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 Anatoly Karpov

Born:   May 23, 1951

Anatoly Yevgenyevich Karpov is a Soviet and Russian chess grandmaster and former World Champion.


The second Russian chess grandmaster's surname begins with the letter 'K' as well as the first one's.

Anatoly Yevgenyevich Karpov is a Soviet and Russian chess grandmaster and former World Champion. He was official world champion from 1975 to 1985, played three more matches for the title from 1986 to 1990. For his decades-long standing among the world's elite, Karpov is considered one of the greatest players of all time.

Karpov was born on May 23, 1951 at Zlatoust, Chelyabinsk Region, and learned to play chess at the age of four. His early rise in chess was swift, as he became a Candidate Master by age eleven. At twelve, he was accepted into Mikhail Botvinnik's prestigious chess school, though Botvinnik made the following remark about the young Karpov: "The boy does not have a clue about chess, and there's no future at all for him in this profession." Karpov acknowledged that his understanding of chess theory was very confused at that time, and wrote later that the homework which Botvinnik assigned greatly helped him, since it required that he consult chess books and work diligently. Karpov improved so quickly under Botvinnik's tutelage that he became the youngest Soviet National Master in history at fifteen in 1966; this tied the record established by Boris Spassky in 1952.

Karpov represented the Soviet Union at six Chess Olympiads, in all of which the USSR won the team gold medal. He played first reserve at Skopje 1972, winning the board prize with 13/15. At Nice 1974, he advanced to board one and again won the board prize with 12/14. At La Valletta 1980, he was again board one and scored 9/12. At Lucerne 1982, he scored 6.5/8 on board one. At Dubai 1986, he scored 6/9 on board two. His last was Thessaloniki 1988, where on board two he scored 8/10. In Olympiad play, Karpov lost only two games out of 68 played.

Karpov had cemented his position as the world's best player and world champion by the time Garry Kasparov arrived on the scene. In their first match, the World Chess Championship 1984, held in Moscow, with the victor again being the first to win six games outright, Karpov built a commanding 4-0 lead after nine games. The next seventeen games were drawn, setting the record for world title matches, and it took Karpov until Game 27 to gain his fifth win. In Game 31, Karpov had a winning position but failed to take advantage and settled for a draw. He lost the next game, after which fourteen more draws ensued. In particular, Karpov held a solidly winning position in Game 41, but again blundered and had to settle for a draw. After Kasparov won Games 47 and 48, FIDE President Florencio Campomanes unilaterally terminated the match, citing the health of the players. The match had lasted an unprecedented five months, with five wins for Karpov, three for Kasparov, and a staggering forty draws.

A rematch was set for later in 1985, also in Moscow. The events of the so-called Marathon match forced FIDE to return to the previous format, a match limited to 24 games (with Karpov remaining champion if the match should finish 12-12). In a hard fight, Karpov had to win the final game to draw the match and retain his title, but wound up losing, thus surrendering the title to his opponent. The final score was 11-13 in favor of Kasparov.

Karpov remained a formidable opponent (and the world 2) until the early 1990s. He fought Kasparov in three more world championship matches in 1986 (held in London and Leningrad), 1987 (held in Seville), and 1990 (held in New York City and Lyon). In all three matches, Karpov had winning chances up to the very last games. In particular, the 1987 Seville match featured an astonishing blunder by Kasparov in the 23rd game. In the final game, needing only a draw to win the title, Karpov cracked under pressure from the clock at the end of the first session of play, missed a variation leading to an almost forced draw, and allowed Kasparov to adjourn the game with an extra pawn. After a further mistake in the second session, Karpov was slowly ground down and resigned on move 64, ending the match and allowing Kasparov to keep the title.

In their five world championship matches, Karpov scored 19 wins, 21 losses, and 104 draws in 144 games.

Karpov is on record saying that had he had the opportunity to fight Fischer for the crown in his twenties, he (Karpov) could have been a much better player as a result (in a similar way as Kasparov's constant rivalry with him helped Kasparov to achieve his full potential).

Karpov's "boa constrictor" playing style is solidly positional, taking no risks but reacting mercilessly to any tiny errors made by his opponents. As a result, he is often compared to his idol, the famous José Raúl Capablanca, the third World Champion. Karpov himself describes his style as follows: "Let us say the game may be continued in two ways: one of them is a beautiful tactical blow that gives rise to variations that don't yield to precise calculation; the other is clear positional pressure that leads to an endgame with microscopic chances of victory.... I would choose the latter without thinking twice. If the opponent offers keen play I don't object; but in such cases I get less satisfaction, even if I win, than from a game conducted according to all the rules of strategy with its ruthless logic."

To sum the topic, Anatoly Karpov's tournament successes include over 160 first-place finishes. He had a peak Elo rating of 2780, and his 90 total months at world number-one are second all-time behind only Garry Kasparov since the inception of the FIDE ranking list in 1971.

Since 2005, the great chess grandmaster has been a member of the Public Chamber of Russia. He has recently involved himself in several humanitarian causes, such as advocating the use of iodised salt.


Max Yakuba

Tags: Anatoly Karpov Russian sport Russian chess   

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