(This is an excerpt from Bjelica’s “Grandmasters in Profile”)
The three of them, Larsen, Fischer and Korchnoi, were the central personalities of the 1967 Sousse Inter-Zonal tournament. They were the ones who fought the strongest. Fischer left the tournament whilst Larsen and Korchnoi became candidates for the Championship. During the tournament I asked them numerous questions.
Bjelica: First of all, what does Chess mean to you and have you ever regretted the fact that you started to play?
Fischer: I’ve never regretted that I play but I think that I could have become just as famous a singer.
Korchnoi: I’m not teaching my son to play Chess because I would not like him to suffer my fate. For me, Chess is a sport because the sporting elements rule out everything else in it.
Larsen: I’ve never regretted playing Chess but it is difficult to explain what Chess is to those who don’t play it and those who do know what it is.
Bjelica: Which games do you remember most frequently? Out of your numerous games which have you remembered so well that you could dictate it if you were suddenly awakened in the middle of the night?
Fischer: Without doubt it was my victory in the game against Donald Byrne at the Rosenwald tournament when I was only 13 and when I won a prize for my brilliant play.
Korchnoi: I remember the best my victory against Geller at our Championships in 1960 in Leningrad. I won the game even though I had the Black pieces and for the first time I became the Champion of the USSR.
Larsen: I will never forget the game against Geller in Copenhagen in 1966. That was a good game.
Bjelica: Can you describe yourself in one sentence?
Korchnoi: Yes – Victor Korchnoi devotes a lot of time and energy to Chess and this shuts him off from life to some extent.
Larsen: I’m a very progressive bourgeois.
Bjelica: Let’s get down to a more delicate task. Can you number the 12 best players in the world, and the 3 best in the USSR?
Fischer: The 3 best Soviet players are Tal, Korchnoi and Stein. Of course, I know who is the best one of them but I won’t tell you because that player would get too much self-confidence. As regards the 12 best players, that does not present too great a dilemma. Larsen and Korchnoi would tell you that.
Korchnoi: The 12 best players in the world, in my opinion, are the 12 that Larsen will dictate to you. As regards the best 3 Soviet players, I have not the right to agree with Larsen because we Chess players are an army with a General and at the moment the General is Petrosian. If Chess is an art then I will put Botvinnik in first place, as regards a title, it is Petrosian, and as regards the realization of sporting success it is Fischer (in the world) and Stein (in the USSR).
Larsen: The best 12 are the 6 players which I said would qualify from this tournament to the candidates’ tournament: Fischer, Korchnoi, Larsen, Geller, Stein and Portisch then Spassky, Tal, Petrosian, Botvinnik, Smyslov and Gligoric.
Bjelica: What has surprised you most here?
Fischer: I was surprised by Stein’s play in the first part of the tournament and of course, I was astonished by some of the injustices which the organizers cooked up for me, by the poor lighting in the tournament hall, also by the time-table which meant that I had to play 4 difficult games in a row, and by the other things which forced me to leave the tournament.
Korchnoi: I was most surprised by the draw between Stein and Boazis.
Larsen: Stein surprised me.
Bjelica: Petrosian says that at the moment there is no King of Chess, there is only a first among equals. Do you agree with him?
Fischer: I can’t agree with such a philosophy. In the world there are chess players who are the best and those who are better and weaker.
Korchnoi: If the world championships were to be played by an alternation system of tournaments and matches, the one who would win in both ways would definitely be the best. However Petrosian is right and if Bobby doesn’t agree with him let him come to the USSR Championship and take first place.
Larsen: Tal said the same as Petrosian and I agree but it is good that we have a world championship.
Bjelica: Let’s get back to forecasts again. Who, in your opinion, will play the final match of the candidates tournament and who will be the next world champion, Petrosian or the winner of the candidates tournament?
Fischer: If I had not been hoping I would not have played but they made it impossible for me to go on.
Larsen: In the final of the Candidates’ Tournament Tal and I will meet. I think that I will win. I will be the next World Champion.
Korchnoi: I would like to reply to Larsen. You will be champion only if the draw does not determine that you play me. But I am not sure that I will become world champion because previously I have played better and have been more worthy of a match with the champion than now. But now there are a few candidates who could beat Petrosian. They are Stein, Fischer and Portisch.
Bjelica: Which event in Chess has made the greatest impression on you?
Fischer: If they had invited me to the Moscow tournament then that would probably have been the answer to that question, but I think that no tournament can be particularly interesting without me.
Korchnoi: The greatest tournament in history for me was the 1938 AVRO tournament in Holland.
Larsen: The 1956 Moscow Olympiad made the greatest impression upon me because for the first time I played better than I expected.
Bjelica: Why are all 3 of you eternal optimists?
Fischer: Chess demands it.
Korchnoi: Of all the famous world chess players I have heard of only one pessimist, that was Schlechter. All the others were optimists.
Larsen: It is part of my strength in chess.
Bjelica: Your chess idols from the past and present?
Fischer: I think that Morphy was the best of the lot.
Korchnoi: The 4 giants who are always mentioned in chess legends: Lasker, Capablanca, Alekhine and Botvinnik.
Larsen: My idols from the past are Nimzowitsch and Lasker, and from the present Botvinnik, Bronstein and Tal.
Bjelica: What would you borrow from various great players. For instance from Botvinnik and Tal?
Korchnoi: I must answer Fischer that he has taken everything from them that he can. From Botvinnik I would borrow his strategic comprehension of positions and his power of concentration for each game and from Tal I would gladly take his optimism from his young days.
Larsen: I wouldn’t borrow anything in particular. I would add that many Grandmasters outside the USSR overestimate the Soviet players.
Bjelica: What do you think about one another?
Fischer: About Korchnoi I have already said that he is one of the 3 best Soviet players, and about Larsen, on the basis of his last great result from the Havana tournament one cannot say that he is the best player outside the Soviet Union as some say.
Korchnoi: Fischer is a machine which is wound up to win but he lacks a creative streak. As regards to the sporting element he is strong because machines do not make mistakes. Larsen is a bright chess figure, dangerous for each grand master.
Larsen: I think that Fischer has bad nerves. I would like him to behave more normally and not to fear other people not understanding him. For Korchnoi, I normally say that he is a good player.
Bjelica: And how would duels between all of you result, let us say from 10 games?
Fischer: No comment.
Korchnoi: The question of winning a match is to some extent a stylistic thing. For instance Larsen’s style suits me. I think I would beat him. I can’t get on with Fischer’s style…
Larsen: I think that I would beat both of then 5.5:4.5
Bjelica: What do you like besides chess? Your favourites off the chess board?
Fischer: I like pop music and tennis. My favourites are the actor Alec Guinness and the group The Four Tops.
Korchnoi: I am particularly fond of foreign languages. I don’t speak them well but it is my pastime during spare moments at tournaments. I also like light music.
Larsen: I am interested in foreign politics even though I have not participated actively. I particularly like classical music. I have no particular favourites.
Bjelica: Do you sometimes think about war and peace? What irritates you about the world in which we live? What pleases you?
Fischer: I am all for peace. I am irritated by the actions of certain people, for instance those here in Sousse who forced me to leave the tournament.
Korchnoi: We Chess players have a peaceful profession and therefore I believe in peace. I get annoyed at myself when I lose a game. I like all joyous things in this world.
Larsen: I am also for peace. I get annoyed at stupidity and when I feel that stupid people have great power this saddens me. I like many things.
Bjelica: If in this era of great universal feats we were to move to the moon who do you think will first set foot on the moon? Would you go there and what would you take?
Fischer: Why should I go to the moon when it is enough for me to be champion of this earth? If I did go I would perhaps take a girl with me. I don’t know who will get there first.
Korchnoi: I am rather sceptical. I don’t think man will reach the moon. Maybe he will have a little peep from a spaceship.
Larsen: I don’t want to go and write that I would take my wife with me because she’s bound to read about it.
Bjelica: How do you feel at the moment when you sign for a defeat?
Fischer: I’m very mad when I lose especially here without a fight. Otherwise I just wait for the next round.
Korchnoi: I am very angry.
Larsen: For me it’s just a normal thing. I win a great deal and so I must lose sometimes. A person gets used to it.
Bjelica: Finally, in order to cheer our readers up, tell me the anecdote from the Chess world which you like the most.
Fischer: I like the anecdote about Morphy. It was his opponent’s move and, as there were no chess clocks in those days, he had a stubborn think for about 6 hours. Like the great gentleman that he was, Morphy did not want to say anything about it to him. After 5 hours he finally decided to ask: “Excuse me, but why don’t you make a move?” His opponent answered, “Is it really my move?”
Korchnoi: The best anecdote from the history of Chess is Bobby Fischer’s double departure from the Sousse tournament, and the way in which he went away and came back again.
Larsen: That is so funny I can’t add anything.