Viktor Korchnoi, Muhammad Ali and Game Theory

Viktor Korchnoi, Muhammad Ali and Game Theory

I was thinking about the great Muhammad Ali and his passing a few months ago. Here was a brash, brilliant, beautiful man who magnified the human spirit so greatly that even those with ice water in their veins and the moral center of Darth Vader celebrated his life. Ali stood up to the “man”; those people of power and influence who step on flowers, kick dogs, and scream at little children just for the ignorant pleasure of it. These are the people that drove Lenny Bruce to his grave and have started war after war under false pretenses. Ali had a true sense of strategy and at least intuitively understood the principles of game theory.


Reading about Ali’s life I came across an article on Viktor Korchnoi, who also died last week. Who is Viktor Korchnoi you ask? He may be the greatest chess master to never win a world championship.
Why is he important? He consistently resisted the oppressive totalitarian system of the Soviet Union, not specifically as a political dissident but as an unbending contrarian in style and substance. He was consistently punished for this by being isolated and rejected by most of his peers and the Chess status quo in the Soviet Union. Korchnoi defected to the Netherlands in 1976, and later resided in Switzerland from 1978, becoming a Swiss citizen. Korchnoi played three World Championship matches matches against GM Anatoly Karpov losing all of them.


I was recently at a conference on futurism and the lessons of the cold war. I had done a breakout “On the breakout sessions the meeting planner had my company offer 10 minute anti-stress massages and I got into a conversation with a Russian gentleman about Korchnoi. “A great man” he said.

Viktor Korchnoi lost the most important games of his chess career the was an oversized figure: Unlike most Soviet emigres, he got a chance to take on the Communist system in open competition, and he put up a fight that inspired many behind the Iron Curtain. It is said he had an explosive temperament and a penchant for inconvenient truths, and sports officials disliked him. Besides, like many of his peers in the star-studded Soviet chess community, he was Jewish — hardly a point in his favor in a firmly anti-Semitic system.
He often gave outspoken interviews and was banned from TV and from lecturing. In 1976, he applied for political asylum in the Netherlands.In those days, emigration was known as defection and immediately a campaign against him was launched. Most Soviet chess players — with only two or three notable exceptions — signed collective letters denouncing Korchnoi. Stripped of all his titles and, later, his Soviet citizenship, Korchnoi remained a formidable player.

To those who distrusted the Soviet system but lacked the courage or the wherewithal to leave or fight, Korchnoi was a symbol of freedom, a man who crossed the line and did not slink away from a confrontation with the machine that had used him and forced him out.
He refused to come back to Russia in 1990, after his citizenship was restored to him: life expectancy was higher in the West, he noted dryly.

Korchnoi’s “sense of contrariness,” was a source of strength again. And the system can lose, even when it wins.

Kerchnoi and Ali died within a week of each other. They played two different games and yet they really played the same game
In a world where there is always a risk of losing our personal freedoms Korchnoi is a hero.



Lewis Harrison is a writer, content-rich, motivational speaker, and an entrepreneur specializing in game based thinking, applied game theory and Game Thinking.

Known as the RealUGuru. He is the author of over twenty-two books published in five languages. Including the business books.

Don’t forget to tune into my Radio show Thursday 4-6-PM WIOX 91.3 FM or on your smart device at

If you are interested in business success in the 21st Century in the arts or in any other endeavor you need to read Lewis’ recently published business books.

You can find them here:

In addition Lewis is a seminar leader, futurist, NPR affiliated radio talk show ( host, success and life coach and a best-selling author.
He is the creator of a web site – that focuses on the application of gamification, decision science, positive psychology, happiness, and visionary thinking to solve basic, complex and extreme problems. He is the creator of a free course on business success and human potential.
Here is a short interview with Lewis;

His company offers Corporate chair massage to meeting planners, event planners, association meetings and trade shows. He also offers these stress management and onsite massage services in NYC, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Chicago, Dallas, Greensboro, Columbus Ohio and many other cities across the United States through


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