At a 1976 Amsterdam chess tournament, Soviet grandmaster Viktor Korchnoi politely asked an English competitor how to spell the words “political asylum.” He then went straight to a police station and announced that he wished to defect.

Viktor Korchnoi

In this Eastern Slavic name, the patronymic is Lvovich and the family name is Korchnoi.

Viktor Lvovich Korchnoi (Russian: Ви́ктор Льво́вич Корчно́й, IPA: [vʲiktər lʲvovʲɪtɕ kɐrtɕˈnoj]; 23 March 1931 – 6 June 2016) was a Soviet (before 1976) and Swiss (after 1980) chess grandmaster and writer. He is considered one of the strongest players never to have become World Chess Champion.

Born in Leningrad, Soviet Union, Korchnoi defected to the Netherlands in 1976, and resided in Switzerland from 1978, becoming a Swiss citizen. Korchnoi played four matches, three of which were official, against GM Anatoly Karpov. In 1974, he lost the Candidates final to Karpov, who was declared World Champion in 1975 when GM Bobby Fischer refused to defend … Continue Reading (19 minute read)

14 thoughts on “At a 1976 Amsterdam chess tournament, Soviet grandmaster Viktor Korchnoi politely asked an English competitor how to spell the words “political asylum.” He then went straight to a police station and announced that he wished to defect.”

  1. RexSueciae

    Bonus: Korchnoi had already managed to smuggle his library of chess books out of the USSR, and at that point was basically just waiting for an opportunity to present itself.

  2. bobby_pendragon

    Pretty incredible that he spent all those years mastering chess just so he could make this plan come together

  3. OGnarl

    It feels like 70-80s was just russian athletes sneaking out of russia like a teen breaking curfew.

  4. foodsexreddit

    What happened to his wife and kid he left behind?

  5. Zendog500

    They had him scheduled for cleaning the 10th floor windows the next week!

  6. PhilThecoloreds

    But what if the Dutch police didn’t understand English?

  7. Nervous-Bonus-806

    In Soviet Union, police come to you when you defect…
    (*Deactivating Yakov Smirnov filter*)

  8. jettim76

    Be sure to write that next time you’re in Holland.

    What is Holland?

  9. TheRaveTrain

    Can someone ELI5 for my smooth brain please?

  10. nikanj0

    Korchnoi: I wish to defect from the USSR.
    Police sergeant on duty: Uh… Ok sure. Not really sure what to do to make that happen. Lucas?
    Lieutenant Lucas: Umm… No idea… Is that something we do here?
    Korchnoi: Maybe I can borrow your phone to call the Minister of Foreign Affairs?
    Lieutenant Lucas: Ok. Sven, can you call the Minister of Foreign Affairs?
    Officer Sven: Is that something we can find in the phone book?

  11. Emadthegreat

    Checkmate, Mother Russia!

  12. plinythenotsoold

    Viktor Korchnoi is a chess legend, he was the third highest rated chess player in 1980 even at the age of 50. in 2007 he was number 85 in the world in classical and he was 75 at the time. Not to mention the fact that Korchnoi qualified 10 times for the world championship but never won it and he was called the strongest player to never become a world champion by GM Yasser Seirawan who helped train with him for the 1980 world championship where he ended up losing to the then world champion Anatoly Karpov

  13. HelenEk7

    There was a Russian guy who jumped off the ship he was working on, and swam to the village on the nearby coast, which is where I grew up in Norway. Once ashore he knocked on a door and asked for some dry clothes. The next day he applied for asylum. Huge story back then, we talked about it for weeks afterwards. This happened just a couple of years before the Soviet Union fell.

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