"Karpov, not Kasparov" - Chess and music

by André Schulz
7/13/2020 – Valeriu Borcos and Eduard Gabia from Bucharest make music that often alludes to chess, and it is no coincidence that the duo calls itself "Karpov, not Kasparov". In an interview the two Romanian musicians, who describe their music as "optimistic-oriental-intellectual-dancefloor nostalgia", talk about music and chess which "is an obsession for us". | Photo: Karpov, not Kasparov

ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024 ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024

It is the program of choice for anyone who loves the game and wants to know more about it. Start your personal success story with ChessBase and enjoy the game even more.


In their home town Bucharest the Romanian techno band "Karpov, not Kasparov" is well known. In the last four years, the duo has also travelled throughout Europe and performed in cities like Berlin, Milan, Vienna, Florence, Hamburg, Basel, Turin, Brussels, Düsseldorf, Prague, Lille or Budapest.

The duo claims that their music is inspired by the rules and strategies of chess. Sometimes it seems "complicated", but in the end it results in "danceable melodies" that are influenced by oriental folklore – chess is an oriental game – and music of the 1980s.

"Deep Fritz"

An Interview with "Karpov, not Kasparov"

You call your band "Karpov, not Kasparov", an unusual name for a pop group. Is it just a sophisticated joke or are you really connected to chess?

Yes, we are very serious about chess, it’s been more or less an obsession for us. Our music is all about chess, you can see it in our song titles. Regarding the name, it’s a bit ironic, of course we prefer Kasparov as a player and as an exponent of the "free world". But we chose the name "Karpov not Kasparov" just for the sake of controversy and prosody (it sounds better).

Did you ever play in any tournaments?

No, but we do play chess during our music tournaments. :)

Do you have contact to Romanian chess players?

One of our most appreciated songs is entitled "Elisabeta" after the great Romanian Grandmaster Elisabeta Polihroniade. Otherwise, we personally don’t know any top player but we admire Lupulescu who is Romania’s number 1, and Nisipeanu – Germany’s number 1, who is (half)-Romanian. 


Do you watch chess tournaments?

From time to time we read the headlines.

How do you combine music with chess?

Well, there are many correspondences between chess and music, some are obvious (8 pawns - 8 notes in the octave) and some are more esoteric (Queen and King suites correspond to the two tetra-chords of an octave).

On the practical level, we do have a nice interactive performance which combines the two of them on the stage. It is called "Soundtrack for a Game of Chess".  Volunteers from the audience play chess on a transparent board which can be projected on the big screen so everyone can see it. We also play our instruments shaping the sounds and rhythm to expose the narrative or emphasize the tension of the chess game. We even did this one time with professional players, the members of the Royal Chess Club of Liege, Belgium who played blitz games, it was quite interesting.

How would you describe the style of your music?

Optimistic-oriental-intellectual-dancefloor nostalgia.

Can you live from your music or is it more a hobby?

Yes, we can make a living out of music, touring and composing for theatre and films.

What does the Corona pandemic mean for your as musicians?

It brought the longest vacation we had in years. A curious mix of sweet relaxation and mild anxiety. And it also brought a new album to be released by the end of this year.

Did Romania have a lot of problems connected with Corona?

The first wave was managed quite well but now in July it appears we are hit harder by what seems to be the second wave.

Can you describe a little bit the music scene in Romania?

Romania has an interesting position geographically and culturally at the confluence of Eastearn and Western civilisations. So our music scene has a lot of flavours. We feel there is a new wave of Romanian musicians that are already making a name for themselves abroad, similar to what happened during the last decade in the New Romanian Cinema.

Live in Belgrade

Do you have plans to go on tour soon?

We are happy to have played in 39 out of 44 European countries so far and probably starting 2021 we will  pin-up the rest of them on the map, but only after the pandemic is over. For now everything is on hold, so more time for playing chess. :)

Questions: André Schulz


André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register