Karpov on Fischer (1/3)

3/2/2015 – Though most chess players know about the match that never took place in 1975, few know that not only did Anatoly Karpov follow the games in Reykjavik closely in 1972, but that he was also a part of the team responsible for preparing and training Boris Spassky for his title defense. Here is the first part of an interview dedicated to only one topic: Bobby Fischer.

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Irwin Fisk: When did you first become aware of Bobby Fischer?

Anatoly Karpov: People started to talk about Fischer, but I was living very far from Moscow at that time and we had no Internet, no TV, so information was slow in coming. But, of course after the Candidates Match everyone knew Fischer.

IWF: How old were you in 1971?

AK: I was 20 years old. I was already one of the strongest grandmasters.

IWF: Spassky was in preparation to play Fischer for the World Championship. Had you played Spassky?

AK: Yes, I played a training match with Spassky. He asked me to play training games, but we played only one game. Spassky won this game even though he had a lost position, but I made a stupid mistake, and after this suddenly Spassky said he didn’t want to continue this training match, so maybe he was happy he beat me in that game.

IWF: Where was this game played?

AK: We were near Moscow.

IWF: Was it at a training facility?

AK: Spassky had a training session before he left for Reykjavik. He had some problems in putting together his team and making last minute preparations, so he wasn’t concentrating so much on chess. I stayed at the training session two weeks, and almost every day Spassky was going to Moscow and coming back. It was near Moscow, like 60 km from Moscow, but he had to go to the city every day, so you can’t concentrate. We were analyzing a lot. [Efim] Geller was there. Then, [Nikolai] Krogius was there, then Iivo Nei, so that was his team. Reykjavik was soon, and I was there, but the main piece [Spassky] was not there. Spassky only came in the evenings, and as I said it was not very serious what he had done.

IWF: Were you playing at a government facility?

AK: No, it was at a health resort.

Efim Geller, Anatoly Karpov, and Semyon Furman

IWF: What do you think was going on with Spassky? Why wasn’t he coming to train?

AK: He was very self-confident and he had a positive score in his previous games. He had played well against Fischer in previous games before the match. Spassky, as I said, was quite sure he would beat Fischer in spite of the impressive results Fischer showed in the Candidates Matches. It is known that Spassky is not a big worker or hard worker in chess. He is quite lazy, so he didn’t work too much on chess. This was the main reason he was defeated by Fischer. If you recall the games, it was game four when Spassky with black showed a fantastic novelty which was prepared by him and his team. I know this novelty. But, what happened is Spassky didn’t make the effort to memorize it, because it was winning by force.

Geller told me when they started to repeat this before the game, Spassky, after three or four moves into the novelty, said, “Oh, this is not so important, because I will find the moves over the board.” So, he didn’t remember the moves and he didn’t win the game, which had already been won at home. This was extremely important because Spassky won the first game, a strange game. Better not to say that Spassky won the game, but that Fischer lost the game. Then, Fischer didn’t appear for the second game, and Fischer won the third game, so if Spassky had won game four with black, he most probably would have won the match. He just didn’t play well after game four.

Both players had lost so much energy in the first eleven games that they were like boxers in the last round. Tired. Spassky could have won many games in the second part of the match, but he missed everything. Then, Fischer won everything. It certainly brought chess to the forefront.

IWF: Did you go to Reykjavik?

AK: No, I didn’t go to Reykjavik. This was a mistake by the sport leaders of the Soviet Union, because it was considered that I should go, not as a part of Spassky’s team but just to watch and understand the championship match and to get experience. In an official document from the [Soviet] Federation, one of the sports leaders in the Ministry of Sport wrote that it was too early for Karpov to go, because they didn’t see a great future for me for the world championship [laughter].

I watched the games [from Reykjavik]. We were making preparations for the World Chess Olympiad. I was there with [Tigran] Petrosian and [Paul] Keres and [Viktor] Korchnoi and [Mikhail] Tal. I mostly analyzed with Keres and Korchnoi.

IWF: Where was this?

AK: Near Moscow. I remember that summer because it was very hot and there were fires all around Moscow. Fire of the turf [peat]. You could smell the smoke. We were in the city of Dubna. Dubna is famous for its nuclear energy institute, and Dubna at that moment was one of the chess centers. Many scientists played chess, so they liked chess players to come there. So we stayed in the hotel in the middle of the city. We analyzed together with Keres and Korchnoi most of the games that Spassky played against Fischer. I found ways that Spassky could get a winning position in the opening of the Alekhine Defence. Fischer played the Alekhine Defence and Spassky missed a very big advantage.

Spassky was confident he would beat Fischer based on his positive score prior to the match.
Above is their bout from the Olympiad in 1966.

IWF: Geller and Krogius went to Reykjavik, as I recall.

AK: It was the team of Spassky, Geller, Krogius and Iivo Nei from Estonia. We had our team, the Soviet Union team, which were preparing for the Chess Olympiad.

IWF: What were the team members saying as the Spassky vs. Fischer moves were coming in?

AK: We could see it was a very big fight. Very emotional. Actually, my friends on the team with whom I was working were impressed by one of the adjournments where Fischer had the advantage, but after the adjournment he played a very sharp line and he analyzed very deep because it looked dangerous. But Fischer analyzed very deep and won the game which had many complications. We were impressed by the quality of his analysis of that game. Fischer showed many novelties in the opening, so it was clear that Fischer had prepared very well.

IWF: I know Fischer was playing 1.e4 so much before the match that there was a cartoon on the cover of Chess Life that featured Spassky at the board, surrounded by the Soviet team. One asks, “But Boris, what if he doesn’t play 1.e4?” Were they training for a variety of openings or did they place more emphasis on e4?

AK: I wasn’t there for all of the training, but Fischer had to play 1.d4.

IWF: At what point did you and your team realize that Spassky was going to lose the match?

AK: Fischer took the lead very quickly after he lost the first games. Spassky couldn’t show anything; he was playing very bad. It was already clear that Fischer was playing better chess at that moment. Later, nobody expected Fischer to lose.

After the strange incidents in the beginning of the match, Bobby Fischer quickly took control

IWF: When Spassky lost, there was a lot of talk that he wasn’t treated well.

AK: What do you mean he wasn’t treated well?

IWF: The Soviet authorities were unhappy that he lost; there was so much at stake.

AK: The Soviet authorities were very disappointed, and of course chess players had deep [many] privileges within the society until that moment. We started to come under attack years later, not immediately, but at that time the prizes [money] were not taxed. Spassky received the full prize [money] without paying any taxes, but then he began to behave strangely. Probably this was a reaction for his defeat, and so he didn’t feel psychologically well. He started to behave a little bit arrogant. He just made the leaders disappointed and upset. They gave full support to his preparation. They put some conditions which Spassky didn’t like about forming his group. They insisted that he have security as part of his team. Spassky didn’t want it. Spassky wasn’t happy. He was not free to take everyone he wanted and he wanted not to take other people. This, as I understand, was the only inconvenience.

These people thought Spassky should behave differently after losing this important match. He had problems with his private life, which was being criticized at that time. In the Soviet Union, the moral part of life and the private life was to be under control, always. Spassky, from their viewpoint, wasn’t behaving well. At the end, they [Soviet authorities] attacked not only Spassky, but all of our advantages. In 1975, they created a law under which we gave part of our prizes [money], a big part of our prizes, to the state.

IWF: Really?

AK: When I played my match with Korchnoi in 1978, I received only 20% of my prize.

IWF: 80% went to the state?

AK: Yes, Spassky received 100%.

IWF: So that hurt chess players from then on.

AK: Before Spassky lost to Fischer, and two years after, we didn’t give any money [to the state] from our prizes. From exhibitions, yes, but not from prizes. I was the biggest victim in 1978. We had good money in the Philippines, but I had to give most of my prize to the state.

IWF: Did they call it a tax?

AK: No, actually it wasn’t a direct tax. We had to give it to the Sports Ministry. They called it participation in developing sport and chess in the country.

IWF: Didn’t Spassky move to France?

AK: Yes, he moved to France in ’75. This was described when the leaders said, “This is enough. We gave chess players everything and they didn’t behave well.”

Continued in part two

About the author

Irwin W. Fisk [www.fisk.us.com] is a freelance writer who has written numerous articles about chess.  He is also currently on the board of directors for the Anatoly Karpov Chess School. 

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RJ Nolts RJ Nolts 8/3/2015 05:48
Bobby send me a letter regarding the Fischer VS Karpov match in 1975....

I will reveal it soon...
ujima24 ujima24 3/3/2015 01:32
both legends.I wish I was around to see them play live.
algorithmy algorithmy 3/2/2015 11:35
The more I read about Kasparov and Karpov the less I admire them!, and the more I read about Fischer, Spassky, Capablanca and Tal the more I respect them.
shatranjian shatranjian 3/2/2015 05:51
Very readable interview. Thanks Mr. Fisk. thanks chessbase.
baddass baddass 3/2/2015 05:06
"They called it participation in developing sport and chess in the country." -- another way of saying tuition at the Soviet School of Chess. Bobby didn't have this kind of support. He was pretty much a lone wolf. Soviet School of Chess vs Lone Wolf.
Emrom Emrom 3/2/2015 03:48
"...one topic: Bobby Fischer". Yeah, sure. You must have said "Boris Spassky". However, Karpov is not very gentle in talking about him, not at all.
ashperov ashperov 3/2/2015 02:10
I would think Spassky would be more inclined to play training matches with people who were closer to Fischers style. And Im sure we can all agree, Kaprov was not.
Jarman Jarman 3/2/2015 12:09
«[In 1972, as] Fischer continued his training, every imaginable rumor began to circulate in chess circles. [...] Another story that surfaced was that the Soviets, upset over Spassky's poor showing in the Alekhine Memorial Tournament (he tied for sixth-seventh) in November, had consequently arranged a secret "training match" for him with the winner of the tournament, twenty-year-old Anatoly Karpov. The contest was said to have comprised twenty-four games, the same number as the World Championship match, and Spassky - it was said - lost resoundingly, with a score of 6-18. (While playing in an international tournament in San Antonio, Texas, in November 1972, Karpov admitted that such match took place but was reluctant to discuss the details, other than to say: "I didn't lose"». ("Bobby Fischer - Profile of a Prodigy" by Frank Brady, 1973)
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