You know how they play chess in Georgia: they line up the pieces and knock them down with a football. At least, so claim those who think a Southerner can't tell a fianchettoed bishop from a candied apple. Not so. Augusta, Ga. actually was a logical choice for the quarterfinal match between Viktor Korchnoi of the U.S.S.R. and Brazil's Henrique Mecking. Augustans know how to treat their Masters.
The match had been awarded to the U.S. and the players had asked for a small town with a temperate climate—a compromise between Korchnoi's winterbound Leningrad and Mecking's subtropical Rio. With an offer combining good facilities and local cash, Augusta won, and so what if the Georgia newspapers underplayed the event and most townspeople didn't appreciate it? "What," asked a waitress, "is chest?"
Korchnoi, 42, the world's fifth-ranked player, is both superb on defense and an uncompromising attacker. His colleagues call him Viktor the Terrible. Mecking, 21, may come to be known as Henrique the Horrible. At the interzonals, he was unbeaten, knocking off such figures as Samuel Reshevsky, Russia's Vladimir Savon and former world titlist Vassily Smyslov.
In person, Viktor the Terrible is downright cuddly. Chunky and smiling, he looks like a cross between Henry Kissinger and Art Buchwald. He creates sympathy rather than fear, having won the Russian title four times without becoming world champion. An ulcer pained him for 10 years. "It was an illness not only of stomach but nervous system," he says. "Now," he asserts with candor, "I am too old."
January 27, 1974
Mecking bears some interesting comparisons with Bobby Fischer. Both are authentic geniuses and both were champions of their countries at 13. Like Fischer, Mecking is ambitious, self-centered and difficult.
Small, dark, toothy and curly-haired, he permitted himself a brief chat with a visitor last week. He bounced on his bed and kept looking at his wristwatch through turquoise-colored glasses. "At age four I play checkers," he rattled. "At five I beat mother and father. At six I see chess and I learn to play. Yeah, by myself. The first time I play in the championship of my state I won, at 12. The first time I play in the championship of Brazil I won, at 13. The first time I play in the South American championship I won, at 14." At 18 he quit school to play chess full time. Henrique also plays volleyball, practices karate, reads science fiction and listens to pop music. "I do all the things normal," he says. Including wearing a sweater bearing a large advertisement for Brazilian coffee.
In their four previous matches Korchnoi and Mecking were 1-1-2. This time Korchnoi, with White, began the first game with an English variation and was abruptly reversed by a Mecking innovation on the ninth move. Toward the end of the session Mecking found himself with less than six minutes to make his last 18 moves. He beat the deadline by seven seconds, sometimes shifting a piece and hitting the time clock almost simultaneously. At adjournment, he was a pawn and possibly position up, but in the resumption Korchnoi struggled back for a draw—small consolation for the favored older man. In any case, Viktor's hopes of wrapping up the match within 10 games and then going sight-seeing in the U.S. looked slim then and even worse when two more games ended in draws.
While only 40 spectators turned out to watch this new version of Augusta's Masters, more than 700 crowded into the Moscow Writers Club to watch Russians Anatoly Karpov, 22, and Lev Polugayevsky, 39, draw their first two games. Many experts rate Karpov, the world's most successful grandmaster in 1973, as even money with Spassky to win the eliminations. Meanwhile on sunny Majorca another Russian, former world champion Tigran Petrosian, 44, and Hungarian Lajos Portisch, 36, drew their opener. Neither of this pair is given much of a chance to meet, much less beat, Bobby Fischer.