Karpov on Fischer (3/3)

3/4/2015 – In this final part of the interview, Anatoly Karpov recounts his various meetings with the elusive Bobby Fischer, from the first time he saw him in person to their final meetings. Even then, it becomes clear that not only did the American suffer from his extreme biases, but that perhaps there was more to the talks and negotiations than just wanting his demands met.

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Irwin Fisk: Had you met Fischer before you became the challenger?

Anatoly Karpov: Yes, I met Fischer when he became world champion, three months later.

IWF: Where was this?

AK: This was in San Antonio. There was this organizer, Mr. Church, who invited Fischer for the closing ceremony on the last day, so Fischer arrived. This was my first meeting with Fischer. He knew all the others [players]. He had played with them before, but we had never met. Fischer came five minutes before the round, so he shook hands with everybody, every participant. Then he disappeared and so he didn’t stay for the closing ceremony. I didn’t see him anymore, only this one minute.

IWF: What was your impression of him at that time?

AK: He looked very nice and friendly, so I had a good impression. I think it was nice to invite him as a special guest for the tournament, a great tournament.

IWF: To digress a moment, I understand Krogius was on Spassky’s team as a psychologist?

AK: He was a grandmaster and a psychologist. I don’t know in which role Spassky invited him. Spassky had had good relations with Krogius for many years since the beginning of the 1960s. I believe Spassky made a very big mistake before the match when he ended his relations with [Igor] Bondarevsky who had been his main coach or trainer for many years. He gave us lectures, and he understood chess very well and he understood Spassky much better than Krogius, psychologically.

IWF: Looking back on Fischer’s demands, do you feel any of them were valid?

AK: I think about the conditions of playing, some things he exaggerated, but not too much. He was fighting for the best conditions for the chess players. What he wanted was necessary. After Fischer stopped playing and I became world champion, I just followed the book of rules which we created for our match. Light is very important, because if you must concentrate for hours and sit in one chair for hours and days your chair should be comfortable and lights should be good, otherwise you become tired quickly. Fischer was correct, absolutely right.

Anatoly Karpov with FIDE president Max Euwe and his wife in 1976

IWF: You eventually met Fischer again?

AK: I met him in 1976 in Tokyo, Japan. Fischer came especially to see me. At that time I had to obtain a Russian visa to leave the country. It was not free and I had to report why I wanted to go to one country or another. Fischer was free to travel, so the possibility was for Fischer to come to where I am. [Florencio] Campomanes had spread a lot of rumors that Fischer would come to the Philippines for an important tournament in Manila. But the last day came and Fischer hadn’t arrived and everybody thought this was just a rumor. Suddenly Campomanes told me that he had decided to visit Japan. At that time he was already FIDE vice-president of Asia. He said he hadn’t been to Japan for a long time and [Yasuji] Matsumoto, his friend, so he would come to Japan with me. Of course he knew the next day I would fly to Tokyo and that I would be there for two days.

IWF: So Fischer flew there just to meet you?

AK: Yes, Campomanes joined me for the flight to Tokyo, but of course he knew already that Fischer would be in Tokyo. When I arrived, Matsumoto was already in the airport, then we agreed to have dinner in the Hilton Hotel. I was in the hotel and then Campomanes stopped there in the Hilton. He asked me to come to his suite, so I came to his suite and he said I should expect a surprise. Suddenly, Campomanes went out and one minute later he came with Fischer, so this was a big surprise, of course. We greeted each other and shook hands, and then he started to talk. I think Matsumoto presided at this meeting and suggested we all have dinner together. It was unbelievable, because the Hilton is a big hotel, but as I remember we got to the restaurant at 7:00 o’clock in the evening and there were no other people in the restaurant. I was especially amazed that we had a table for four with no other people. We had a very quiet dinner; it was maybe like two hours. We discussed the possibility of playing a match, so of course we realized if we had been able to meet before, we would have played in 1975, a match. But, I think Fischer wasn’t ready to play, psychologically. He could not even tell himself he wasn’t ready. Yet, under pressure from Campomanes, he forced Fischer to come. When Fischer was with Campomanes, he said he was ready to play, but when he was alone and probably for himself he was saying, “No, no, I’m not going to play.” I think this was his problem.

IWF: When you were having the conversation with Fischer, what did he say about not playing you?

AK: No, we didn’t discuss this. I realized Fischer was a complicator and argumentative. I realized immediately he hated Jews and Communists.

IWF: So he was talking about that even at that time?

AK: Yes, he started talking and he would change topics talking about that. I said, “Bobby, let’s forget about this and talk about our match in chess, not about politics, not about these things.” So it was maybe his way to avoid the problem. Otherwise, he showed full respect. I know from other grandmasters that he respected chess players, especially very strong chess players. So we had a good talk, a good meeting.

IWF: Would the match be outside of normal channels or would it be for the world championship?

AK: He understood and realized and I understood that it would be the biggest match, so it didn’t matter, the cycle. For Fischer, this became important. Probably, I believe this was the final excuse for him not to play, because he insisted to have the title of Absolute World Championship of Chess Professionals.

Bobby Fischer at his peak

IWF: It seems odd that he would come into this conversation ranting about Jews and Communists.

AK: This was not the first time.

IWF: Where were you when you heard that Fischer died?

AK: I was in Germany, in Hattenheim, a famous place of Formula One racing. I have a chess school there and we had a training session with the junior team of Germany. I think the director of the school came and said he had received news that Fischer had passed away. It was very sad.

IWF: What did you think at that time?

AK: Just as I said, it was shocking news, but I knew he had some health problems, maybe due to this prison in Japan. Also, he was captured in Pasadena. He wrote even a small book about his days in prison in Pasadena. He wrote that he was beaten. So, who knows. Maybe this was one of the reasons he started to have health problems. He was swimming, playing tennis and so he paid attention to his health, but suddenly he got these problems and as we know now he didn’t want to take his medicines, even medicine recommended by doctors. He didn’t believe them that he had these problems and so he died in the hospital. Of course the chess world lost a fantastic chess player and an extraordinary person. You may consider differently his declarations, but he was outstanding as a chess player. As I say, he probably was one of the most famous American citizens, even if he didn’t live all these years in the United States. He was one of the most famous, maybe Kennedy, Fischer, Elvis Presley. This is why. Marilyn Monroe. Even now, I know for sure in Russia if you asked people, they would say Fischer.

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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FAD FAD 3/10/2015 11:44
Meyer talks about each russian player having a minder in san Antonio; in Montréal 1979 the players were quite accessible, And among the spectators was Edward Lasker who agreed to an analysis by an amateur who was present with him.
ChessTalk ChessTalk 3/7/2015 09:15
@ fischscape 3/5/2015 05:29

Nice Post! So difficult to go it alone in this world. I've often wondered why Fischer went to the 'monastery' after winning the WCC---the armstrong cult..I guess I just answered my own wonderings. There is an interview called "the painful truth"; you can find by search. I don't know about the veracity of the interview, but in it, I sense the rational Fischer in the aftermath of being part of a cult. Fischer also admits to being troubled in his years leading to the WCC. I didn't sense or read any anti-semitism in the interview. I did feel he was still subject to religious influence....which is problematic for me. There is a philosophic mysticism forming where bobby expresses the importance of trusting ourselves ourselves while not divorcing ourselves from god...kind of vague. I too find this a useful approach...not an easy approach-- easy is allowing others to do our thinking.
FAD FAD 3/7/2015 02:18
Merci pour la belle partie de Hockey Anatoly
Jarman Jarman 3/6/2015 01:01
Chess historian Edward Winter wrote the following note:
3588. Fischer and Karpov photograph

From pages 161-162 of Karpov on Karpov (New York, 1991), during a description of the mid-1970s discussions between Fischer and Karpov on a possible world championship match:

‘After the talks we set out for a stroll around Tokyo. I was afraid that autograph hounds would harass us, but, to my amazement, not one person approached us. Here were two of the best chessplayers in modern times, whose photographs practically never left the front page, walking down the street – you’d think at least someone would have noticed. Later I understood that such a thing is possible in only one place on earth: Tokyo.

One photograph – the only one in which Fischer and I are together – was taken. The chairman of the Japanese Chess Federation, Matsumoto, ingratiated himself with Fischer, who disliked journalists even more than their articles, and took our picture “for his family album”. A few days later the shot was sold to Agence France-Presse, who in turn distributed it worldwide.’

Source: http://www.chesshistory.com/winter/winter05.html#3583._Chess_records
Philip Feeley Philip Feeley 3/5/2015 08:43
I hope Karpov's reminiscences for that time are recorded more at length, for a book perhaps.
fischscape fischscape 3/5/2015 05:29
Because we admire his games, and are thankful of everything he did for the game and its worldwide interest we often find ourselves unable to talk about the man, the human being clearly. He was suffering from major psychological problems and being a virulent anti-Semite and Jewish is a symptom among many that he never had the foundation to keep functioning in this world at the level he wished to function at. We can speculate all we want about the unrealized past, it surely would have been a grand match, Karpov - Fischer and most believe Fischer would have won at least the first series....Karpov, Kramnik, Kasparov, Carlsen, Caruana all grew up in supportive healthy environments and despite what one might feel about the personality of one or the other they are nowhere near being as psychologically damaged as Fischer was. If Fischer had been born in Norway, if Jesus had been born in India, we can speculate all we like. I like his games and what he accomplished, I try and feel compassion for the man who had himself suffer so horribly.
mikeburkhalter1 mikeburkhalter1 3/5/2015 03:48
It's a pity that there doesn't seem to be one photograph to record any of the meetings between Fischer and Karpov. No one thought to photograph them, or else any photos exist only in someone's private collection.
Jrcasablanca Jrcasablanca 3/4/2015 10:33
He ( Fischer)was definitely scared of losing to Karpov. Recall in 1972 he was reported as being extremely anxious before the utterly crucial game 3 in Reykjavik.

Just because he was probably stronger than Karpov in the 70s does not mean that the nervous strain of getting to the board was not too much for him.
Recall also for example how clearly Kramnik beat Kasparov in 2000 even though his Elo was about as far behind Gary's as Karpov's would have been behind Fischer's.
Paul Meyer Paul Meyer 3/4/2015 04:44
I was 16 and at the Church's 1972 tournament when Fischer visited. The parents of some of the kids at my high school worked for Church's Chicken and our high school chess club had access to the tournament. We were able to attend the opening reception for the players in the penthouse of the Hilton Palacio Del Rio. This was one of the first times Russian players were allowed to travel to the US and all of the Russians at the reception had a minder of some kind with them. I was able to get the signatures of all players in my tournament book including, of course, Karpov's.
On the day when Fischer visited, I was sitting in the tournament hall watching the games, when one of my high school friends nudged me and said, "Look, there's Fischer!" Fischer was in the back of the hall. My friend told me that no one could approach Fischer in the tournament hall, but that people were waiting outside for autographs. I initially decided not to try for an autograph, but when my friend nudged me again and said, "Look! Fischer is leaving," I decided to try. I left for the exit, hurrying as only a sixteen year old could to get to the exit before Fischer. I went out the door right before Fischer, turned around, and fortunately was set up in just the right place to be the first person to get an autograph. There were probably 40 or 50 people there crowding around. Fischer signed no more than two or three autographs before striding forcefully off.
FAD FAD 3/4/2015 03:43
This may seem incredible to you, but Fischer came to live in Quebec City for a few months in 1985, after he had seem my analysis in a TV series on chess. We livwed in the same appartment building, and the party was on for months without playing chess, although he offered me a game, he was serious when he said that chess is like boxing, and had a very physical teem wtih him. I gained his respect and we became freinds until the party was interrupted by unwelcome bystanders.
As a matter of facts, I can say that Fischer was a very shy person, and that probalby accounts for all his public antics.
snooper snooper 3/4/2015 02:17
And the only person to visit Tal when he was sick in hospital during the Candidates tournament:

hpaul hpaul 3/4/2015 11:50
Very interesting recollections by Karpov. He underscores both Fischer's crucial contributions to professional playing conditions, and that his behavior toward chess players, and in tournaments, was invariably polite and correct. No one understand RJF's psychological problems, but I don't think Karpov is right in his suggestion that RJF was afraid to play him. When Karpov met RJF in 1976, RJF hadn't played chess in public for four years, since the day he won the W. Championship. That hiatus was not because he was afraid to play - at least not "afraid" in the sporting sense. That he had internal "demons" and fears about life in general seems evident. There were several earlier long breaks in his chess career, when he refused to play for largely unknown reasons. I would guess that the same demons came back after he won the world championship, but who knows? It's all conjecture. It's for us to overlook his unfortunate dark side and appreciate his genius.
snooper snooper 3/4/2015 08:13
Great interview. Karpov comes out as a very humane person. Fischer, for all his faults, deserves respect for his tremendous gift.