The escape of Victor Kortsnoi

22 APRIL 2006 – ALKMAAR/ZWOLLE – It looked like a kidnap that 24e July 1976. The award distribution of the IBM-chess tournament in the Amsterdam Alpha hotel was just finished when the Russian grandmaster Victor Kortsjnoi dived into a waiting car in front of the hotel and disappeared in the night dove. Two days later it became clear that he had enough of his fatherland and he had gone into hiding. Two people played a major role in the controversial escape of the Russian top chess player. Firstly there was Walter Mooij from Westzaan, who was driving the car with which the Russian topplayer disappeared and there was Janco Cnossen, at that time Director Alien-matters in Zaanstad and now Alderman for Christian Union in Zwolle. He has never talked before about this happening.

The escape of Kortsnoi was raised in Almelo where Vicor Kortsnoi played a nostalgic game against his old rival Jan Timmer. Walter Mooij came to know Kortsnoi in 1968 when the Russian played in the “Hoogoven”- tournament. They became friends. Kortsnoi felt more and more resistance against him by the Russian authorities and he was boycotted by them. Invitations for the large foreign tournaments always passed his nose.

This lead to the appeal of Kortsnoi based on their friendship to help him go underground. But also the Zwolle’s Alderman Janco Cnossen turned out to be involved in the escape. The chess grandmaster said after the match against Jan Timman that he would like to meet “Jan Cnossen, the policeman from Amsterdam” again, because he had not seen him for a long while. The memory of Kortsnoi, 75 years old already, must have left him for a moment because the man he was pointing at is Janco Cnossen, who lived in Zaandam in 1976. Reporters from the “Tubantia”, a local Dutch paper found out that in fact Janco Cnossen was meant.

The Alderman remembers the former Russian player very well and also the happenings around the escape. He tells the story as if it is an exciting boys book:“We got message that Kortsnoi was hiding in Westzaan. The Russians were trying to locate him and that was frightening. You have to realise that it was another political situation then. Kortsnoi’s status in Russia was about the same as that of a well-known soccer player, for instance Cruyff, in Holland. Kortsnoi had left the political system of his country and this was “not-done” and created a lot of commotion. In short: The Russians wanted him back, if necessary with physical power. Now such things are unthinkable but then it was reality”.

Kortsnoi spent nights at Janco Cnossen’s home in Zaandam for a while. Cnossen, being married and having a child: “It was only for two nights, after that it became to dangerous and that’s  why we have brought him somewhere else. It was an exiting time and within the police team only the Chief Constable knew what I was doing”. To leave pursue-agents behind Cnossen used his good knowledge of the environment: “I drove routes where pursue-agents could easily be discovered”.  Cnossen talked personally to the Alien Office in The Hague. As a result Kortsnoi received the alien B-status, that gave him more freedom of movement, but he was not granted asylum. Cnossen likes the idea of meeting Kortsnoi again and will contact him in Switzerland, where he is living now.  A few years ago Cnossen and Kortsnoi met: “One day he stood at my front door with a book and a bottle of old-genever. That bottle I always kept”, said Cnossen.