style. He wants to damn the torpedoes and go full speed ahead. I think he's out of his mind."
Thus ended an unlikely opening 10 days to what many chess observers here had thought could be a rerun of the serpentine struggle that the two had waged in the Philippines. More than a few of the main currents and characters that flowed through Baguio City have also swept through Merano.
The host city lies about 50 miles south of the Austrian ski resort of Innsbruck, in a valley bounded by the Dolomites, which rise starkly to the sky. Before World War I it was a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, a spa regularly visited by European royalty who bathed in its waters and drank its wines. When the empire disintegrated after the war, a region including Merano was ceded to Italy. The countryside is layered with apple orchards and grape arbors, and October is harvest time. Last week men and women were clambering along the hillsides, pushing wheelbarrows and shearing grapes.
It was against this backdrop that Karpov and Korchnoi renewed their bitter rivalry, one that began in earnest seven years ago, in 1974, when they met in Moscow to decide who would play Bobby Fischer for the championship in 1975. When Karpov won by a point—a victory that eventually handed him the title, because Fischer would forfeit it—Korchnoi lashed out at Karpov and the Soviet chess establishment, criticizing him as a player and accusing the establishment of harassment because it didn't want a Jew to win. The Soviets banned Korchnoi from tournament play. He was reinstated in 1976, but he defected that year while playing abroad and shortly thereafter he took up residence in Switzerland. A year later, playing exceptional chess, he marched through the candidates matches to win the right to play Karpov for the title in '78.
That match developed into one of the wildest in chess history. Losing 4-1, Korchnoi went down from the mountains of Baguio to Manila, where he met Victoria Shepherd and Steve Dwyer, American-born members of the Ananda Marga religious movement.
They taught him meditation and his play suddenly came alive. In one span he reeled off the three straight wins that tied the match at 5-5. The Soviets were in a panic. Earlier, Korchnoi had complained that a Karpov aide, a parapsychologist named Vladimir Zoukhar, was sitting in the front row of the hall trying to hypnotize him. Zoukhar was ordered to sit in the back. When Korchnoi tied the score, the Soviets struck back.
The Soviets complained of "security" risks in having "terrorists" around and had Dwyer and Shepherd banned from the hall. They had been convicted of stabbing an Indian Embassy employee in Manila and were out on bail pending an appeal. Zoukhar returned unmolested to a seat nearer to the front. Korchnoi finally suffered his sixth defeat and lost the match. He left the Philippines in despair, saying, "Although Mr. Karpov has retained his paper title, I hope the world will appreciate the moral depths to which his supporters have lowered themselves to maintain his supremacy."
Nothing so tempestuous has occurred in Merano, although there was one preliminary skirmish. The day before play began, the Soviet press published a diatribe against Korchnoi's private life, in a blatant attempt to rattle him. (While his wife and son are still in the Soviet Union, unable to get out, Korchnoi travels with a female companion.)
The schedule calls for three games a week in the town Kurzentrum (German for cure center). Each day they are to play, as it approaches five o'clock, Karpov and Korchnoi are whisked from their hotels—Karpov from the Riz Stefanie, Korchnoi from the Palace, right next door—to the auditorium.
At a few minutes to five, another car pulls up and out steps Victor Baturinsky, the former KGB colonel who became known as the Black Judge during the Stalin era and is the reigning power in Soviet chess, as an administrator rather than a player. A burly man with thick glasses and a stubby cigar forever in his hand, he is affectionately referred to by one English-speaking member of the Soviet delegation as "Cuddles."