It was a bit of a shock to find Anatoly Karpov at the bottom of the field in the San Sebastian tournament held this July in Spain. In fact, he managed only 1.5 points in this 10-round tournament. It is not clear whether age, illness, or just lack of preparation caused his poor performance. For surely Karpov is one of the greatest chess players ever. He is a former world champion who lost his title to Garry Kasparov in their second match. He needed only a draw in the last game of their 24-game match to hold his title, but missed a winning line and lost. In their third match, Karpov and Kasparov were tied going into the last game, but Kasparov won that game in a difficult ending. Now Karpov and Kasparov will meet once again in Valencia, Spain, this month to play 4 rapid and 8 blitz games. Karpov is not playing well and Kasparov has only been playing blitz games since his retirement in 2005.
The apparent tapering off of Karpov’s career has prompted us to take a look at his biography, “Karpov on Karpov,’’ published in 1990, which reveals a lot of information about chess at the top and chess in history. Karpov was born and brought up in a relatively poor but contented neighborhood. He learned chess from his father, whom he idolized. While often ill as a child, he fondly reviewed chess battles in his head. He attended Mikhail Botvinnik’s famed chess school, at which Botvinnik incorrectly predicted that Karpov would never be successful at chess. Karpov defied that opinion by beating all the students, apparently by displaying great stamina.
Karpov won the World Junior and became Bobby Fischer’s challenger for the World Championship in 1975 by defeating Lev Polugaevsky, Boris Spassky, and Viktor Korchnoi in successive matches. In the Korchnoi match, Karpov seemed stumped with the black pieces, but Botvinnik called him and made valuable suggestions. Karpov became world champion by the default when Fischer refused to play.
Karpov’s career was guided by Semyon Furman, who acted as a second father and coach in the world of chess. His death before the matches with Kasparov was a great blow to Karpov. First, however, Karpov had to survive two separate matches with Korchnoi. These matches were preceded by a verbal attack on Korchnoi by the former world champion, Tigran Petrosian, which Karpov did not join, that led to Korchnoi’s eventual defection from the Soviet Union in 1976. Also, Karpov discusses in detail his use of a psychologist in his first match against Korchnoi and Korchnoi’s use of a parapsychologist. The greatest interest in this work is Karpov’s explanation of his matches against Kasparov, but let’s see how Kasparov can maintain his plus 9 score in the avalanche of 169 tournament and match games (standard time control) in which both played.