Anatoly Karpov tells all (4/4)

by Albert Silver
2/24/2015 – In this final part of the in-depth interview with 12th World Champion Anatoly Karpov, the discussion turns to player stamina, chess sets, of which he is a notable collector and designer, including sets made from 40,000-year-old Wooly Mammoth ivory. He also opens the door on his family life, including regrets and successes, and dreams tempered by reality.

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With such a nervous system, where does insomnia come from?

It is the result of strain and tension. Every chess player is familiar with it. However, the representatives of the current generation are weaklings in terms of endurance, and cannot fathom the marathons we had. I played a match against Korchnoi that lasted 110 days and another one against Kasparov that went for almost five months. Even the championship of the USSR lasted 42 days! Today, even the world championship match takes only half that long.

On collecting and designing chess sets

Tell me about your collection of chess sets.

There are a couple of exclusive chess sets. In the USSR the Council of Ministers decreed it was forbidden to produce single copies of anything. There had to be at least two copies. In the mid-1970s in Verbilki three copies of a beautiful chess set were made for Brezhnev's anniversary, one for Leonid Brezhnev, one for the factory museum and one for me. After the collapse of the USSR, the museum's copy disappeared, and Brezhnev's copy could not be found. I asked Churbanov, the son-in-law of the former General Secretary, and he said "I remember the chessboard, but either it was either broken while being moved or lost." As a result my copy is the last. The other one seems to have suffered a similar fate.

Was it made of porcelain?

Aragonite. For a long time, the only known natural source was the Spanish province of Aragon, and the all of a sudden they found it in Balakovo! It was found in the stone mined from the quarry where a nuclear power plant was to be built. This led to the production of vases, souvenirs, and then two chess sets, which were given to Brezhnev and myself. Churbanov said that this chess set also did not survive, but mine went to my home.

Was it hard?

You can say that again! I brought the chess board and set myself, but the matching table that weighs three hundred kilos had to be brought by a shipping company. It almost fell down the stairs as it was brought up. It stands exactly where it was brought since it is practically impossible to move.

Do you still have your workshop where custom chessboards arre made from Wooly Mammoth tusks?

Less a shop, and more an exhibition area. We tried to collaborate with Chinese bone sculptors who have no equal when it comes to imitating something. However, when it comes to starting from scratch, our masters are better. Their work is refined and interesting. Abroad, such chess sets were usually made of ivory, but now it is forbidden since it endangers animals.

One of the many chess sets sold at Karpov Chess

House of Staunton famously sells a set made from 40,000-year old Wooly Mammoth Ivory

Last fall, you were at the opening of the first chess museum in Russia. It is said that you were greatly impressed when you saw the porcelain chess set from the series "Animal World". North against south?

It is the only complete chess set of its kind in the world. No one knew about it. As long as the museum was not open, all the exhibits had remained packaged in a room of the Central Chess Club. This unique piece was stored in an old shoebox. No one would have noticed if it had gone missing, and it was not even labeled! I have only 5 such pieces. The lawyer Dobrovinsky has some eight or nine, though he has now parted with his collection as far as I know.

How much is the set worth?

According to wife who knows porcelain, individual pieces are worth between 8000 and 12,000 Euros. The pawns are cheaper. Do the math: sixteen pieces and just as many pawns mean it is worth no less than 150,000 Euros!

On marriage and family

Why did your first marriage fail?

It's hard to be the wife of a world chess champion, and Irina was unable to take the pressure. At first she accompanied me on my trips, but after our son was born she spent more time at home.

Irina Kuimova and Anatoly Karpov with their newborn son

Did she remarry?

Almost immediately. With someone completely unrelated to chess.

How old is your son?

35. He is a programmer. Unfortunately, we have little contact with each other.

Do you regret this?

Very much. I would like to have a different relationship with him. There is no bad blood between us, but there is also no proximity. It is because of the other family's influence. This seems incorrect to me.

Anatoly Karpov with his second wife, Natalia Bulanova

What are your daughter's interests?

At 5 years old she was interested in the ballet. My wife had bought recordings of various productions from the Bolshoi Theatre. Our daughter watched it on her own and imitated the movements. She danced every day for two hours. Soon after, she announced, "Mom, I want to become a great ballerina like Maya Plisetskaya! If I have to eat porridge, I'll do it!"

Maya Plisetskaya performs Dying Swan in 1959 with music by Saint-Saëns. Her sheer grace is breathtaking.

Then she told Andrey Karaulov about her of Plisetskaya. He knew Maya well and asked, "Would you like to call her?" Sonya's eyes shone, "Is that possible?" We called. Chedrin picked up the receiver. It turned out that Maya had broken her leg and had gone to bed early. When we got home, Sonja ran to her grandmother: "We called Plisetskaya! But she had broken her leg and gone to sleep. I was unable to speak to her ... "

Why didn't you put your daughter in a ballet school?

Natalia and I were against it. We have many friends in the world of ballet and know well about the fate that awaits. It is a tough profession you can only practice for a short time. By the time she is 38, she will be retiring. Sonja is now in the 9th grade. She is a very serious girl and has a strong opinion on things. She says that she wants to be famous, but on her own merits without the patronage of her father: "I have to reach everything myself!" She wants to be an actress. We have imposed a condition: "Before you join the theatre, you must have a good education."


Here is a video of Maya Plisetskaya performing the Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky in 1957. Though filmed
professionally, and in color, be warned it is 1h20 long. Still, it's one of the all-time great performances.

What about you? I heard you were going to be in a movie?

It is a series about my life. One of the main television stations will broadcast it. Work on the project has begun and it will take a few years still. Chess is the main theme of course, but it will still be a film about human relationships, the characters, their lives and the clash of forces.

In May, you turn 64. You look younger.

I also feel younger. I always take the stairs, and if I'm in a hurry, I'll sometimes even take two at a time, which surprises people at the Duma. I didn't go to the hospital for 52 years, I was not hospitalized in the hospital, apart from three days, when I had my nasal septum corrected.

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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