Viktor Korchnoi © Getty Images
Viktor Korchnoi during his younger days © Getty Images

Moscow: Chess grandmaster and four-times Soviet chess champion who fled to the West, Viktor Korchnoi, has died aged 85, the Russian chess federation said today. Korchnoi died in Switzerland where he had lived for many years after defecting to West in 1976 from the Soviet Union. He had suffered from heart problems and had a stroke in 2012. He won four Soviet Union championships in 1960, 1962, 1966 and 1970. In 1974, he lost against Anatoly Karpov, then emerging as a great player. Despite his many victories at a lower level, he never achieved his dream of becoming world chess champion.

The ambitious grandmaster “always stood out with his huge will for victory and constant striving for battle,” said the Russian chess federation in a statement. Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, president of the international chess federation (FIDE) told TASS news agency: “This is a great loss for the whole chess world. Korchnoi led a vivid life and did a lot to popularise chess.”  Korchnoi refused to return to the USSR in 1976 during a trip to play in a tournament in the Netherlands. This separated him from his wife and son and led to him being deprived of his Soviet citizenship.

He then moved for Switzerland, where he spent the rest of his life, dying in the Wohlen area. The player, born in 1931 in Leningrad, now Saint Petersburg, first played at the age of six, taught by his father. He was often called “Viktor the Terrible” and is believed by many to be the greatest chess player despite never getting the world champion title.