Fischer, Karpov and Kortschnoi

by Stephan Oliver Platz
4/29/2021 – If Bobby Fischer had not retired after becoming World Champion in 1972 we would have seen a decade dominated by Fischer, Anatoly Karpov and Viktor Kortschnoi. What would have happened, if there had been a match Fischer - Karpov or Fischer - Kortschnoi? And why did Fischer not play against Karpov in 1975? And how would Fischer's decision have turned out if the challenger had not been Karpov, but Kortschnoi? Some thoughts by Stephan Oliver Platz.

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Of all the matches that were never played, Fischer - Karpov or Fischer - Kortschnoi might have been the most interesting. What would have happened if Bobby Fischer had not retired after his victory against Spassky in 1972? In this article I would like to deal with this question and its psychological background.

Bobby Fischer quits

Unfortunately, Bobby Fischer (1943 - 2008) did not play any match or tournament for 20 years after he had won the World Chess Championship Match against Boris Spassky in Reykjavik in 1972. It was not until 1992 that he played a rematch against Spassky and won 10-5 with 15 draws. However, no further tournaments or matches followed after that. In 2008, two months before his 65th birthday, Fischer died in his Icelandic exile. What impact did his retirement have on top chess?

If Fischer had continued to play, there would have been a World Championship Match against Anatoly Karpov in 1975 and perhaps even a World Championship Match against Viktor Kortschnoi in 1978. Both matches would undoubtedly have been very interesting for the chess world and probably very exciting and thrilling. But since 1974, Anatoly Karpov and Viktor Kortschnoi practically fought out the World Championship title between themselves in three matches, before a new contender for the title emerged in 1984 with the 21-year-old Garry Kasparov.

Why did Bobby Fischer retire so suddenly? If we want to get to the bottom of the probable reasons, we first have to go back to the year 1972.

Why Spassky lost in 1972

There has been much speculation about this question. Boris Spassky was born in 1937 and had become the World Chess Champion in 1969 by beating his predecessor Tigran Petrosian. Before the match in Reykjavik in 1972 started Bobby had never won against Spassky. The record was 3-0 with 2 draws in favour of the Russian. In the first match game, Bobby Fischer unnecessarily allowed a bishop to be trapped and lost the resulting endgame. That made it 1-0 for Spassky in the World Championship Match and 4-0 in the personal record between these two top players.

Then the second match game had to be played. After arguments over the television cameras that were supposed to broadcast the match, the eccentric American did not turn up for the game and Spassky took a 2-0 lead. Only with extreme difficulty Fischer could be persuaded to play the third game. He insisted, however, that the game would not be played in the designated playing hall, but in a table tennis room without any spectators. Spassky was kind and agreed. But that was still not enough for Fischer. As he again felt disturbed by the camera that was supposed to broadcast the game for the spectators, he refused to play again. This led to a loud argument between Fischer and the referee Lothar Schmid, which completely upset Spassky. He got up to leave the room, but Schmid strongly urged him to stay. The referee described what happened next as follows: "I took them both and pressed them by the shoulders down into their chairs and I said: ‚Play chess now!‘ And almost automatically, Spassky made the first move, 1.d4, the same he had played in game 1." This was the beginning of Spassky's downfall. For the first time in his life Spassky, worn down by the tiring arguments, lost a game to Bobby Fischer and was completely thrown off balance until the 10th game: 0-5 with 3 draws was the disastrous result of these eight games.

Spassky-Fischer, 1972

But in reality there was much more weighing on Spassky. The Russians had wanted him to abandon the match instead of continuing under such conditions. In this way, he also got into trouble with his own delegation.

It took Spassky a long time to recover from the psychological blow. By the start of the eleventh round he had overcome his trauma and managed to keep the match even in games 11-20 (1-1 with 8 draws). Then Fischer won the 21st game after 41 moves and the final score was 12.5-8.5 in his favour. If we disregard Fischer's loss by forfeit in the 2nd game and the traumatic match phase for Spassky from the 3rd to the 10th game, we notice a balanced performance (2-2 with 10 draws). I therefore do not take it for granted that in 1972 Spassky was really a less ingenious chess player than Fischer. If things had gone normally, without the stressful arguments about TV cameras, the playing hall and the spectators, we might have seen a highly exciting and very balanced match. Spassky's decisive mistake was to oppose the advice of the Soviet delegation and agree to play the third game in a ping-pong room under the circumstances described above. Thus he not only had to bow to the will of his opponent and give in to the pressure from the referee, but was also subjected to the wrath of the Soviet chess federation. All this led to the psychological breakdown that could be clearly seen in games 3 - 10. But Spassky was (and is) a good sportsman and a gentleman. He wanted to play against Fischer, and that's what he did. Nobody knows how the final result would have turned out if these disturbing interferences had not existed. Spassky later said that Fischer would have won anyhow. On the other hand in 1972 he must have been convinced that he could successfully compete with Fischer. Otherwise he certainly wouldn't have continued the match under those difficult conditions.

Spassky really should not have played on

Knowing today the impact Bobby Fischer's World Championship win had on himself and the chess world, one might wish that on July, 16th, 1972 Spassky had actually left the ping-pong room and packed his bags for the flight home to Russia. That way, very likely Bobby Fischer would have remained an active chess player. He might not have got another World Championship Match, but he could have continued to play in high-level tournaments. Thus, in the following years, he could have played not only against Karpov, but also against Garry Kasparov, which would undoubtedly have been a great blessing for the chess world. Continuing his chess career might also have had a very positive effect on Bobby Fischer's own life and fate.

Finally, I would like to talk about Lothar Schmid's role as referee of the 1972 World Chess Championship. We have to acknowledge that he wanted to save the match, but nevertheless I would like to say clearly that in my opinion he made a mistake on July 16th, 1972. The third match game took place under conditions that were quite unacceptable for Boris Spassky. If a player does not agree to play in the designated playing hall, even after concessions had been made with regard to the cameras and they were demonstrably no longer audible where Spassky and Fischer had to play, the referee should have disqualified Fischer and stopped the match. Many chess fans won't like this, but let's imagine that at a world athletics championship one of the finalists insisted that he would not run the 5000 metres in the stadium, but only on the sports field of a nearby primary school, without any spectators or TV cameras. Such a participant would very quickly be replaced by another one, and rightly so! The least Lothar Schmid should have done would have been to adjourn the match for a couple of days until an acceptable arrangement was achieved. (a)

Why did Fischer not play against Karpov in 1975?

From a psychological point of view, Bobby Fischer had nothing to gain after becoming World Champion in 1972, but everything to lose. With the World Championship title, what he had been convinced of since 1963 had come true, namely that he and no one else was the best chess player in the world. When it came to defending his title in 1975, Bobby might have suffered the greatest possible catastrophe, namely defeat in the upcoming World Championship Match. His status of the world's best chess player would have been destroyed in an instant and his ego might have been severely damaged. The German grandmaster Dr. Helmut Pfleger, a well known doctor and psychotherapist, described Fischer's mental state since 1972 as follows:

His paranoia must have grown considerably (...) In the past, Fischer only had in mind to crush his opponents; since 1972 he has been fleeing from them. All the stories and rumours about what he has been up to in these 20 years [1972 - 1992] come down to one thing: he is always on the run (...) Chess is everything to him, and in this domain he can no longer achieve anything. Instead, his latent instability has broken through and virtually flooded him with fear. (b)

Besides Fischer hadn't played a single tournament or match game for three years. So he will have considered what his chances were in a World Championship Match against his challenger Anatoly Karpov, and that might have made him fear the worst. Why?

Karpov was born in 1951. In Leningrad  in 1973, aged only 21, he had won the interzonal tournament tied with Viktor Kortschnoi, and achieved an outstanding result of 79.4 % (13.5 out of 17). In the candidates' quarter-final he beat grandmaster Lev Polugaevsky 3-0 with 5 draws. At the 1974 Chess Olympiad in Nice, Karpov already played on board 1 for the Soviet Union and achieved a sensational result of 10-0 with 4 draws. Then Karpov won the candidates' semi-final against Boris Spassky clearly (without any psychological gimmicks) with 4-1 and 6 draws. In the final against Viktor Kortschnoi, things also went wonderfully at first: After 18 games Karpov was already leading 3-0. In the final phase, however, he got into trouble, lost two more games and in the end just managed to secure a narrow 3-2 victory by drawing the last three games.

Karpov-Kortschnoi, Tilburg 1986 | Photo: Dutch National Archive

Karpov's only weakness: his stamina

We can assume that Fischer, although he had retired from competitive chess, nevertheless followed Karpov's career closely. He thus noticed that Karpov had won 52 of a total of 131 tournament and match games in 1973 and 1974, and had lost only 4 of them. The 24-year-old Russian thus posed a serious threat to Fischer's World Championship title. He certainly also studied Karpov's games in detail and realised that this challenger would probably be difficult to deal with. Besides Karpov was supported by an excellent team of Soviet chess experts. But it is very likely that Bobby Fischer detected one weak point, because two of those four defeats came after Karpov had played 18 exhausting match games against Kortschnoi and was obviously struggling with stamina problems. So, in order to beat Karpov for sure, he absolutely had to prolong a World Championship Match against him. The longer it lasted, the greater the chance of winning it.

In this context it suddenly becomes clear why Fischer insisted that the 1975 World Championship Match should be scheduled for ten wins. Draws should not be counted. He could thus hope that such a match would last long enough to tire Karpov. But when he then also demanded that he should retain the title in case of a 9-9 without having to play for a tenth win, Karpov and the Soviets rejected such demands showing that they had learned from the debacle of 1972. The World Chess Federation was also no longer willing to accept Fischer's conditions. The match was cancelled and Karpov became the new World Champion.

Fischer might have played against Kortschnoi

Viktor Kortschnoi was born in 1931 and thus 20 years older than Anatoly Karpov. He had already belonged to the absolute top of the world for a long time. In the 1973 Leningrad interzonal tournament he scored as many points as Karpov and drew against him. In the candidates' quarter-final, he defeated the Brazilian grandmaster Henrique Mecking 3-1 with 9 draws, and in the semi-final he defeated former World Champion Tigran Petrosian 3-1 with one draw. At the 1974 Chess Olympiad in Nice Kortschnoi played on board 2 and achieved a result of 8-0 with 7 draws. (c) So he didn't do quite as well as Karpov, but at least he did almost as well as Karpov, against whom, as already mentioned, he lost the candidates' final over 24 games with 2-3 and 19 draws. However, if you look at Kortschnoi's overall record in 1973 and 1974, you'll notice a clear difference. In the ChessBase Mega Database I found a total of 117 tournament and match games from these two years, of which Kortschnoi won 40 but lost 18. In contrast, Karpov's record was 52 wins with only 4 losses!

Therefore Fischer could clearly see that a challenger Kortschnoi would be relatively easier to beat. Likewise, he might have realised that the longer a match lasted, the stronger Kortschnoi played. So we can assume that if Kortschnoi had been his challenger in 1975, Fischer would probably not have insisted on ten wins, but would have agreed to a shorter match format.

Another reason for my assumption that Fischer would have been much more likely to get involved in a World Championship Match against Viktor Kortschnoi is that he knew him from previous encounters. From 1960 to 1970 they played a total of eight tournament games against each other, of which each won two, while four ended in draws. In addition, Kortschnoi and Fischer played each other twice in a blitz tournament in Herceg Novi in 1970. Kortschnoi won the first blitz game, but lost the second. Fischer, however, had never played a single game against Karpov, so this opponent would have been much more difficult for him to predict.

Two games Fischer - Kortschnoi
 

Let's have a look at the two most interesting games between Fischer and Kortschnoi:

 

My prediction: A close fight with slight advantages for Fischer

When you look deeper into the ten Kortschnoi-Fischer games, you notice that Kortschnoi had a slight initiative, although the final result was even. But let's not forget that Fischer was only 17 at the time of their first game and just 19 during the five games played in 1962. This undoubtedly meant an advantage for Viktor Kortschnoi, who was twelve years older, as he had considerably more experience than his youthful opponent. If Kortschnoi and Fischer had met in a World Championship Match in 1975 or 1978, this would have been reversed, because in that case a 32- or 35-year-old Fischer would have faced a 44- or 47-year-old challenger, which would almost certainly have favoured the younger Fischer.

So if a World Championship Match Fischer - Kortschnoi had actually taken place in 1975 or 1978, I believe that regardless of the length of the match, a very exciting and close race could have been expected. The decisive question in this context would be how Fischer would have coped with the several-year absence from tournament play. But even if Kortschnoi had taken a two-point lead at the beginning of such a match, I think Fischer would have had a very good chance of winning in the end. However, if Kortschnoi had succeeded in hitting Fischer badly in the "warm-up phase" (three or more points ahead), Kortschnoi might even have become the new World Champion.

Karpov would have had a more difficult task

I see the situation differently in a World Championship Match Fischer - Karpov, if ten wins had been required. Despite his enormous playing strength, I don't think Karpov would have been capable to deal with a long lasting match against Fischer over 30 or more games. Both in the candidates' final against Kortschnoi in 1974 and in the World Championship Match in 1978, and even in his first match against Kasparov in 1984/85, Karpov had serious problems as soon as the match started to drag on.

Fischer - Karpov

Unfortunately I cannot show you any authentic games on the subject, but at least I'll give you a small foretaste of what might have happened in a Fischer - Karpov match. A few years ago I had the funny idea of running a computer simulation of the 1975 World Championship Match by using the Fischer and Karpov personalities of Ed Schroeder's chess engine Rebel 13. This experiment resulted in a in a clear 10-4 victory for Fischer if ten wins had been required and a closer 6-4 victory for Bobby Fischer if they had played for only six wins. Of course, this experiment should not be taken too seriously, but at least some nice games were produced. Let's take a look at two of them:

 

Amazingly, after its fourth win the Karpov personality of Rebel 13 didn't win a single game. However, this might indeed have happened in an actual World Championship Match Karpov – Fischer. (Or maybe not, who knows?) Once the Bobby Fischer express has really got going after a three-year break, it's hard to stop it! That actually sounds quite plausible. (d)

In my opinion Karpov would have had better chances against Fischer at a World Championship Match in 1981. At that time Karpov was 30 years old, while Fischer was already 38. In 1981 Karpov defeated the 50-year-old Kortschnoi for the first time decisively by 6-2 with 10 draws, while he had won the other two matches in 1974 and 1978 by a narrow margin of only one point.

What do you think?

What a pity that Bobby Fischer retired in 1972. We'll never know what really would have happened and how chess history would have changed, if he had continued to play. But we are free to speculate. How do you think a World Championship Match between Bobby Fischer and Anatoly Karpov or Bobby Fischer and Viktor Kortschnoi would have turned out? It would be nice if our readers interested in chess history would share their opinions.

More about Bobby Fischer, Anatoly Karpov and Viktor Kortschnoi can be found here:

Master Class Vol.1: Bobby Fischer

No other World Champion was more infamous both inside and outside the chess world than Bobby Fischer. On this DVD, a team of experts shows you the winning techniques and strategies employed by the 11th World Champion.

Grandmaster Dorian Rogozenco delves into Fischer’s openings, and retraces the development of his repertoire. What variations did Fischer play, and what sources did he use to arm himself against the best Soviet players? Mihail Marin explains Fischer’s particular style and his special strategic talent in annotated games against Spassky, Taimanov and other greats. Karsten Müller is not just a leading international endgame expert, but also a true Fischer connoisseur.

Master Class Vol.6: Anatoly Karpov

On this DVD a team of experts looks closely at the secrets of Karpov's games. In more than 7 hours of video, the authors examine four essential aspects of Karpov's superb play.

My Life for Chess Vol. 1

Victor Kortchnoi, two-times contender for the world championship, is a piece of living chess history. He is known as one of the greatest fighters in the history of chess. On this DVD he speaks about his life and shows his game.

My Life for Chess Vol. 2

Volume 2 of the memories of Viktor Kortchnoi features about four hours of Kortchnoi live. He speaks about his life and shows his game - and in every minute you see and feel his enormous passion for chess.

References:
 

(a) The following article by Frederic Friedel offers a good report of the events surrounding the fateful third game of the 1972 World Championship Match:
 

https://en.chessbase.com/post/bobby-fischer-in-iceland-45-years-ago-4
 

(b) These quotes are from the book "Brett vorm Kopf" by Dr. Helmut Pfleger and Gerd Treppner, Munich 1994, p. 245/246.
 

(c) Kortschnoi also played some games on board 1 when Karpov paused or didn't want to play with the black pieces, for example against Torre and Timman (cf. Kortschnoj, Ein Leben für das Schach, Dusseldorf 1978, p. 110).
 

(d) https://en.chessbase.com/post/fischer-beats-karpov-10-4-a-simulation


Stephan is a passionate collector of chess books and for years he has been successfully playing as an amateur for his German club. The former musician and comedian works as a freelance journalist and author in Berlin and in the Franconian village Hiltpoltstein.
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lajosarpad lajosarpad 5/3/2021 04:14
Btw, I noticed another straw man, which I did not observe initially. Consider:

"How do you know he would have worried less about match conditions in 1975 than he did before?"

this refers to my statement of

"In my opinion he would have agreed to defend his title and would have worried less on the match conditions if he was absolutely sure he could defend his title."

So, first of all, I did not claim that I know, I expressed that this is an opinion. Secondly, my expressed opinion was that he would have worried less about match conditions if he was absolutely sure he would win. My expressed opinion was not referring to his level of worry about match conditions in 1975 versus before. It was referring to his level of worry about match conditions if he was sure he is going to win versus reality, that is, there was a risk and he could not be sure he will win. Thirdly, yes, I expressed this as an opinion, but not without reason. It's reasonable to think that if Fischer was sure he will win, he would not have considered the match conditions to be very harmful. Btw. I believe (again, an opinion) that his hysteria at the 1972 was a psychological game. He was a damn' good player, but, let's put it this way: if I would have to present an example of a great sportsperson, who is noble both on and off the table, Fischer would not be in my top 1000 examples. Yet, if I would have to present examples about people playing great chess, he would be one of the first ten examples I would present.
lajosarpad lajosarpad 5/3/2021 03:22
"I suggest the best way to look at such questions is to look at chessmetrics ratings."

Chessmetrics ratings did not exist at that time, so they were not affecting the thought process of the protagonists and all you can find out from those is some raw material to make a hypothesis of who might have won based on their previous achievements. Yet, fear is a feeling, directed to a perceived threat. Since it's a feeling and it's instinctive, it's a different thing from rational thought.
lajosarpad lajosarpad 5/3/2021 03:22
What does paranoia mean? It's excessive fear, often to the point of irrationality: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paranoia

What did Fischer fear of when he was the best chess player? In my opinion his greatest fear was that he would no longer be the best, that all his efforts, the many hours he invested into chess would not prevent him from losing to another person. I believe that the ridiculous conditions he wanted were a way to rationalize his paranoia.

By default, when someone does not face his/her opponent, my initial thought is that he/she might be afraid. I need very strong arguments and/or evidence in order to consider another scenario more likely than this one. When I express my opinion according to which he was afraid I do not need to prove it. If I wanted you to accept that as a fact, then I would need to provide evidence. But the fact is that I do not treat this as a fact. It is just the scenario which seems to be very likely to me, hence this is my opinion.

You seem to be convinced that he was not afraid. Interestingly-enough you do not see the need to prove that he was not afraid, while you cannot accept the opposite as opinion without evidence. So, if I understand you correctly, I'm not ought to to think that Fischer was likely afraid until I present some evidence to you. I, on the other hand recognize that neither of us knows what the reality is, because that would require insight into his thoughts, which probably none of us have. I certainly do not see into his thoughts. So I form and express an opinion just like everybody else.
lajosarpad lajosarpad 5/3/2021 03:20
"If that was the plan, then why were the conditions reasonable? Surely he would have made really outrageous and new requests if he wanted to ensure a match cancellation?"

I consider the conditions proposed by Fischer to be unreasonable. The World Champion has to be beaten by someone in order to become the world champion. Fair-enough. But 9-8 is winning for a World Champion, but not yet winning for the challenger? Ridiculous. Playing until 10 wins? Impractical. In practice later, in 1984 Karpov and Kasparov were playing for many months in order to reach 6 wins. Not 10. I know the Karpov-Kasparov match was later, but it's common sense to foresee that scenario even before that inferno of a match between Karpov and Kasparov started.

"If his plan was to default, that means he would lose the title, and if so how do you explain that Fischer still considered himself world champion for the next 20 years? That is not consistent with losing the title."

Very very simple. He did not want to lose the World Championship. He lost it officially, but he was still able to consider himself the World Champion. The alternative would have been to face his main opponent (which was fear in my opinion) and risk losing the title on the table, not by beaurocratic means. It's a different statement that "Fischer was beaten 13-11" than "Fischer defaulted because his proposal was not accepted". The latter allowed him to consider himself the best chess player without any risk of losing. Even our discussion shows that there are people who accept Fischer's narrative about his "reasonable" proposal being refused.

"I am quite surprised for ppl to invoke fear without any evidence that I have seen anywhere, in any form (as pointed out before, both Fischer and Karpov believed that Fischer would win a 1975 match), when there was an obvious raging paranoia and mental illness."
lajosarpad lajosarpad 5/3/2021 03:18
@Vibov it is quite possible he was scared in general. After all, he was seriously ill later and it is possible that his attitude in 1975 was affected by some mental state that was aggravated and later diagnosed as mental health issues, like paranoia.

@fgkdjlkag Everybody can read my previous comments, where I have made it very clear that I express my opinion. I did not claim that I have evidence, all I presented was my opinion and the reason of why I think that it's correct. Again, you do not have to agree, you can have a different opinion, but when you say that I have presented something as evidence, you misrepresent what I said. I do not have evidence for my opinion. If I had evidence, then I would make factual claims. When I say that something is my opinion, then that implies that it's not a factual claim, hence no evidence should be expected/detected.

"How do you know he would have worried less about match conditions in 1975 than he did before?"

I do not. I have an opinion, which was explained earlier. I started it with "I believe Fischer was scared to play Karpov. "

Keyword: "I believe"

"That is opinion/speculation, as well as your belief that he was afraid of Karpov."

Exactly. This is what I was saying all along.

"Also, if you think that he intention was to use match conditions to default, then what is your supposition for what would have happened if the match conditions were accepted?"

Maybe in that case Fischer would have been comfortable-enough to play. But those conditions are unfair and unacceptable. I do not believe that either Karpov or the Soviet apparatus behind him would have even considered seriously to play under those rules.
fgkdjlkag fgkdjlkag 5/1/2021 08:07
Incidentally, this re-writing of historical narratives seems to be a general phenomenon with top achievers in any field. Eg, Stu Ungar, who was the best no-limit texas hold'em player of all time up to that point, is described as being weak and predictable by poker players today. Yet he figured out the optimal strategy at that time, won more money by far than anyone else, and there was a bigger margin between him and everyone else than every before (and probably since). Where was the need for him to delve into GTO poker when the field wasn't even invented yet, he was the best player by far, and the other players' styles did not merit it? Plus ppl start to overlook things he was extremely good at, like putting other players on hands.
fgkdjlkag fgkdjlkag 5/1/2021 08:01
@lajosarpad, I realise it is your opinion, but you put forth Fischer's demands as evidence, which you cannot do in good faith as Fischer's demands were unchanged for a decade and there was nothing new for the 1975 match. He did not play in previous matches/tournaments if his requests were not met, and he did play in events when his requests were met. So it is your speculation that he was using the demands as an excuse to get out of the 1975 match.

How do you know he would have worried less about match conditions in 1975 than he did before? That is opinion/speculation, as well as your belief that he was afraid of Karpov. Also, if you think that he intention was to use match conditions to default, then what is your supposition for what would have happened if the match conditions were accepted? As you recall, it came down a single condition that the committee would not accept, and even that was very close. If that was the plan, then why were the conditions reasonable? Surely he would have made really outrageous and new requests if he wanted to ensure a match cancellation?

If his plan was to default, that means he would lose the title, and if so how do you explain that Fischer still considered himself world champion for the next 20 years? That is not consistent with losing the title. I am quite surprised for ppl to invoke fear without any evidence that I have seen anywhere, in any form (as pointed out before, both Fischer and Karpov believed that Fischer would win a 1975 match), when there was an obvious raging paranoia and mental illness. In all the interviews I have seen from that period, he is extremely confident.

I suggest the best way to look at such questions is to look at chessmetrics ratings. I took a look and Karpov never surpassed Fischer's peak rating.
Vibov Vibov 5/1/2021 05:49
"I believe Fischer was scared to play Karpov" - that he was scared was pretty clear. The question is, however, whether he was scared to play against Karpov in particular, or scared in general. I'd say everything indicates it was the latter. For one, Fischer quit competitive chess before it was even clear who would be the next contender.
lajosarpad lajosarpad 5/1/2021 12:27
@fgkdjlkag I have expressed my opinion. The logical fallacy you use is called the "straw man" argument, when you answer something I did not say. I did not say that Fischer would have not worried at all because of the tournament conditions. I said he would have worried less. So, even though he would have probably complained about the organization, as he always did, he would not lose the world championship because of organizational details. That's my opinion. And the fact that he preferred the format he proposed before 1972 does not disprove my expressed opinion, that is, I think he was afraid of Karpov. I may be right or wrong, you do not have to agree, but please, don't use logical fallacies. You say that Fischer was better than anybody else. That might be true in view of 1975. But he might have still been afraid, because even if he was superior to Karpov, beating the other guy is still uncertain and difficult. My opinion is that he voluntarily chose to lose the title by default in order to avoid the risk of losing in a mtach. This way he is the only world champion to this day who has died without ever losing his title in a match.

In the Fischer-Spassky match Fischer displayed superior chess, Spassky displayed superior attitude.
twamers twamers 4/30/2021 11:41
Some interesting stuff in the article above but Spassky was not ever going to be good enough to beat Fischer at that time - Fischer had just got too good (and I take nothing away from World Champion Spassky a wonderful player who just met someone better than him). As to playing Karpov or Korchnoi well the obvious truth is we'll never know. However in my opinion Fischer was simply stronger than any player at that time and whilst Karpov was a magnificent player with a fantastic record (to come) I think Fischer would have won in 1975. And Viktor Korchnoi has always been one of my favourite players for his great chess and fighting qualities but I do not believe Viktor could have beaten Fischer in a match. If Fischer had of continued to play how long would he have been World Champion? Well again we don't know because so much would have depended on health but in my 50 years of observing and playing chess Fischer would still sit at No. 1 for me.
Hurin Hurin 4/30/2021 07:23
Great article.

At least Karpov was a frequently playing worldchampion. Prooving with so many tournament wins that he and only he was the best player at that time from 1975-1984. Fisher chickened out in 1975, maybe his paranoia became to much for him. I think Karpov would have beaten him , also with the help of all the Sovjet analists chess players and psychologists. The would have broken him after the lesson in 1972. I think that might have frightened Fischer. Old saying is that the road to the top is easier then staying at the top.
Nevertheless I remember Fisher as a magnificient chess player who achieved something that was allmost impossible these days , demolishing the Sovjet chess hierarchie.
fgkdjlkag fgkdjlkag 4/30/2021 04:40
Spassky had a stroke and it is unlikely he would be able to say anything of significance. Notwithstanding that, it was many years ago. However he has spoken about such things many times in the past.

"I believe Fischer was scared to play Karpov. In my opinion he would have agreed to defend his title and would have worried less on the match conditions if he was absolutely sure he could defend his title."
Oh, really? So although he had "worried" about match conditions for his entire career, they were always due to other reasons, but when he had to face Karpov, they suddenly were because of fear of playing Karpov? This is not logic, this is imagination. Fischer himself said he was planning on being world champion for 30 years. The condition that was not accepted in the 1975 match, was a condition that Fischer had raised before 1972, so it was not new by any means.

Fischer had the biggest margin between himself and the other players since Morphy. What do the detractors want, an even bigger margin?? Is that what is necessary in your minds for him to have been better than Karpov in 1975? How much of a bigger margin? How many elo points?
lajosarpad lajosarpad 4/30/2021 10:37
I believe Fischer was scared to play Karpov. In my opinion he would have agreed to defend his title and would have worried less on the match conditions if he was absolutely sure he could defend his title. That's just my opinion. Spassky, on the other hand, agreed for quite a while to Fischer's ridiculous demands, maybe he wanted to play the match. The article assumes he believed he had a chance. But, it is also possible that he was a true sportsman and wanted to decide the match fairly. He is still alive, maybe it would be a good idea to ask him about this before it's too late.
GR2 GR2 4/30/2021 07:35
I felt at the time that it was simply fear of losing that stopped Fischer playing Karpov (or anyone else for that matter) after achieving his long held goal of becoming world champion and breaking the stranglehold on the title of the Russian players. His chess life had been driven by achieving that goal. To lose the title so quickly after attaining it was his worst nightmare. He was a great chess player (arguably the best ever) but in a way because he did not defend his title and not successfully at least once there is always a question mark when comparing him to the likes of Kasparov or Carlsen for example who have demonstrated the ability to hold and defend the title over long periods of time.
GreenKlaser GreenKlaser 4/30/2021 02:44
The score Fischer had against top players began when they were favored by his age much before his peak. Fischer faced Petrosian in the Candidates match because Korchnoi was told to lose his match with Petrosian, which he did with all draws except a required loss. The Soviets thought Petrosian had better chances with Fischer.
Masquer Masquer 4/30/2021 02:11
Fischer hadn't played for at least one full year (1969) and then emerged much stronger than everyone else.

People also ignore Fischer's rating, which put him around 100 Elo points above the next best player.

Fischer was head and shoulders above everyone else at the time.
BmiS BmiS 4/29/2021 10:38
So Fischer was "Crazy", but not that crazy after all in his demands? ;)
Woodford Woodford 4/29/2021 09:13
Comments Fischer had not played for 3 years ignore he had not played for 8 months before the Spassky match.
WillyBourgeois WillyBourgeois 4/29/2021 07:44
I completely agree with Tedz's comment in the sense that Fischer had no intention of defending his title.

And as for Jarman's comment, that Fischer would have beaten Karpov any day, I would like to add that Karpov in his best days, playing White, was practically invincible. A friend of mine saw him play in an Olympiad. He barely sat down, two security agents were one on each side. He was like a robot, his eyes were frozen and he coldly extended his hand before starting the game, he was a true steamroller.
Althoug I think Bobby was the best, I don't think it would have been that easy for him to beat Karpov.
fgkdjlkag fgkdjlkag 4/29/2021 07:23
The idea that Fischer was scared of Karpov seems to be an imagination. There is no evidence for it anywhere - not in Fischer's demeanor, nothing he said, not from the way he played. I think Karpov himself said he would have lost a 1975 match with Fischer.

The idea to compare Karpov games, who came after Fischer, with Fischer's games, is ridiculous. Players interact with each other. One cannot be faulted for a deficiency in an aspect of one's game, which did not need to be remedied because the player was are already stronger than every else.
Ravindranath Ravindranath 4/29/2021 07:16
i donot agree Spassky would have ever beaten Fischer under any circumstances after Fischer crushed Petrosian in SF.But yes Karpov Fischer 1975 would have favoured slightly Fischer even without playing single game between 1972-75.Karpov would have beaten Fischer easily in 1978.
marcguy marcguy 4/29/2021 07:12
I would like to address several points in this article:
1.I got to talk to Spassky in Reno, NV when he made a guest appearance at a tournament. He confirmed that he should have forfeited the third game rather then agree to play in that backroom.
2.While I agree a longer match would have benefitted Fischer, his insistence on a 10 win requirement match was not specifically targeted at Karpov, he had suggested this before in the past.
3.Fischer's playing history had several long stretches of inactivity, he always came back much stronger. I don't think this would have been a factor in a 1975 match.
4.If you examine the games of the 1978 match Karpov-Korchnoi closely, no way Karpov was as strong as Fischer was in 1972. In fact, I would argue that from 1967-72, no one has been more dominate than Fisher. In that 1978 match, Karpov's endgame play, especially in the latter third of the match, was atrocious. Also, had Korchnoi not missed a forced mate in game 5, and not badly blundered a drawn endgame in game 17 the match result may have been different.
5.Since Korchnoi played so poorly overall in the 1981 Wch match, its tough to say what would have happened in a Fischer-Karpov match then. I think Karpov's best chance against Fischer would have been in 1984. However, its possible that had Fischer stayed active, Kasparov may have been the player to ultimately dethrone him.
6. In games 3-10, Spassky really only played poorly in games 3, 5 and 8. He should have won game 4, defended brilliantly in game 7 (a game Fischer probably should have won), and was simply outplayed in games 6 and 10.
7.Korchnoi himself admitted he would have lost to Fischer in 1975 by something like 10-4, with 20 or so draws.
KevinConnor KevinConnor 4/29/2021 06:58
Wow what a terrible article! If I understand the writer correctly Fischer was a chess playing basket case who won the worldtitle just because of his antics and not because he was a formidable chess player. On top of that he was afraid of Karpov and because of that he refused to defend his title in 1975. It's pretty obvious the writer doesn't like Fischer much and tries everything to downgrade his achievements. Thank you for nothing.
Avoid Knightmares Avoid Knightmares 4/29/2021 06:40
Fischer-Taimanov Palma 1970 for me was the closest to a hypothetical Fischer-Karpov game. Taimanov made only one mistake, and Fischer played a brilliant endgame to win.
sshivaji sshivaji 4/29/2021 06:37
Fascinating article! Would be a great question to answer. We might have to repeat the computer simulations with an LC0 network trained on Fischer and Karpov games. The games above seem to be without much sense of danger from both Fischer and Karpov. Both of these players would play much more cautiously and not allow strong attacks while slowly expanding on the queenside.
satman satman 4/29/2021 05:49
Those calling it for Fischer really do have to ask themselves why he insisted on conditions which could have led to an extended match.
Was he hoping to benefit from Karpov's perceived lack of stamina, as suggested above?
In which case it would amount to a tacit admission that he couldn't match him in chess strength, so he would turn it into contest of physical strength.
If it had been any of the Old Guard I'm sure he would have played, but what was this?
An emerging new superstar brushing everybody aside without much effort, with a style of play nobody could fathom - it's no wonder Bobby was scared.
Those claiming that Karpov didn't dominate in the way that Fischer did are just wrong - the guy won more than a hundred tournaments - nobody's come anywhere near matching that record.
Jarman Jarman 4/29/2021 03:40
Spassky was moved to accept to play a game in the ping pong room also because he had just won a WC game by default - which was unprecedented at the time. He clearly underestimated his own ability to shrug it off, too.
By the way, I saw a short clip taken immediately after the match in which Spassky said he would have fared better, had another match taken place. Not sure why later he declared he would have lost anyhow.
As to Fischer, he would have beaten Karpov any day. Karpov never proved to be by far head and shoulders above his peers like Fischer did - which to me will always be the most significant indicator of how a match between the two would have ended.
Werewolf Werewolf 4/29/2021 02:16
The computer simulation is complete BS. The only accurate predictor we've got of Fischer - Karpov - Kortschnoi is elo and it goes in this order:
Fischer
Karpov
Kortschnoi

The 1962 games are meaningless given how much Fischer improved over the next 10 years
Tedz Tedz 4/29/2021 02:04
If i can add my two cents worth of speculation. One theory i noted is that Fischer had no intention of defending his title. That is one of the reasons for his protective conditions on the match for 1975. To back that up, he had not played a competitive game since 1972.
JoniCee65 JoniCee65 4/29/2021 01:48
Fantastic article and filled with interesting insights.
The 'stamina' issue had never occurred to me in connection with AnatolyKarpov's play and explains a lot about the first match between him and Garry Kasparov, where the latter noticeably changed gears when he was badly adrift in the title match
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