Anatoly Karpov tells all (1/4)

by Albert Silver
2/10/2015 – The 12th World Champion, Anatoly Karpov, conceded a long and in-depth interview with the Russian news paper Sport Express. In this first part he discusses a wide variety of topics such as the quality of the Carlsen-Anand match ("even an out-of-shape Karpov would beat either of them..."), the memory of chess players, and he also answers questions on the 1978 match.

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We met in his office in the Duma around New Year. It was snowing outside. Spending his holidays in warmer climes was not to Karpov's taste.

If possible, we've always spent the holidays in family and in Moscow. This time we will spend the holidays modestly. My wife and I are not fans of large parties the 12th World Champion explained.

In documentaries about you, we learn and see you enjoying ice baths. Do you still?

I am not sure if I should still do it. Over the years, ice swimming has become more dangerous. I tried it for the first time on the eve of 2000. In the night before New Year I immersed myself in the icy water to celebrate the transition to the new millennium.

What did you feel?

Stress. One shouldn't indulge in this for too long. There are people stay in the hole for a very far long time. This is not correct from a medical point of view. But if you do it only briefly, you can feel it stimulating your circulation.

You had planned to play a game of chess in the ice hole.

It was limited to a single move. I entered three times and then quickly went to the sauna to warm myself.

We asked Mikhail Boyarsky about his most unusual New Year. He imediately replied: " In a helicopter over Gudermes (Chechnya)." What was your most unusual New Year?

I can remember the New Year that I celebrated the least. I spent the entire night from 1971 to 1972 playing chess. It was the traditional English tournament in Hastings. I was playing the last game. I had to win. Four roudns before the end I was 2.5 points ahead of Kortchnoi, but then I lost a game, followed by two draws and Kortchnoi began to win. To finish first, I had to beat the British player Markland, who was not even a grandmaster. The game was set for 11 PM, which meant well after midnight Moscow time. I went to the hotel and sat down to prepare myself. Two hours later I went there and by five in the morning Moscow time I had won.

[Event "Hastings 7172"] [Site "Hastings"] [Date "1972.01.15"] [Round "15"] [White "Karpov, Anatoly"] [Black "Markland, Peter Richard"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C19"] [WhiteElo "2540"] [BlackElo "2510"] [PlyCount "109"] [EventDate "1971.12.29"] [EventRounds "15"] [EventCountry "ENG"] [EventCategory "11"] 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e5 c5 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 Qc7 7. Nf3 Ne7 8. a4 b6 9. Bb5+ Bd7 10. Bd3 Nbc6 11. O-O h6 12. Re1 Na5 13. Qd2 Rc8 14. h4 O-O 15. Qf4 f5 16. exf6 Rxf6 17. Qxc7 Rxc7 18. dxc5 bxc5 19. Ne5 Bc8 20. c4 Nac6 21. Bb2 Nb4 22. a5 Rf8 23. Ba3 dxc4 24. Nxc4 Rf4 25. Nd6 Nxd3 26. cxd3 Rxh4 27. Ne4 Rh5 28. Rec1 Bb7 29. Nxc5 Bd5 30. f3 Rf5 31. a6 Rf7 32. Ne4 Nf5 33. Bc5 Rc8 34. Bf2 Rfc7 35. Rxc7 Rxc7 36. Rb1 Ne7 37. Rb8+ Kh7 38. Kh2 Ng6 39. Nc5 Rc6 40. Rd8 Rc7 41. Rd7 Rxd7 42. Nxd7 Bc6 43. Nb8 Bb5 44. Bxa7 Ne7 45. Bb6 Nc8 46. Bc5 Kg6 47. a7 Nxa7 48. Bxa7 e5 49. d4 exd4 50. Bxd4 Kf7 51. f4 g5 52. fxg5 hxg5 53. Kg3 Kg6 54. Kf3 Kf5 55. g3 1-0

I have often spent New Year abroad: in 1966 in Czechoslovakia, in 1968 in Holland. In 1972 I was with Paul Keres in Mexico. The return from this trip was an adventure.


The flight was suddenly canceled and we did not come with a direct flight to Europe. Today in the Internet age it is all very simple. At the time Paul Petrovich has saved us. He had interesting hobbies. He owned one of the most fabulous record collections in the Soviet Union, he had many first editions. It wasn't this hobby that helped us in Mexico, but another. He always had the flight plans of different airlines, so Keres sat down and put together a route. We then flew as follows: Mexico - USA- Montréal - Amsterdam - Prague - Moscow. The alternative would have been to wait for five days.

Paul Petrovich Keres

We have been told that Kasparov earned a fortune by teaching Carlsen. When was the last time you were offered a solid fee to work as a coach?

I do not know if it's true that Kasparov became rich this way. This is probably not true. I have not trained anyone.

Not interested?

I don't have the time. I could act as a consultant, but prepare someone for the world title fight, working on their opening repertoire? No. I still play chess because it's fun, and usually blitz chess. I enjoy playing with Karjakin and Morozevich.

The brain of a chess player is somewhat special. Have you noted changes with age?

The speed is different. The reaction is not as good as before. I no longer play at the level of the greatest chess players on the planet.

What do they have over you? How are they better?

They have better knowledge. They sit at the computer several hours a day. I'm definitely do not. I play at the board. On the other hand if I come out of the opening without being in a situaiton where someone "caught" me, the position is still acceptable. Then I have problems with no one. Also, because the quality of the players has worsened. In the autumn, Carlsen and Anand were playing, and I came to the final. The FIDE Vice President Georgios Makropoulos came to me and said: "Judging by today's games, even an out-of-shape Karpov would beat either of them..."

Has your memory worsened?

It takes longer to remember variants.

And in everyday life?

In cities where I have been more than once, I can remember well. I could even draw a map and position all the streets. I only got lost once - in a suburb of Brussels.

Is there someone who stood out for his amazing memory?

Yury Balashov was unique. In the Botvinnik School he already knew every participant of every Soviet Championship, including every game, and of course, the results. He could instantly calculate on which day of the week, let's say, March 5th, 1923 fell. The answer came after one second. He had special techniques.

Why didn't Balashov become a great player?

Memory is an important tool, but not the most important. My father had, as far as technique, a fantastic memory.

Could you give an example?

He was chief engineer at a plant in Tula. 13 thousand workers. You can imagine how much detail went on there. My father had the nationally defined standards of each individual worker in his head! That was an eight-digit number followed by some letters. My memory is not as good as my father's.

On the other hand, you know geography perfectly thanks to your travels. Better than Senkevich.

I do not like Africa, and have never been to Central Africa. Nor have I been to New Zealand, Tasmania and Tierra del Fuego.

Are there any countries in Europe you may have "missed"?

No, nor is there a big city I have not been to.

The world championship match in Baguio in 1978

The following story is known. During the World title fight against Korchnoi, in 1978 in Baguio someone tried to poison you. The special security measures taken were obviously not in vain.

We had expected trouble. Even as we prepared for the match with Fischer. In these battles, it was not just about chess. For Korchnoi, as far as the general situation was concerned, it was even more complicated. The Filipinos were very friendly towards me. Personal contacts play a very important role. In Baguio, on the organizer's side, I was looked after by a former pilot of Eisenhower.

Sounds exciting ...

Yes, a colonel in the American Air Force. His wife was either Miss Asia or Miss World, an impressive lady. He himself left and moved to the Philippines. After a few days we had become friends. He was the one who helped me solve a problem: I played tennis. All around there were only "difficult" tennis courts.

Directly beneath the windows of my hotel was the recovery base for American airmen who fought in Vietnam. The colonel invited me there where I was received by the General, the chief of the base. He had no objection, "Anatoly can come whenever he wants and get what he needs!" When I got hold of some time between the typhoons, I immediately went to the tennis court. The typhoon were extremely powerful. This is something I've seen only once in my entire life!

How was it exactly?

The first started at 8 AM until it ended, the next came an hour later. In three months over four times the rainfall of Moscow in a year fell upon us. Whenever the rain gave it a rest I would call the base, "I'm coming in 20 minutes!" Once a celebration was organized for the delegation. We went to a bowling alley, which belonged to the base and I saw that it was "closed for cleaning", an expression not restricted to the Soviet Union. The Americans hung the exact same sign on the door after they let in us.

Korchnoi was informed about your friendship with the Americans?

After learning that they supported us, he started a scandal by using the press. He was of the opinion that the Americans should be supporting him.

Tal said that if you had lost in Baguio, the sport of chess would have been declared a pseudo-science in the Soviet Union.

Maybe he just had a hangover and dreamed that up. At that time, he has also said that I had prepared everything to not return to the Soviet Union if I had lost the match. Utter nonsense.

We have read about how Korchnoi prepared himself for the match with you. Some chess players have confirmed this. Viktor Lvovich had your picture hung on the wall and spat on it.

This is the first time I hear this. I would be very surprised if that were true. I myself have never felt the desire to hang an opponent's portrait to prepare myself this way. Was this actually told to you?

Yes, Mark Taimanov, and he was not the only one.

Hmmm... Botvinnik, Korchnoi and Kasparov had to hate the opponent to play successfully. I belong to a different type of chess players. I'm like Keres, Spassky and Portisch. On the board we fight, but in life we ​​get along great.

Korchnoi was also inspired by his wife to hate the enemy.

Petra Leeuwerik did not tolerate anything connected to the Soviet Union. She showed this in her behavior and comments.

Wasn't she sent to a Soviet camp?

Yes, but it is connected. She has spent the best years in a Soviet prison, but for good reason. She said so herself. She was - it seems to me not too successful - a spy. However, she only managed to work in this capacity for three days.

Continued in part two

Click to see the original interview in Russian

Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications, and the content creator of the YouTube channel, Chess & Tech.


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