Karpov on Fischer, Korchnoi, Kasparov and the chess world today

by ChessBase
2/5/2020 – In a 20-minute interview with Tania Sachdev in Gibraltar, the twelfth undisputed world champion Anatoly Karpov talked about some of his world championship matches, the effect a 6:0 loss might have had on Garry Kasparov in 1984, the current FIDE administration, the use of rapid and blitz to decide the world champion, and much more. We transcribed the interview and added some of the games mentioned by the Russian star. | Photo: Gibraltar Masters YouTube channel

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Interviewed in Gibraltar

Anatoly Karpov was the guest of honour at the 2020 edition of the Gibraltar Masters. The former world champion opened the festival with a simultaneous performance on 29 boards, in which he got 25 wins and 4 draws. The Russian legend also talked with Tania Sachdev. During the 20-minute interview, they went through some of his experiences in world championship matches, paying special attention to the one that did not take place (against Fischer) and his first encounter against Garry Kasparov. Karpov also gave his opinion regarding the FIDE administration and the current world championship cycle.

The full video can be replayed at the end of the transcription.

TS: Anatoly, let's start with what it's like to be in Gibraltar. Your first impressions.

AK: It's an interesting place. I think chess players are delighted to play here, at the corner of Europe. For many years already, Gibraltar has become one of the important chess centres in the world.

You started playing chess when you were 4 years old — it's been a long journey, which continues. I have to ask you what is it that you love the most about the game after all these years.

I was growing up as a chess player, and at the age of 11 I became a Candidate Master in the Soviet Union. Then I was the youngest National Master at the age of 15. I just liked to play chess and to produce some ideas — results became important only much later. First, I just loved to play and to compete with people.

Vasily Panov, José Raúl CapablancaGrowing up, were there masters you idolized? Who had a great impact on you in your growing up years?

I think Capablanca was one of the most important world champions for me. I studied his games, and a good book about Capablanca's games was written by International Master Vasily Panov, a Russian master. There was quite a strong influence of Capablanca's style.

The most exciting is all the world championship matches that you have played, and I want to start with the 1975 match with Fischer, which did not happen. Do you remember the first time you heard about Bobby Fischer? What was your feeling about it then?

Of course I knew his name and his games when I was very young, because I followed the Candidates Tournament in Yugoslavia. At that time, it was a very long competition, 28 games with adjournments, so it was like 45 days, it was very difficult to play [Ed. The tournament ran from September 7th to October 31st, 1959]. Fischer played this Candidates Tournament, and he qualified when he was 15, and at that time he became a grandmaster at the age of 14, very young, the youngest...not in history, but of course the weight of the grandmaster title was much more important than nowadays.  

When Fischer was going to the 1972 match with Boris Spassky, how did you feel the match would turn out? What were your predictions of the match?

Fischer achieved fantastic results in Candidates matches: against Taimanov and Larsen, 6:0 and 6:0, and then against Petrosian with a four-point advantage, which was a great sportive result. Of course, everybody was impressed with those results, as Fischer dominated. He had a very strong personality, and these players I think mostly missed the psychological factor during these games. 

When I had to play Fischer, I prepared [a lot], and I think I had chances. I can't say I had better chances [than him] — I considered it would be a tough match.

Was that a bit disappointing for you after Fischer's demands were not met and the match did not take place? Was it bittersweet to be world champion without a match?

No, I prepared for the match, I was ready to play, but of course I could not force Fischer to play. If he didn't appear, he didn't appear. I wanted to play and to defeat Bobby. It was my personal aim to win that match, but the leaders of my country didn't like the idea. They said, you are world champion, why to take the risk to play Fischer, you are world champion, what else do you want? I said, I want to play the strongest player of the time, I want to beat him, I have chances. And then they asked, are you sure you can win? I said, I have good chances, but it's a sport, how can you be sure that you'll win?

That's why I had problems to negotiate. They said, if you guarantee [a win]. I said, are you crazy? I cannot guarantee I'll win, but I have good chances to beat Fischer.

Talking about good chances, there were a lot of mixed views. Kasparov felt that you probably would have won that match, considering that you were very active — you were at your toughest, you were peaking, while Fischer hadn't actually played for three years, after 1972. On the other hand, Spassky said that maybe Fischer would have won that match, but you would come back and win the next cycle.

Fischer had a big supporter in Spassky. Probably because of this admiration Spassky missed his chances to play more successfully against Fischer in the match. If you analyse that match, Fischer won with a big gap, but in the middle of the match they both lost energy, so they were playing like boxers fighting in the last round of the battle. From game 11 or 12, I think for six games both sides could win, so the match could have continued in a different direction. In game 13, Spassky was winning almost by force, and he missed it, in the middle of the game. Actually, I got a lot of respect among our top players, when I showed — during the game — Petrosian and Keres how Spassky could win the game.

Were you at the venue at that time?

No, we were preparing for the Chess Olympiad in Skopje. We were together, and I just analysed and showed that Spassky missed a clear advantage, almost winning. And then he lost that game. It was an Alekhine Defence. He missed chances and lost opportunities to win.

All 21 games from the Fischer v Spassky match from 1972


After you became world champion, you went on to play many tournaments, you were a very active world champion. Was there some sort of motivation to prove that even though the match did not happen you were the best in the world?

I always played a lot, but not too much. I normally played around 80 games a year, but I played of course much more than any other world champion. Probably because I accumulated a lot of energy and my preparation was very serious for the match with Fischer — so I could play almost without preparation any tournament with any list of players.

You wanted to make the most of that preparation so it wouldn't go to waste?  

Yes, I used all my preparation of course.

You played these matches with Korchnoi, then with Kasparov, and even the ones you played later with Kasparov were very close matches — 11½ to 11½, they were very tough fights. Which World Championship match you think had the biggest impact on you?

I don't know. But Korchnoi reached his peak in '77-'78, which I didn't expect, but I was sure I had better chances in the match. In '78, it was almost a repetition of our match in '74. I won three out of eighteen games and Korchnoi didn't succeed to win even one, so it was a huge advantage: three points before the end and we needed to play six more games. And then, suddenly, I lost two games almost in a row — I lost game 19 and game 21. Suddenly Korchnoi recovered, and it was a big competition in the last three games, but I had two Whites and one Black, so I succeeded to get three draws. Even the last game was completely winning for me, but of course Korchnoi had to win to equalize the score, so he played a little bit risky, and then I offered him a draw in a winning position. I needed just a draw, and I didn't make the mistake to try to win, because I didn't need it. Then Korchnoi realized he was losing when I offered a draw and he didn't take the chance to lose another one. 

The last title I won was against Anand. It was a very exciting match.

All 24 games from the Karpov v Korchnoi match from 1974


Anatoly Karpov, Viktor Korchnoi

The feature documentary "Closing Gambit" reviewed the major rivalry between Anatoly Karpov and Viktor Korchnoi | Photo: Screenbound Pictures

For the chess world, it was a big moment for how rich these world championship matches were — the match with Korchnoi, and then in '84 the match with Kasparov, which you were leading after 48 games and it was stopped...

We both lost. We waited...but still we had to continue according to the regulations. There was a big pressure by Kasparov's supporters. At that time, they took very high positions in the Soviet Union, so Campomanes could not resist. He made a crazy decision, which separated the world in two parts.

Actually, if I would have won that match — especially if I got a 6:0...I got chances — Kasparov would have never become world champion. He would have been completely destroyed, psychologically destroyed, because he's very emotional, so I don't think he would have become the strongest player in the world. 

Garry Kasparov, Anatoly Karpov

Would have Garry Kasparov won the world championship after a 6:0 loss in his first match against Karpov | Photo: Owen Williams, The Kasparov Agency

Everybody who studies games, whether from the world championship matches, or the Alekhine Memorial which you won, or the Linares tournament, you want to see the games again to see what really happened, and your opponents had this feeling of helplessness. Recently, I think it was Yannick Pelletier who said he was playing against you many years ago, and he has never felt so helpless in his life. How would you describe your style of play? What was it that left your opponents so helpless? 

I was playing for a win the whole game. Even when I had problems, figuring out how to defend, I was still looking how to defend and how to counterattack. I could find additional possibilities to create problems to my opponents.

But also a very strong positional style, it was an aggressive positional style.

Yes, so probably this is the part of my style...it was not only positional, because Petrosian played positional chess, but this was different. Let's say, he played the Caro-Kann Defence just to make a draw, and I played the Caro-Kann Defence to win, so there's a big difference — it's a very passive opening, but you play it for a win. And I won many games. Who discovered what I did was Kamsky: playing with Black, I made the move ♚e8-e7 without castling in the middle of the game, with the queens and all the pieces on the board. It was a big surprise, and all the players of the tournament in Dortmund were coming, looking, asking what happened. 

Kamsky v Karpov - Dortmund, 1993


How do you assess the work of this FIDE under Mr. Arkady Dvorkovich?

I consider this to be a positive change. He's working a lot and he succeeded to organize already many top level official events, and he saved the situation with Saudi Arabia, he moved that championship to Saint Petersburg and then the past year to Moscow. He made a decision to decrease the possibility of corruption in chess politics, because they decided in the Congress to exclude proxies, a big part of the corrupted system which Campomanes and Ilyumzhinov created in the chess world.

So I consider this change as a very important change, and very positive.

You're also involved with a lot of work in Russia as a member of Parliament. Can I ask about that? That must take a lot of your time.

Yes, it's a full-time job, so that's why I'm playing less and less. Now I play only rapid chess or blitz tournaments, very seldom classical chess, because classical tournaments require more time. But even now I'm playing quite good in blitz. For instance, Karjakin, who became world champion in blitz two years ago [Ed. Karjakin got the title in 2016], before that tournament I was almost equal with him playing blitz privately. We are friends, so we play from time to time privately. Before that, let's say six years ago, I was stronger than him.

So you're a specialist in shorter time controls.

Yes, since a young age I play all this blitz. Even now I play quite strong in blitz.

You're also part of the organizing committee for the Candidates Tournament that is coming up. Tell us about that involvement as an organizer. What expertise will you be bringing in?

I gave them advices about how to organize things, and I believe this will be a well-organized Candidates Tournament, probably one of the best, because we have a top level hotel, and we signed an agreement already with the owners of the hotel, so participants will stay there and will play in the tournament hall, in the hotel. With the climate, [transportation] is not so easy, but if they don't want they don't have to leave the hotel. They can stay there, and of course they have a fitness centre, so they can stay there without any problems. Fortunately, we have a governor who supports chess, and I know him for a long time, so we have his support. His deputy is the chairman of the organizing committee. I'm sure it will be very well organized. 

The chess world is really looking forward to it. One of the stories around the Candidates recently was the Alekseenko wildcard. In fact, Alekseenko will be here at the Gibraltar Masters. You think that in the world championship cycle there should be a wildcard? 

It was a difficult decision, because we had Vachier-Lagrave, who was the main candidate for this place, but at that time Russia didn't have even one...I don't think I'm in favour of having a wildcard for Candidates Tournament, but I can hardly see organizers without their representative in the Candidates Tournament, so that's why it was a difficult decision for FIDE, but at that time Russia didn't have representatives.

And then they had two already.

At the last moment we got another two.

Anatoly, you have played so many different formats of the world championship. The one that currently exists, the world championship cycle as it is right now, do you think it's ideal, do you think there is room for improvement?

I don't like the decisions about changing the time control, I'm not in favour of this — it brings classical chess closer to rapid chess, and then I don't see the reason why we have two championships. Make one.

Still, I believe the world championship match should last 16 games.

Also, many times the world championship match is going into tiebreaks, which is then decided in rapid and blitz actually. 

I'm strictly against this, because you can't combine classical chess and blitz. The world championship title is so important that you cannot decide it with blitz games.

But what do you do if the match is a tie? How do you go forward? Let's say, if it's even 16 games and it's 8:8, how do you...?

To play until the first win.

(Laughs) Simple. For the classical world championship, it should be classical chess. 

Yes, yes.

No conversation about the world championship match is complete until I ask you this question: who do you think will challenge Magnus Carlsen in the 2020 match?

This time I think Ding has better chances. He showed his strength last year, and I believe he's the favourite. But still, I believe Carlsen will continue to be world champion at least one more time.

It was an absolute pleasure to have you here with us. Thank you so much for your time, and thank you for inspiring us.

Thank you. Good luck.

Full interview in video format


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marcguy marcguy 2/14/2020 01:17
I have analyzed the Spassky-Fischer match extensively with computer software. Contrary to a comment below, Spassky was never close to winning game 17. With regards to game 13, Fischer won a pawn early with a better position but then dallied a bit, and on move 25 Spassky had a chance to play e6 with attacking chances, but Fischer retains excellent counterplay by 25...a3 (see also Kasparov's analysis of this game). After the actual 25th move played, Spassky was worse the rest of the game.
Spassky had excellent winning chances in game 4 (probably the one forced win in the match he missed), missed a chance in game 12 to give Fischer a very difficult endgame after 35...Nce4 (After Fischer had missed a chance for a good advantage earlier), had winning chances in game 14 (Spassky blundered a pawn right back after winning one, even so, had he played correctly a forced win in the ensuing ending is hard to prove), got good chances in game 15 (but no forced win, in fact after misplaying the position it was Fischer who missed a win with 38...Rd1), had good chances in game 19 (but again, no forced win).
Fischer missed a forced win in games 7 and 15.
Regarding who would have won had they played the match in 1975, one only has to look at the 1978 Karpov-Korchnoi match. Karpov's endgame play in the latter third of the match was horrendous, and he benefitted from Korchnoi blundering in a dead even endgame to lose game 17, and Korchnoi missed a forced mate in 7 in game 5 (with the first move an obvious check). Assuming Fischer's playing strength had not diminished due to inactivity (and there is historical precedence in his career), he would have won that match. It is hard to judge had they met in 1981 for the title based on the 1981 WC match with Korchnoi since Korchnoi played quite poorly. It is more likely Karpov would have dethroned Fischer in 1984.
amarpan amarpan 2/7/2020 10:20
@Scorpion29 As I have mentioned below, Fischer and Anand are the only two players that managed to overcome the Soviet trained players to reach the very top. Nigel Short, Jan Timman etc performed at the highest level but did not reach the top. With the advent of computers, a lot has changed.
twamers twamers 2/7/2020 09:42
A nice interview. A shame that the 1975 match never happened. My own view is that Fischer would have won. But then from 1978 we would have also witnessed the rise of Korchnoi so would have had the 3 playing with Kasparov to follow soon after. A shame for chess that did not happen! In my lifetime of chess in the last 50 years Karpov is easily one of the 3 best players I have seen (Fischer, Kasparov & Karpov). I don't include Carlsen yet because his career is still going and I especially would like to see more Classical World Championships won by classical games as Karpov says in the interview and not by any form of speed/blitz chess.
malfa malfa 2/6/2020 07:22
@physica, actually also Karjakin tied the classical part of his world championship match against Carlsen, and even didn't lose in the rapids with the same catastrophic result as Caruana's , so it is not true at all that the latter was the only one to resist to Magnus.
Scorpion29 Scorpion29 2/6/2020 01:51
Anand not as great as Karpov? Give it a rest will you! Not only does Vishy have a serious plus score against him, he also came from a country that gave him absolutely no support on his way to the top, unlike Karpov, who was spoon fed novelties by the Soviet Machinery. Karpov also won the title only thrice - 75 (on default), 78 and 81. I don't even consider the FIDE titles he achieved to be genuine enough - had Vishy gotten a week more of rest he would have split Karpov into pieces over the board!
lajosarpad lajosarpad 2/6/2020 12:07



I do not know whether Fischer was afraid, but I find that to be a likely possibility. You seem to think that someone cannot become a World Champion if he/she is ever afraid of playing, however, that's a mistaken thought. Fischer was not showing fear while he was on his way to the title match, but once he earned the title, he had a title to lose against a great challenger. He had a reason to be afraid. That does not mean that he actually was afraid, but I would be very surprised if it would turn out that fear has not played any part in the chickening out from the match in 1975.

Fear is a useful instinctive feeling. One realizes the existence of a danger and responds to that. Fear saves lives out there and games in tournament halls.
tom_70 tom_70 2/6/2020 06:32
Fischer beat Fischer. Karpov got the world title by default. That's not his fault, he was willing to play anyone, but stop saying he was better than Bobby Fischer. That's patently absurd. At his peak, Fischer dominated his contemporaries more than even Kasparov did at his peak. He singlehandedly beat the world dominating Soviet chess organization. He did it with virtually no support from anyone. How remarkable is that?? America has always treated chess like a child's board game not to be taken seriously. Only when Fischer had already risen to the heights of the world championship, did America take the game seriously. If mental illness had not overtaken him and destroyed his thinking, he would have easily held on to the world title, till Kasparov came on the scene.
SunriseK SunriseK 2/6/2020 12:47
The interview is very interesting. But at one point I clearly see that Karpov was very embarrassed: when they were talking about the wildcard.
Of course he could not tell the plain truth, i.e. the decision to give the wildcard to Alekseenko has been a big scandal!
What role could have in the Candidates a player that actually hasn't even 2700 ELO, if not to simply raise the chance of the other seven to win the tournament? Alekseenko is of course a strong player, but not at the level to play a Candidate. The tournament would have been much more interesting with MVL in his place, that's evident!
Ok, when they decided the wildcard, they weren't sure about even one representative, but then... why had they to decide so early?? The wildcard should have been (obviously!) decided after all seven other places were already estabilished!
And at the last moment they got another two russian players, but then... they were still in time to change their mind or at least to accept the MVL's proposal to decide the wildcard in a minimatch with Alekseenko.
As they didn't even considered this, it's obvious in my opinion that the previous early decision was purposely aimed against any other non russian wildcard, to get the maximum possible advantage for Russia in spite of the objective playing strength of the wildcard. And they even did the same trick two years ago (against MVL again, btw) by choosing Kramnik in advance!
If fair and independent, FIDE as representing the whole world of chess, should get rid of this very absurd privilege given to organizers to decide the 12.5% of the members of the Candidates!
Gerald C Gerald C 2/5/2020 10:12
World champion A. Karpov is right and kind when he says that "Fischer had a big supporter in Spassky. Probably because of this admiration Spassky missed his chances to play more successfully against Fischer in the match".
I would even say that B. Spassky was in a state of psychologic weakness against B. Fischer as soon as the match began in Reykjavik. He could only lose. But A. Karpov didn'fear B. Fischer and B. Fischer must have known it, hence his reluctance to play the challenger, who became one of of the greatest world champion in the history of the game.
chessgod0 chessgod0 2/5/2020 08:18
A fantastic interview---always nice to hear from the great Anatoly Karpov. Someone below wrote that he dramatically raised the bar for active competition for a reigning champion---this is absolutely the case. I think winning the crown by default did not sit well with him and he had something to prove. He traveled the world playing in every worthwhile tournament and racking up record of victories that has still yet to be equaled. In the end, it wasn't a FIDE title that legitimized his claim, it was own determined action to meet the world's best players at any time and place and defeat them.

As an aside, I too think he would have lost to Fischer in 1975...but would have beaten him in their next match whereupon Fischer would have completely withdrawn from chess realizing he was eclipsed. But that knowledge is lost to an alternate reality.
saturn23 saturn23 2/5/2020 08:14
There are so many myths around Fischer and Karpov. One of them is that Fischer was afraid to play in 1975. That's completely untrue. You can't become World Champion in any discipline by being afraid to play. There are other reasons why Fischer stopped playing.
Another myth is that Karpov would have eventually beat Fischer (maybe in 1978 or 1981) solely based on the fact that he was younger. The truth is that Fischer was only 8 years older than Karpov. That's not a big age difference. Kasparov was 6.5 year older than Anand, and he (Kasparov) completely dominated Anand in both, matches and tournaments. Of course, it's also true that Anand was not at the same level of greatness as Karpov. Karpov showed that he was more or less Kasparov's equal in the 80's.
fixpont fixpont 2/5/2020 06:39
we will never know what would have happened.... and that's Fischer's fault
Denix Denix 2/5/2020 05:09
One of my most awaited interviews! Thanks for this. GM Karpov might be mean to say Spassky was winning in game 17 and not game 13.
physica physica 2/5/2020 02:50
Playing well doesn't correlate that one plays well against Carlsen ie. So had a peak some time ago but dipped back quite heavily. Only Caruana has showed that he can play 12 classical games straight against MC without out falling apart. But the title being decided by short time controls afterwards maybe is something that will change post MC reign.

Amazing that he still stands same for what happened in 1984 but deservedly got served in '85. This almost yields GK's counter interview :)
amarpan amarpan 2/5/2020 02:21
If Fischer had remained active, there would have been a Karpov Fischer rivalry, with Karpov being younger, would have eventually taken over. This would have delayed Kasparov's emergence as a world champion. Only 2 players could break through the Soviet stronghold and reach the top. Fischer and Anand. Others such as Nigel Short and Jan Timman did not reach the top but were very high up. Things began to change after the emergence of computers.
Justjeff Justjeff 2/5/2020 02:21
@lajosarpad France's candidate does not matter because there is no major French sponsor.
lajosarpad lajosarpad 2/5/2020 12:29
Wow, they have decided against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave when they have chosen the candidate, because Russia did not have a candidate to root for at the time. Just wow. I would like to ask modestly: who was France's candidate at the time?!
KingZor KingZor 2/5/2020 11:42
I think Karpov's greatest contribution to chess is how he dramatically raised the bar of active competition for a reigning champion. No longer could they sit on their titles. Every champion after him has had to continually prove they are the best by remaining active. I'm glad this interview makes a point of that.
pierrefarwagi pierrefarwagi 2/5/2020 11:25
Anatoly says that he has showed his peers a forced win for Spassky in the 13th game against Fischer and that earned him their respect. Is this analysis published somewhere? I can't find the forced win with the help of the engines, can someone help?
countrygirl countrygirl 2/5/2020 11:16
Thank you, nice interview. I agree with Anatoly that Ding is the main danger for Carlsen. Well, him and Fabi.
PhishMaster PhishMaster 2/5/2020 10:08
Another correction: Fischer became a GM at age 15, 6 months, and one day.