Fischer vs Karpov in 1975: Who would have won?

by Matthew Wilson
11/3/2018 – In the USA, chess fans are eagerly awaiting the World Championship match to see how Caruana fares as the first American to challenge the undisputed World Champion since 1972. But what about that other eagerly awaited contest that never was: Fischer-Karpov, 1975. It was a match that the whole chess world would have loved to see. Who can say what beautiful ideas the players would have shown us in their games? And who would have won? With statistical modelling, we can at least talk about the likely outcome of the match. Dr. MATTHEW WILSON, economics professor at Truman State University, takes a crack at it. | Artwork: Unknown (via Quora)

Endgames of the World Champions from Fischer to Carlsen Endgames of the World Champions from Fischer to Carlsen

Let endgame expert Dr Karsten Müller show and explain the finesses of the world champions. Although they had different styles each and every one of them played the endgame exceptionally well, so take the opportunity to enjoy and learn from some of the best endgames in the history of chess.

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Who would have won? Probably Fischer...

The match didn’t take place because there was no agreement on the format. Fischer wanted the “10 win system with draw odds.” The first player to score 10 wins would be the victor. But there was a catch: if the score reached 9-9, then Fischer would retain his crown – that is the “draw odds” part of the system. This proposal was rejected. Afterwards, FIDE adopted what I will call the “6 wins system.” The first player to win 6 games would be the champion. There were no draw odds; if the score reached 5-5, they would keep playing. Previously, FIDE had used the “24 game system.” The first player to score 12.5 points or more would be the winner. Fischer would continue his reign if the match were tied at 12-12. Under all three systems, Fischer would have been the heavy favourite — even if I rig a few assumptions in Karpov’s favour.

Why is the model so confident in Fischer’s chances? It’s because of their ratings. Fischer was 2780, just a few points shy of his peak, while Karpov stood at 2705. A 75 point rating gap is not to be lightly dismissed. It’s about the same as the gap between Anand and Carlsen in their matches. Of course, Anand had his chances and the games were not one-sided. But to call Anand vs. Carlsen a 50-50 tossup is just not accurate.

Even worse for Karpov, the match would probably be much longer than either of the Anand-Carlsen duels. And in a longer match, an upset is less likely. That’s because it’s harder for the underdog to consistently beat the odds over many games than it is to beat the odds just a few times. For example, in a large open tournament, a 2200 might score an upset against a GM. But the GM would almost certainly prevail in a 24 game match. Anand’s chances in his 12 game matches with Carlsen were slim. His prospects in a traditional 24 game match would be even worse. That would be like drawing one of the 12 game matches and then winning the other — a pair of unlikely upsets.

Here is how the model works. The ratings give us the expected score. Fischer’s expected score is about 0.6 points per game (see the FIDE handbook for info on the rating system). So if they played a bunch of 10 game matches, we would expect Fischer to win by 6-4 on average. 

𝑒𝑥𝑝𝑒𝑐𝑡𝑒𝑑 𝑠𝑐𝑜𝑟𝑒 = (1)(𝑝𝑟𝑜𝑏𝑎𝑏𝑖𝑙𝑖𝑡𝑦 𝑜𝑓 𝑤𝑖𝑛) + (0.5)(𝑝𝑟𝑜𝑏𝑎𝑏𝑖𝑙𝑖𝑡𝑦 𝑜𝑓 𝑎 𝑑𝑟𝑎𝑤) = 0.6

For now, I will set the probability of a draw at 50%. We will modify that assumption later. Plug that into the equation above, and here’s what you get. In each game, Fischer has a 35% chance of winning, 50% chance of drawing, and 15% chance of losing.

There are three possible formats: the traditional 24 game match, the 10 wins system with draw odds, and the 6 wins system. The best case scenario for Karpov is the 6 wins system. In that format, he is fighting on a level playing field – no draw odds for Fischer. So I ran 10,000 simulations of a match with the 6 wins system. Here is what happened:

Fischer’s chances in 1975 were similar to Carlsen’s chances in 2013.

Player Rating Wins the match %
Fischer 2780 93.49%
Karpov 2705 6.51%

In the above analysis, I simply assumed that the draw rate was 50%. Even if we change that, Fischer is still the heavy favourite in the simulations: 

Fischer wins the match

Karpov’s prospects improve when the draw rate is lower — even though draws are not counted in the six wins system. That is not a mistake. If the draw rate falls by 10%, then in each game, Karpov’s chances of winning and Fischer’s chances of winning both rise by 5%. But that causes the ratio of Fischer’s winning chances to Karpov’s winning chances to fall.

Draw rate effect

Here’s a simple example. We already saw that when the draw rate was 50%, then Fischer had a 35% chance of winning and 15% chance of losing in each game.

𝑅𝑎𝑡𝑖𝑜 𝑜𝑓 𝐹𝑖𝑠𝑐h𝑒𝑟′𝑠 𝑤𝑖𝑛𝑛𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑐h𝑎𝑛𝑐𝑒𝑠 𝑡𝑜 𝐾𝑎𝑟𝑝𝑜𝑣′𝑠 = 0.35/0.15 = 2.33 𝑤h𝑒𝑛 𝑑𝑟𝑎𝑤 𝑟𝑎𝑡𝑒 𝑖𝑠 0.5

What if the draw rate were 0%? Then since Fischer’s expected score is 0.6, he would have a 60% chance of winning each game and a 40% chance of losing.

𝑅𝑎𝑡𝑖𝑜 𝑜𝑓 𝐹𝑖𝑠𝑐h𝑒𝑟′𝑠 𝑤𝑖𝑛𝑛𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑐h𝑎𝑛𝑐𝑒𝑠 𝑡𝑜 𝐾𝑎𝑟𝑝𝑜𝑣′𝑠 = 0.6/0.4 = 1.5 𝑤h𝑒𝑛 𝑑𝑟𝑎𝑤 𝑟𝑎𝑡𝑒 𝑖𝑠 0

So when the probability of a draw falls, Karpov’s chances get relatively better in the decisive games.

But was Karpov underrated?

Possibly. You can see that Karpov was rising rapidly during the early 70s: 

Karpov rating curve

Karpov's rating progression in the 1970s

However, even if we account for this, Fischer remains the clear favourite. And Karpov’s improvement had clearly tapered off by the time he was supposed to face Fischer. I calculated Karpov’s performance rating in 1974 and 1975. He actually underperformed in 1975 and his rating fell to 2695. So I’ll bias the model in Karpov’s favour by focusing his best year. His performance rating was 2726 in 1974.

Let’s say Karpov’s true strength was 2726. He would still be well below Fischer’s 2780. The rating gap would be comparable to that between Carlsen and Giri; they were 60 points apart as of October 2018. Of course you would say that Carlsen would be the favourite in a match with Giri. Only two world championship matches in nearly half a century featured 50+ point upsets. And both of those matches (Kasparov-Kramnik in 2000, Kramnik-Topalov in 2006) were relatively short, meaning that upsets were more likely. Karpov’s chances do improve; Fischer’s expected score shrinks to 57.7%. However, Karpov is definitely still the underdog.

Chance the Fischer wins against draw rate

What about the model’s other assumptions?

The model implicitly assumes that the games are independent of each other. I tested this assumption many times and never rejected it.

Test #1: If one game is decisive, does that affect the probability of a win or loss in the next game? Perhaps the winner gets a confidence boost and the chance that he would win again would rise. But this is not true, as I demonstrated in an earlier article. Of course decisive games affect the players psychologically, but it does not have any significant effect on the winning and drawing rates.

Test #2: Here is another way to detect a confidence effect. In super tournaments, if you win your previous game, do you outperform your rating in the next game? The answer is no.

Test #3: Suppose that winning your previous game gives you a confidence boost that helps you in the rest of the tournament. If that is true, then results in actual tournaments will be more spread out than my simulations would suggest. My model would have too many players bunched up at 50% and not enough at the extremes. However, a statistical test rejected this argument.

Test #4: Once a player gains a significant lead in the match, he will start playing for a draw. Thus, the draw rate should not be constant in the simulations.

This argument doesn’t apply to the six wins system that I have investigated here. However, it would be plausible if FIDE had insisted on the traditional 24 game match. However, there is no evidence that the draw rate changes once a player takes a 2 point lead. Naturally, the leader is inclined to play safely, but this is balanced by his opponent’s extra motivation to fight for a win.

At the top level, the games really do seem to be independent of each other.

Conclusion

It was a tragedy for chess that the match never took place. However, we can be quite confident that Fischer would have prevailed. It is true that the model does not directly account for factors such as Fischer’s mental health. However, his 2780 rating that was used in the simulations was his actual rating — the rating he attained in spite of his issues. This is not an imaginary problem-free version of Fischer.

Are nerves a factor in a world championship match? Of course they are. But the ratings used in the simulations come from real tournaments and matches in which nerves were also a major factor. Thus, the results in the simulations cannot be easily dismissed.

Karpov’s chances are low even if we twist the model’s assumptions in his favour. Even if we pick a system in which Fischer does not have draw odds and even if Karpov were underrated, Fischer is still the heavy favourite. Fischer’s chances are — at the bare minimum — 70%. I do not know how long Fischer’s reign would have lasted; perhaps Karpov would learn important lessons from their match and come back stronger in 1978. But we can be quite confident about the outcome in 1975.

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Matthew Wilson is an economics professor at Truman State University. He is a 2100 player and runs a chess and statistics blog.
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marcguy marcguy 11/10/2018 12:50
In speculating on who would have won this match, I think assuming Fischer's playing strength had not diminished during his 3 year absence is reasonable, as his career was punctuated by several long layoffs after which he returned stronger than ever.
I think the best indicator is Karpov's play in his WC match against Korchnoi in 1978. In the first 9 games Korchnoi missed an easy forced mate in a few moves in game 5, and botched nearly winning positions in 2 other games. Consequently, it was only 1-1 after 11 games. In game 17 Karpov got a cheapo win when Korchnoi made a one move blunder in a drawn endgame. Also, Karpov's endgame play in games 20, 22, 29, and 31 was simply atrocious (fatigue?).
Karpov benefitted by Korchnoi continually getting into time trouble, something that never affected Fischer.
Also, Karpov's stamina was clearly tested more than Korchnoi as the match went on, this would have been advantage Fischer had they played a first to 10 wins match.
In light of these observations, I believe Fischer would have won by something like 10-5 or 10-6.
Had Fischer continued playing what would have happened in 1981? Who knows, but maybe Karpov never becomes WC and it is Kasparov who dethrones Fischer?
As a side note, Karpov never attained Fischer's peak rating of 2785 despite all his tournament and match successes.
abdekker abdekker 11/7/2018 10:25
This article should have a much stronger proviso, "We simply cannot be sure" instead of making supposedly strong conclusions. The facts are that Karpov was improving and that Fischer hadn't played competitively for the last few years before the match. The author makes the fundamental flaw of relying on the "true" ratings too much which makes the reams of "statistical analysis" a nonsense. The main conclusion *might* still be correct, but I suspect the motivation of the match of the rustiness and mental state of Fischer could easily have played in Karpov's favour. It was stated at the start of this comment...the truth is that it would have been a close, tough match and we simply cannot be sure.
planner99 planner99 11/6/2018 11:50
"Fischer was simply afraid of Karpov"

Totally agree. He was afraid of Spassky too and as a result took off entire years until he felt he was ready for him.
planner99 planner99 11/6/2018 11:46
"RWOODMAN 11/4/2018 01:31

"In 2005, I directly asked Boris Spassky, who would have won the 1975 World Championship Chess 
match between Anatoly Karpov and Robert Fischer. He replied "Fischer".""

And I asked Nigel Short who would have won and he said Karpov. Everyone has an opinion.

Fact is Fischer never faced anyone as strong as Karpov, Karpov beat Spassky 4-1 in the 1974 candidates, Fischer would have been well aware of these games, and maybe saw something he didnt want to deal with.

Karpov gave Kasparov a very hard time in their matches, so why not against Fischer?

Chessmetrics has Karpov as the 2nd most dominant player of all time behind Kasparov, he would have been a handful for anyone.

Who would have won? We'll never know thanks to Robert James.
Resistance Resistance 11/6/2018 05:55
Fischer.
bbrodinsky bbrodinsky 11/5/2018 10:54
Fischer would have won. Layoff? (to paraphrase Saint's coach Morra in American football:) Layoffs? LAYOFFS? Fischer had laid off chess a couple of times previously, and came back stronger than ever..... in an unlimited match he would have worked off the rust anyway. And anyway, frail Karpov would have collapsed physically late in the match (as he did in 1975, 1978, and 1984!)…. Fischer played old men? Hmm, Karpov beat who, Polugaevsky, Spassky, and Korchnoi. I believe their average age was more than Taimanov, Larsen, and Petrosian..... Karpov had the opening advantage because of that "great" USSR team???? Hey Spassky, how did that team work for ya in '72, ha! Bullspit, opening prep is a tossup.... Fact is, Fischer just might have blown Karpov off the board and ruined his career. Karpov would have seen the difference between playing Korchnoi (who wasn't even one of the top Soviet players), and playing a monster like Fischer... And finally, again about the layoff. Rumor has it that Fischer was practicing quite hard, and if the anecdotes are true, was even stronger than 1972. Do we know that Karpov recovered physicaly and psychologically from the grueling match against Korchnoi that he barely won???
ctchess ctchess 11/5/2018 10:31
@Antonio Ernesto - You are joking, right? Caruana was born in Miami and grew and played in the USA until 2007. He played for Italy after that for more playing chances in Europe and destined for top board on Italian team chess. But how could that be construed as less American?
Prophylactic Thrust Prophylactic Thrust 11/5/2018 09:54
Far too many unknowns, not the least of which were Fischer’s irrational elements. There is a huge difference between studying and grueling competition. The inactivity on Fischer’s part had to hurt and he knew it. To my mind, if Spassky was the 1975 opponent, Fischer not only shows up, but he does not throw a monkey wrench into the works by insisting on 9 – 9 draw odds. Bobby Fischer knew Karpov was a much stronger opponent than Spassky and he so pressed for every possible “advantage.” Like so many other chess players and fans, I would love to have witnessed it; but unfortunately, we’ll never know what the outcome might have been.
Antonio Ernesto Antonio Ernesto 11/5/2018 09:23
Is Caruana a "true" USA American? Fischer was.
dumkof dumkof 11/5/2018 04:49
Fischer was simply afraid of Karpov. Otherwise, why would a 31-32 year old young man at his prime refuse to play? His strange demands and rules were manageable. Karpov was a destructive force by that time, winning almost every tournament and match. He is still the record holder in tournament victories, even after so many years.
A true champion has to accept all sorts of serious challenge. You cannot simply sit on your title. Karpov and Kasparov have always been hungry for challenges and dominated the chess world for a massive 30 years.
fixpont fixpont 11/5/2018 11:38
if he was so heavily favored why was he so coward?
fgkdjlkag fgkdjlkag 11/5/2018 07:10
It's shocking to me that many overly confident commenters seem not even to remember basic ideas from a chess match that took place <50 years ago, and was the most famous match of all time, not to mention the sheer misinformation. Many of the comments are silly and even nonsensical. If history can be rewritten for a match so recent, what do people think of anything taking place before that time?

There was no evidence that Fischer was scared of Karpov.
It was not the first time that Fischer was inactive. There was a period of more than a year that Fischer did not play in the past and he came back much stronger than before.
Consider that Fischer played the queen's gambit for the first time ever in a professional game against the world champion and defeated him. The thought was that it took 5-10 years of professional play to learn an opening at the top level. Fischer did it without ever having played it.

Someone mentioned if Spassky has accepted the win on forfeit. That has nothing to do with anything, Fischer won the match by several points and Spassky winning a game on forfeit has nothing to do with Fischer's strength.

Where is the idea that Fischer did nothing from 1972 to 1975? As he was planning on defending the title in '75 most likely he was extensively working on chess that entire period. GMs assumed that he was working obsessively on chess for the 20 years after the 1972 match, so the 3-year period of 1972-1975 is hardly a stretch.

@ebit, rising to the top of the chess world had nothing to do with Fischer's mental illness. An extensive amount has been written about/documented in regards to the mental illness.

Fischer defeated his opponents by a bigger margin than anyone since Morphy. He went 6-0 twice in the candidates matches. He was only the greatest player of all time. What more can one ask for in the player Karpov would face?? It's not as if Fischer just squeaked by the prior few years.

I do not see any strong arguments for why Karpov would have won in the comments, especially given that the numbers show >90% probability of Fischer winning the match. Also, I have never heard any strong GM who thought that Karpov would win except Kasparov; every other GM I heard opine on it thought Fischer would win.

A comment about Fischer's openings would have been weak compared to Karpov - Fischer only had a deeper opening preparation than anyone in the world at that time. What is the evidence of Karpov's opening preparation in 1975 being stronger than Fischer's?

Didn't Karpov himself recently say that he thought Fischer would have won a 1975 match?

@dmccauley19, yes it would be possible to train 2 AIs to do that. However, it might not be very accurate, because Fischer and Karpov would likely each have prepared specifically for each other, and the AI would not be able to do that, and in addition it would be unlikely to accurately come up with the openings.

From the chessmetrics ratings that @Jack Nayer posted, Fischer's peak was higher than Karpov's peak, and Fischer was near his peak in 1975 whereas Karpov was very far from his peak in 1975.
bdubois02 bdubois02 11/5/2018 02:43
Fischer, at his peak, was athletic. Karpon, at his peak, was emaciated. An athlete vs. an emaciated individual in a grueling physical match - witness Karpov's collaspse against Kasparov in their 1st match. I'd say Fischer's physical conditioning should have made him, unless he showed up to the match out-of-shape, in an indeterminate length-long match, increased his odds of winning the match.
mc1483 mc1483 11/5/2018 12:58
One thing that not everyone knows (or remembers) is that in 1992, after 21 games,. the score between Fischer and Spassky was 12.5-8.5, the exact same score of 20 years before. That means the difference in playing strength between them was still the same after 20 years, but while Spassky had played a lot, Fischer had not. So if 20 years' inactivity did not affect Fischer's strength (clearly he was not anymore a 2700+ player, but that was due to age, as it was for Spassky), 3 years would have meant nothing at all.
KingZor KingZor 11/5/2018 12:28
Do you really think is is "not imaginary?" This is utter fantasy. It completely ignores three crucial facts: (1) There is considerable anecdotal evidence that Fischer had already lost his marbles by 1975. A long match probably would have taken a greater toll on him than on Karpov. (2) Fischer had not pushed a pawn in three years. No one's actual playing strength is the same as it was three years ago if he/she hasn't played a single game in all that time. The constant assumption in this article that Fischer's strength was still 2780 is ridiculous. (3) Karpov crushed Spassky in their candidates match even though Spassky was arguable stronger in 1974 than he was in 1972. Kasparov closed the book on this question in "My Great Predecessors." Karpov's chances were excellent.
Jack Nayer Jack Nayer 11/4/2018 09:44
Kasparov is number one the chessmetrics list (highest performace measured over three years):
Kasparov: 2874 (1989-1991).
Fischer is second with 2867 (1971 - 1973).
Karpov is seventh with 2833 (1988-1990).
Korchnoi is twelvth with 2798 (1978-1980).
Spassky is 26th (2767 – 1969-1971).
Karpov won 14 games against Spassky and lost 2.
Thirty four elo points is the difference between the best ever Fischer and the best ever Karpov (measured over three years). No one knows exactly where Fischer stood in 1975, but after three years of inactivity, it is fair to assume that he was in no position to play Karpov. In 1974, Karpov was way better than Spassky, who was indeed no longer at this peak. This, at least, is what Kasparov says in MGP 4 (Fischer, p. 472 ff.). I see no reason to not believe him.
Nite Moves Nite Moves 11/4/2018 09:25
Karpov would have annihilated Fischer now matter what year it was played in. The only hope the coward Fischer had was to play a 10 win match and hope that he could play himself back into form. It would be like the other coward - Muhammad Ali trying to win back the heavyweight championship after being off for 3 years (oh wait, he did try and got the fuck knocked down and lost!) It would be Mike Tyson trying to regain the undisputed championship again after being in Prison for 3 years and..oh Wait again, do I detect a pattern here? Once you quit at the top, or get derailed, you lose your edge. Fischer had no chance to defend his title without the 9-9 clause and ten must win system. Rating or no rating edge. You can't compare 1972 versus 1975. Forget about it!
DonGL DonGL 11/4/2018 03:05
In my view, these sort of conversations, just like the GOAT ones, are pub conversations really. Too many unknowns.

Incidentally, to be fair, Fischer's 4 opponents in his World title run matches were average age slightly under 40, whereas Karpov's 3 opponents in 1974 were slightly older than that.
Krokx Krokx 11/4/2018 01:29
Very interesting. I really like this article. It answers the question quite good. It's kind of a consolation for the match never taking place, knowing that Fischer would win it with high probability.
Still this is only assumptions and calculations. Real life is the reality.
As a conclusion we can say: Fischer had a very good chance to retain the title in 1975 but missed it and that's why Karpov is the deserved world champion from 1975 on.
dmccauley19 dmccauley19 11/4/2018 12:56
Would it be possible to train Google deep mind with one version being just Fischer's games and the other being Karpov's? Then just let the 2 AIs play it out. (Next question - could an AI go crazy?)
Masquer Masquer 11/4/2018 06:24
@woodshifter2016
Well, as it turns out, Spassky himself has expressed the opinion that (at least some of) the Kasparov-Karpov matches were fixed. They can't all be mentally ill, now, can they?
tedshi tedshi 11/4/2018 05:16
The most interesting statement in this article is "The model implicitly assumes that the games are independent of each other. I tested this assumption many times and never rejected it."

For a coach, if your student win a great game in a tournament, you had better believe he or she will go back to "normal lever" in the next game. We all know there are exceptions, but it is wise to keep a reasonable expectation.
mdamien mdamien 11/4/2018 03:06
I have no doubt that Fischer would have been the favorite in 1975, but it's not entirely because of ratings, which measure a player's performance across many opponents and not an extended performance against one player. Topalov touted his 50-point rating advantage over Kramnik in 2006, and the author seems to buy into that in suggesting that Kramnik was fortunate to have a short match. The reality was that Kramnik was simply the superior match player, as evidenced by the fact that he could forfeit a game and still win handily.
RWOODMAN RWOODMAN 11/4/2018 01:31
In 2005, I directly asked Boris Spassky, who would have won the 1975 World Championship Chess
match between Anatoly Karpov and Robert Fischer. He replied "Fischer".
zedsdeadbaby zedsdeadbaby 11/4/2018 12:35
Too many long comments for me to read. I think the only thing missing from this analysis is the team around the player. I do not know who would of had the best/strongest team, but feel that it is an important thing to miss out.
GreenKlaser GreenKlaser 11/3/2018 10:42
Fischer could have been more underrated than Karpov. It was harder for Fischer to gain rating points against his lower rated opponents. Korchnoi was not expected to stand up to Fischer since the Sousse Interzonal, yet played a decent match against Karpov for the title. Fischer should have won in 1975 and in 1978 against Karpov, if Karpov had not been discouraged enough to not qualify in 1978. Predicting Fischer's level for 1981 is more speculative. In a longer match, Karpov's endurance would have been a weakness. However, Fischer's emotional state could always have come into play, not only in a match, but over the years before a match. Fans should enjoy discussing non-matches as well as matches. Fischer had achieved his goal in 1972 and was not motivated to or able to make any concessions to make the best deal possible in order to continue.
amarpan amarpan 11/3/2018 10:37
I believe that Fischer would have won, but over the years maybe Karpov would have managed to become champion. More importantly, I think, a Fischer-Karpov rivalry would have made Karpov a much stronger player eventually, and would have delayed Kasparov becoming a champion. Even now the head to head record between Kasparov and Karpov is small enough that its unfair to rate Kasparov much higher than his long time rival.
TomE57ach TomE57ach 11/3/2018 10:05
You can't go strictly on ratings. If you could Fischer would be the favourite. But if you take into account motivation., recent experience, and psychology, Karpov would have had a much better chance.
ZugAddict ZugAddict 11/3/2018 08:48
Perhaps relevant:

https://www.chess.com/blog/GargleBlaster/how-the-fischer---karpov-world-championship-match-would-have-gone
mc1483 mc1483 11/3/2018 08:48
Jack, I think you are judging 1975's events with the knowledge of today. Today we know Fischer was mentally ill (back then he was deemed "eccentric" at worst), would never play again vs. serious opponents, and also know Karpov would become one of the greatest players of all times. So we overestimate 1975's Karpov and underestimate 1975's Fischer.
Back then it was different. The reason why everyone thought Fischer's forfait was a disaster was not because of the great match we missed; it was because Karpov was deemed an unworthy champion. This belief was reinforced the following year, when Korchnoi defected and claimed Karpov's victory in 1974 was due to political issues and not superior strength. In the western world Korchnoi's claim was well received (despite being not true), and only after 1978 it became clear that Karpov was, infact, a real champion and not just some random outsider who had won the lottery in 1975. But it was common knowledge that Karpov took at least some years - let's say 1975-1980 - before becoming "Karpov", and before 1980 he was just a little stronger that most emerging western players, such as Timman and Andersson (peers of his), players that without the massive effort made by the USSR in order to make Karpov a really great player soon lost sight of him.
Also, it is true that Korchnoi had an equal score with Fischer, but that meant nothing: before 1972 Spassky had a plus score against him, yet he lost the match.
The sad truth is that USSR chess was really in decline: Spassky never recovered from the 1972's defeat (nor he was someone willing to forget everything else in order to overcome his weaknesses), Tal's health was a major problem and Petrosian was coming down the stairs, as you can see from his WC results between 1966 and 1978. That's why a player such as Korchnoi could become an elite player at 45, and the same may be said - in a lesser extent - for Polugaevsky, another 40+ soviet player.
Karpov did not stand a chance in 1975.
Ajeeb007 Ajeeb007 11/3/2018 07:37
The article overstates Fischer's chances to win the match. He would have suffered for his 3 years of inactivity. He beat Spassky with his great talent and with psychological warfare. The latter probably is what caused Spassky to under-perform until late in the match. Karpov would have been ready for the psychological tricks. I agree that Fischer's rating was based on beating older generation players past their prime and is therefor suspect relative to Karpov's. Also, it's revealing that even Fischer had doubts about being able to beat Karpov. He saw how well Karpov handled Spassky in their match and he bailed. He was afraid of Karpov. Fischer would have been the favorite but not by much.
Jack Nayer Jack Nayer 11/3/2018 06:16
Mc1483, I’m sorry, but remember this differently. Karpov had won the world junior championship in 1969, the first Soviet player to do since Spassky. He won the Leningrad Interzonal, together with Korchnoi. Polugaevsky proved unable to win a single game against him in the candidates. In the semi-final, Karpov won against Spassky: +4 -1 = 6. Read what Kasparov has to say about it in MGP. Spassky just couldn’t crack Karpov, it proved to be his ultimately swan song. It is not true that the final did not impress anyone nor that they were both outsiders. Both were top grandmasters. Karpov won against Korchnoi with +3-2 =19. Note that Korchnoi had an equal score with Fischer. If the question is whether Fischer at his very best (as in 1972) would have won against Karpov in 1975 – nobody knows. In 1975, this Fischer was gone.
mc1483 mc1483 11/3/2018 05:22
Also, in 1975 nobody gave any chance to Karpov (I clearly remember that). That was likely because the 1974 Candidates final did not impress anyone, having being plaied between Korchnoi - a player that had never been on the same level of Tal/Petrosian/Spassky, the Greats of USSR chess after Botvinnik - and Karpov, a young, unknown player. Everyone thought that USSR chess was in decline, with the old Greats not so strong anymore, and the new Greats yet to come, and that was the reason why the final had been plaied between two outsiders, none of them a real match for someone like Fischer.
Wrong impression? Maybe. But not completely wrong.
mc1483 mc1483 11/3/2018 04:52
Had Fischer been really motivated (as he was in 1972) he would have won the match easily. Three years of inactivity were not enough for someone like him. In 1978 he would have won again, but not easily (both Karpov and Korchnoi were much stronger by then). I think he could have lost in 1981, and even if that were not the case he would have certainly lost against Kasparov in the following years.
Karpov was strong and eventually he could have beaten Fischer, but in 1975 he was not that strong.
RayLopez RayLopez 11/3/2018 04:32
@RayLopez - I figured it out, how the author gets his "0%" draws to "70%" figure. He simply takes a distance from the dividing line between winning and losing and multiples it by zero to 0.70. For example, if the Elo difference is 300 points, then the weaker side will win about 15% of the time, assuming zero draws, so the line is: {0 to 15, 15 to 100} for players Weak, Strong, {Win +1, Loss 0}. But if you want draws, then extend the line by {0 to 15*X, 15*X to 15+15*X, 15 + 15*X to 100} for {Win +1, Draw 1/2, Loss 0} where X is a percentage between 0 and 1, and count draws. Nice. When I wrote a program counting draws I merely assumed X=0.5 (half way point) but the author allows any percentage for X from zero (draws don't count) to 70% (draws happen a lot, maybe Anish Giri is playing Ulf Andersson)
CMPonCB CMPonCB 11/3/2018 02:49
Let's not forget that Fischer's high rating was achieved against a bunch of players who were way past their peak. There was almost a generational gap between Fischer and most of his toughest opponents, like Petrosian, Spassky, Larsen, Taimanov, Geller, Smyslov, Botvinnik, Bronstein et al. Fischer's easy passage through the Candidates matches attest to this; his opponents were simply in decline and probably had artificially high ratings themselves.

Regarding his working alone, without assistance, against the combined might of Soviet chess ... this may have been a very shrewd move by Fischer. The Soviets were bound by their schooling, the techniques and strategies learned from the masters of the early 20th Century. Fischer would have been more able to discard anything too dogmatic, selectively include the more enduring parts of Soviet theory, and incorporate new, original and creative ideas from his own era, or his own thought processes. We got a taste of Fischer's fresh ideas in his handling of the Modern Benoni, for example.

So what was needed to truly test Fischer, was a worthy contemporary, or perhaps someone younger, who could fight on more even terms, and ideally without the psychological games that Fischer inflicted on Spassky. Karpov was potentially such a man, and in my opinion a contest between the two could have gone either way. I wouldn't find it possible to choose a favourite.

The much anticipated 1975 match was a huge loss to the chess world, as we may have been able to definitively say who was the better player between these two great champions - the man with the high rating, or the man who went on to have the fantastic tournament record. But we'll never know.
dysanfel dysanfel 11/3/2018 02:43
Karpov himself does not believe he would have won in a match with Fischer - so that in itself should be the end of the conversation.
reddawg07 reddawg07 11/3/2018 01:59
The Fischer who beat Spassky in 1972 is not the going to be the same Fischer that Karpov would have met in the 1975 match. At the top level of chess, chess openings preparation is a big part and I doubt Fischer will have the stamina and time to catch up with Karpov with regards to that.

It reminds one of the Capablanca Alekhine match where Capablanca underestimated Alekhine and went unprepared for the match and lost. In the end, Alekhine invented some excuses to avoid giving Capablanca a chance for a rematch. Fischer's fear of losing the match and the hard work required for the match made sure that this 1975 match won't happen. Fischer knew how to pick his battles when in 1992 he chose to play a match against Spassky in 1992, rather than the number one Kasparov.
ArisB ArisB 11/3/2018 01:58
You didn't take into account two factors:

1) Fischer's Rating. It's a wild estimation after 3 years of inactivity. 2780 was way back in 1972. Of course, the second period of Fischer's inactivity (1968-1970) didn't harm his play level at all, but the first (1962-1965) may had done so. Later, when he returned after a hiatus of 20 years in 1992, his playing level was about 2630-2640 ELO points.

2) Karpov's motivation. A rivalry against Fischer would have been very beneficiary for him. In the 80s, his rivalry with Kasparov boosted his level. Imaging the same thing happening during his 20s...In fact, the period 1975-1985 was something of stagnation for him, as no worthy opponent existed.

I believe too that Fischer would have won that imaginary match, but in a much harder way than Dr. Wilson's statistics predict. Another match in 1978 between the two would perhaps had been a really titanic struggle! But I wonder, does the author know anything about chess? He insists multitple times that Fischer's rating is "real", not imaginary, but... after 3 years of inactivity, is nothing of the sort...any chess player, even a mediocre one, can understand that...Mathematics is good, but you have to know your study subject...
twamers twamers 11/3/2018 01:21
It's always hard looking back on these things. However my own view is Fischer would have won had the match taken place and whether that was a traditional 24 game match (still the best format in my opinion) or first to 6 or 10 wins I still think Fischer wins. Karpov is clearly one of the games greatest players but he only just squeaked through against Korchnoi in the 1974 candidates final (3-2 on wins) and that suggests 1975 would have been too soon for him versus Fischer. Karpov clearly got stronger as he got a bit older but he also had a very close result against Korchnoi in 1978 match (6-5) and it wasn't until 1981 that he was clearly much stronger than Korchnoi in match play (6-2). Fischer for me in this assessment.