Saturday, November 3, 2007

Anatoly Karpov

Anatoly Yevgenyevich Karpov (born May 23, 1951) is a Russian chess grandmaster and former World Champion. His tournament successes include 161 first-place finishes, and from 1978 to 1998 he played in every FIDE World Championship match. His overall professional record is 1,118 wins, 287 losses, and 1,480 draws in 3,163 games with a peak Elo rating of 2780. Karpov is also a highly-regarded chess writer. He has lately been involved in several humanitarian causes, such as advocating the use of iodised salt.

Since 2005 he has been a member of the Public Chamber of Russia.

Early life

Karpov was born on May 23, 1951 at Zlatoust in the Urals region of the former Soviet Union, and learned to play chess at the age of four. He has been an excellent student throughout his life. His early rise in chess was swift, as he was a Candidate Master by age 11. At age 12, he was accepted into Mikhail Botvinnik's prestigious chess school. Ironically, Botvinnik had this to say about the young Karpov: "The boy doesn't have a clue about chess, and there's no future at all for him in this profession."[1] Karpov acknowledged that his understanding of chess theory was very confused at that time, and wrote later that the homework which Botvinnik assigned really helped him, since it required that he consult chess books and work diligently[citation needed]. Karpov improved so quickly that he became the youngest Soviet National Master in history at 15 in 1966; this tied the record established by Boris Spassky in 1952 at the same age. Karpov won the title in his first international chess tournament (Trinec 1966-67) several months later. In 1967 he won a European Junior Invitational tournament at Groningen.

Karpov won a Gold Medal for academic excellence in high school, and entered Moscow State University in 1968 to study Mathematics. He later transferred to Leningrad State University, eventually graduating from there in Economics. One reason for the transfer was to be closer to his coach, Grandmaster Semyon Furman, who lived in Leningrad. In his writings, Karpov credits Furman as a major influence on his development as a world-class player. In 1969 Karpov became the first Soviet player since Boris Spassky (1955) to win the World Junior Chess Championship, with a score in the finals of 10 out of 11 at Stockholm. Soon afterwards he tied for 4th place at an international tournament in Caracas, Venezuela, and became a Grandmaster.


he early 1970s showed a big improvement in his game. He won the 1971 Alekhine Memorial tournament ahead of a star-filled field, for his first significant adult victory. His Elo rating shot up from 2540 in 1971 to 2660 in 1973, when he came in 2nd in the USSR Chess Championship, and placed first in the Leningrad Interzonal Tournament. The latter qualified him for the 1974 Candidates' Tournament, which determined who was allowed to challenge the reigning World Champion, Bobby Fischer.

Karpov beat Lev Polugaevsky by +3=5 in the first Candidates' match, to face former World Champion Boris Spassky in the next round. Karpov was on record saying that he believed Spassky would easily beat him and win the Candidates' cycle to face Fischer, and that he (Karpov) would win the following Candidates' cycle in 1977.

Most expected the Spassky-Karpov match to be a one-sided rout by the ex-champ Spassky. Although Spassky won the first game as Black in good style, tenacious and aggressive play from Karpov secured him a match win by +4-1=6. Karpov was certainly not hurt by the fact that Spassky's chief opening analyst, 1955 Soviet Champion Efim Geller, defected to Karpov's side several months before the match.

The Candidates' final was set in Moscow against fellow Soviet Viktor Korchnoi, a notable fighting player. Korchnoi was a Leningrad resident who had frequently sparred with Karpov after the latter moved there, and the two had played a drawn six-game training match in 1971. Intense games were fought, including one "opening laboratory" win against the Sicilian Dragon. Karpov went up 3-0, but tired towards the end and allowed Korchnoi two wins, making for a nervy finish. However, Karpov prevailed +3-2=19. Thus he won the right to challenge Fischer for the World Championship.

The Big Match that never was

Though the world championship match between the young Soviet prodigy and the already retired American Fischer was highly anticipated, the match never came about. Fischer drew up a list of ten demands, chief among them the provisions that draws wouldn't count, the first to ten victories wins, and if the score was tied 9—9 the champion would retain the crown. This means that the challenger needed two wins more than the reigning champion, because the narrowest possible win for him is 10—8. The International Chess Federation (FIDE) flatly refused at first, but eventually conceded the first two. However, Fischer demanded all or nothing, and when FIDE refused to give into the third demand, Fischer resigned his crown, to the huge disappointment of the chess world. Karpov later attempted to set up another match with Fischer, but all the negotiations fell through. Fischer never did play Karpov and scorned them as inferior players. This thrust the young Karpov into the role of World Champion without having defeated the reigning champion.

When Kasparov was in a bitter struggle for the world championship with Karpov, he often reminded others that Karpov won the title by default. But while preparing a monumental book series Kasparov: My Great Predecessors, Kasparov argued that Karpov would have had the better chances, because he had beaten Spassky convincingly and was a new breed of tough professional, and indeed had higher quality games, while Fischer had been inactive for three years. Spassky thought that Fischer would have won in 1975 but Karpov would have qualified again and beaten Fischer in 1978.

World champion

Karpov participated in nearly every major tournament for the next ten years. He convincingly won the very strong Milan tournament in 1975, and captured his first of three Soviet titles in 1976. He created the most phenomenal streak of tournament wins against the strongest players in the world. This tournament success even eclipsed the pre-war tournament record of Alexander Alekhine. Karpov held the record for most consecutive tournament victories (9) until it was shattered by Garry Kasparov (14).

In 1978, Karpov's first title defence was against Viktor Korchnoi, the opponent he had defeated in the previous Candidates' tournament. The situation was vastly different from the previous match, because in the intervening years Korchnoi had defected from the Soviet Union. The match was played at Baguio in the Philippines, and a vast array of psychological tricks were used during the match, from Karpov's Dr. Zukhar who allegedly attempted to hypnotize Korchnoi during the game, to Korchnoi's mirror glasses to ward off the hypnotic stare, Korchnoi's offering to play under the Jolly Roger flag when he was denied the right to play under Switzerland's, to Karpov's yogurt supposedly being used to send him secret messages, to Korchnoi inviting two local cult members (on trial for attempted murder) into the hall as members of his team.

The off-board antics are better remembered than the actual chess match. Karpov took an early lead, but Korchnoi staged an amazing comeback very late in the match, and came very close to winning. Karpov narrowly won the last game to take the match 6–5, with 21 draws.

Three years later Korchnoi re-emerged as the Candidates' winner against German finalist Dr. Robert Hübner to challenge Karpov in Merano, Italy. This time the psychological trick was the arrest of Korchnoi's son for evading conscription. Again the politics off the board overshadowed the games, but this time Karpov easily won (11–7, +6 -2 =10) in what is remembered as the "Massacre at Merano".

Karpov's tournament career reached a peak at the exceptional Montreal "Tournament of Stars" tournament in 1979, where he ended joint first with Mikhail Tal ahead of a field of superb grandmasters like Jan Timman, Ljubomir Ljubojevic, Boris Spassky, and Lubomir Kavalek. He dominated Las Palmas 1977 with an incredible 13.5 / 15. He also won the prestigious Bugojno tournament in 1978 and 1980, the Linares tournament in 1981 and 1994, the Tilburg tournament in 1977, 1979, 1980, 1982, and 1983, and the Soviet Championship in 1976, 1983, and 1988.

Karpov represented the Soviet Union at six Chess Olympiads, in all of which the USSR won the team gold medal. He played first reserve at Skopje 1972, winning the board prize with 13/15. At Nice 1974, he advanced to board one and again won the board prize with 12/14. At La Valletta 1980, he was again board one and scored 9/12. At Lucerne 1982, he scored 6.5/8 on board one. At Dubai 1986, he scored 6/9 on board two. His last was Thessaloniki 1988, where on board two he scored 8/10. In Olympiad play, Karpov lost only two games out of 68 played.

To illustrate Karpov's dominance over his peers as champion, his score was +11 -2 =20 versus Spassky, +5 =12 versus Robert Hübner, +6 -1 =16 versus Ulf Andersson, +3 -1 =10 versus Vasily Smyslov, +1 =16 versus Mikhail Tal, +10 -2 =13 versus Ljubojevic.

Karpov had cemented his position as the world's best player and world champion when Garry Kasparov arrived on the scene. In their first World Championship match in 1984, held in Moscow, Karpov quickly built a 4-0 lead, and needed only two more wins to keep his title. Instead, the next 17 games were drawn, and it took Karpov until Game 27 to finally win another game. In Game 31, Karpov had a winning position but failed to take advantage and settled for a draw. He lost the next game, but drew the next 14. In particular, Karpov held a solidly winning position in Game 41, but again blundered terribly and had to settle for a draw. After Kasparov suddenly won Game 47 and 48, Karpov suffered a physical collapse, having lost 10 kg (22 lb) over the course of the match. The FIDE President Florencio Campomanes controversially terminated the match, which had lasted an unprecedented five months, with five wins for Karpov, three for Kasparov, and a staggering forty draws.

A rematch was set for later the same year, also in Moscow. In a hard fight, Karpov had to win game 24 of the 1985 match to retain his title, but lost it and the title 11 to 13 (+3 -5 =16), ending his ten-year reign as champion.


Karpov remained a formidable opponent (and the world #2) until the early 1990s. He fought Kasparov in three more World Championship matches in 1986 (held in London and Leningrad), 1987 (held in Seville), and 1990 (held in New York City and Lyon). All three matches were extremely close: the scores were 11.5 to 12.5 (+4 -5 = 15), 12 to 12 (+4 -4 =16), and 11.5 to 12.5 (+3 -4 =17). In all three matches Karpov had winning chances up to the very last games. In particular, the 1987 Seville match featured an astonishing blunder by Kasparov in the 23rd game, and should have led to Karpov's reclaiming the title. Instead, in the final game, needing only a draw to win the title, Karpov cracked under pressure from the clock at the end of the first session of play, allowing Kasparov to adjourn the game a pawn up. After a further mistake in the second session, Karpov was slowly ground down and resigned on move 64, ending the match and allowing Kasparov to keep the title.

In their five world championship matches, Karpov has 19 wins, 21 losses, and 104 draws in 144 games.

Karpov is on record saying that had he had the opportunity to fight Fischer for the crown like Kasparov had the opportunity to fight him, he (Karpov) could have been a much better player as a result.

FIDE champion again

It came as a surprise, then, that Karpov lost a Candidates Match against Nigel Short in 1992. But in 1993, Karpov reacquired the FIDE World Champion title when Kasparov and Short split from FIDE. Karpov defeated Jan Timman – the loser of the Candidates' final against Short. Once again he had become World Champion, and once again he did so controversially, only winning the title because of the absence of Kasparov and Short.

The next major meeting of Kasparov and Karpov was the 1994 Linares chess tournament. The field, in eventual finishing order, was Karpov, Kasparov, Shirov, Bareev, Kramnik, Lautier, Anand, Kamsky, Topalov, Ivanchuk, Gelfand, Illescas, Judit Polgar, and Beliavsky; with an average ELO rating of 2685, the highest ever to that point, meaning it was the first Category XVIII tournament ever held. Impressed by the strength of the tournament, Kasparov had said several days before the tournament that the winner could rightfully be called the world champion of tournaments. Perhaps spurred on by this comment, Karpov played the best tournament of his life. He was undefeated and earned 11 points out of 13 possible (the best world-class tournament winning percentage since Alekhine won San Remo in 1930), dominating second-place Kasparov and Shirov by a huge 2.5 points. Many of his wins were spectacular (in particular, his win over Topalov, selected below, is considered possibly the finest of his career). This performance against the best players in the world put his ELO rating tournament performance at 2985, the highest performance rating of any chess player in any tournament in all of chess history.

Karpov defended his FIDE title against Gata Kamsky (+6 -3 =9) in 1996. However, in 1998, FIDE largely scrapped the old system of Candidates' Matches, instead having a large knock-out event in which a large number of players contested short matches against each other over just a few weeks. In the first of these events, champion Karpov was seeded straight into the final, defeating Viswanathan Anand (+4 -2 =2). But subsequently the champion had to qualify like other players. Karpov resigned his title in anger at the new rules in 1999.

Towards retirement?
Karpov's outstanding classical tournament play has been seriously limited since 1995, since he prefers to be more involved in politics of his home country of Russia. He had been a member of the Supreme Soviet Commission for Foreign Affairs and the President of the Soviet Peace Fund before the Soviet Union broke up. In addition, he had been involved in several disputes with FIDE and became increasingly disillusioned with chess. In the April 2006 FIDE rating list, he is 32nd in the world with an ELO rating of 2672.

Karpov usually limits his play to exhibition events, and has revamped his style to specialize in rapid chess. In 2002 he won a match against Kasparov, defeating him in a rapid time control match 2.5-1.5. In 2006, he tied for first with Kasparov in a blitz tournament, ahead of Korchnoi and Judit Polgar.