When the 12th World Chess Champion Anatoly Karpov and GM Ron Henley were at the iChess studios last month recording Karpov’s 15-hour Master Method, we couldn’t resist the urge to sit them down for some tea and a chat about everything chess. Ron is a good friend of Anatoly – their relationship goes back to the 1990s when Henley acted as Karpov’s second, analyst and trainer for many of his matches.
Nowadays, Karpov still plays chess, but he’s dropped the classical time controls. He says he doesn’t have the stamina to sit at the chessboard for hours at a time anymore. He’s 67 years old and has been playing chess since he was four. Karpov saw career success from early on, and that trend still continues – he’s participated in rapid and blitz tournaments this year, including a match against the women’s highest-rated player Hou Yifan, and finished first in each of them. He’s brought his total number of outright international and national tournament victories in his career up to an impressive 185.
Age is something that catches up with all of us. Ron and Anatoly reminisce over a few chess players and friends who have left us in the past few years, in particular, Viktor Korchnoi. Korchnoi was one of the strongest chess players to never become a World Chess Champion. He played in two World Championship matches, both against Karpov in 1978 and 1981 respectively. The 1978 match was famously rife with controversy. The off-the-board shenanigans ranged from the X-raying of chairs and protests about the flags at the board to Korchnoi’s glasses and accusations of hypnotism. At one point, Karpov’s team sent Karpov a yogurt which was protested by Korchnoi’s team, claiming it could be some kind of code.
“I saw him [Korchnoi] a few months before his death [in 2016],” says Karpov. “It was for the opening ceremony in Zurich, a very strong International tournament. We improved our relations and, a not well-known fact, Korchnoi played three years for my team in the Russian Team Championships.”
Korchnoi was one of the greatest attacking players of all time. “He was grabbing pawns, poisoned pawns,” Karpov says with a smile, “and he tried to defend with extra material. He won many games like this. One of the biggest fighters who played for a win.”
Karpov on Bobby Fischer
Fischer versus Karpov was the match the world was robbed of in 1975. Fischer, unable to agree to match conditions, forfeited the title, making Anatoly Karpov champion by default as he had finished first in the Candidates Tournament in 1974 (the final match of the Candidates was against Korchnoi). It was a pivotal moment in Karpov’s career. Originally, some people questioned the legitimacy of his title due to the fashion with which he gained it, however, these were soon swept aside as Karpov went on to compete competitively in nearly every major international tournament for the next ten years, and successfully defended his title until 1985, and later between 1993 and 1999.
Everyone agrees that Bobby Fischer was one of the best chess players to have lived. What made him so great? “He was a fantastic hard worker and he made everything by himself so he understood chess very well. He knew chess theory… he made his own analysis and he was a big fighter. He played for a win each game.”
At that time, you wouldn’t always see players fighting for a win. “I remember world champions, especially [Tigran] Petrosian, were ready to make a draw each game, especially with Black. People told me that in the tournaments, after the drawing of lots, Petrosian would make his own projections. ‘Okay, with his player I will draw, with this player I will try to win’, or ‘with this player, I will win for sure!'”
The question many have wondered is who would have won in a clash between Karpov and Fischer. Some, like the 10th World Chess Champion Boris Spassky, have said they think Karpov would have lost the first match in 1975, but then would have defeated him in 1978. Others say that part of the reason Fischer couldn’t agree on the match conditions was that he was worried he would lose to Karpov. Whatever the case, there was a change in Karpov’s play around this time. “In general, after the canceled match, I felt I can better control the situation on the chessboard with d4 [rather] than e4. With e4, sometimes you enter traps in opening preparation. But with d4, you have better positional control.”
“Also, for instance, if you play with a weak player, then you don’t want to play a forced variation because, especially now with computers, the opponent can make preparations.” As Ron Henley points out, with a forced variation, when there is only one good move, even a weaker opponent can stumble their way through it. Computers have made a large difference in how chess is played. Karpov says, “With strong players, you have the same idea – somebody can use the computer and make a longer variation, a longer analysis than you.”
Anatoly Karpov on Garry Kasparov
Talking about chess computers will inevitably lead you to Garry Kasparov. Kasparov famously played against the IBM supercomputer Deep Blue in 1996, and again in 1997 when a computer first became strong enough to defeat a reigning world champion in a match under standard chess tournament time controls. While this match defeat went down in history, Karpov says that computers were crucial in Kasparov’s success.
“He was the first who explored this new technology in chess, and then he had a big advantage in chess openings. Later, he lost this advantage and I believe this was very unpleasant for him because now even mid-level grandmasters were on the same level of opening knowledge. He used to play with a big advantage from the beginning, and now he doesn’t get it.”
Anatoly Karpov and Kasparov were involved in one of the biggest rivalries in chess history. They had played each other for the title in 1984, but that match became the first, and so far only, world championship match to be controversially abandoned without result.
When they met again in 1985, it was Kasparov who dethroned Karpov when he became the youngest ever undisputed World Chess Champion at age 22. They would meet again for fierce World Championship battles in 1986, 1987 and 1990.
“His style required a lot of force and energy.”
Karpov on Magnus Carlsen and the 2018 World Chess Championship
Chess players around the world are looking forward to November 2018 when the current World Chess Champion will look to defend his title against the challenger, Fabiano Caruana.
It looks set to be one of the most exhilarating matches of recent history with the players closely matched. In August 2018, Caruana came within one game victory of knocking Magnus Carlsen off the top of the ratings.
“I believe he [Carlsen] is the strongest now, but I don’t like how he played the last world title match against Karjakin.” Karpov is good friends with Sergey Karjakin, but his opinion isn’t biased – many people were surprised at Carlsen’s game in 2016, especially when Karjakin took the lead. Carlsen had to dig deep in order to even the score, and the match went into rapid playoff games before he retained the title.
“I think he deserved to lose that match, but Karjakin didn’t use his chances. If he continues like this, he can lose to Caruana. I think Carlsen is stronger, he has better chances, but if he doesn’t take it seriously…”
Karpov says that Carlsen doesn’t have as much opening knowledge as Caruana, but at the same time, Carlsen is stronger at faster chess should the match go to playoffs.
Chess often, unfortunately, makes headlines for all the wrong reasons. In 2018, for example, FIDE (the world chess governing body) had their bank accounts frozen when it’s then-president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov was accused of facilitating business deals for the regime of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. FIDE’s treasurer Adrian Siegel said that the problems “severely damage(d) Fide’s business activities.”
Now, those with an interest in world chess are keeping an eye on the upcoming FIDE Presidential elections, a three-horse race between Arkady Dvorkovich, Georgios Makropoulos and Nigel Short. Makropoulos has the backing of 64 supporting federations, Dvorkovich has 13, and Short has 6.
Of course, it isn’t as simple as checking the numbers – there are a total of 189 member federations, meaning there is still a lot of support to fight for before the October 3 vote.
Anatoly Karpov is no stranger to chess politics. In 2010, Karpov announced his ticket for the FIDE Presidential elections. Ilyumzhinov was re-elected, but controversy abounded. Delegates shouted abuse at each other as bitter accusations were made that there had been cheating and the whole electoral process had been a farce.
Karpov’s supporters accused Ilyumzhinov of using “intimidation, bully-boy tactics” and “blatant corruption” to sway the result.
“Many problems started with not-well-thought-out experiments which Ilyumzhinov brought to the chess world…” explains Karpov. “But at that time [mid-1990s], he was fighting with the strength and prestige of World Champions. He came to FIDE as president [and soon] realized the World Champion is much more important and has much more influence. So he wanted to stop this situation and be a god in the chess world. Fortunately, it didn’t happen, but he destroyed a lot. I can’t say that everything he did was wrong, or negative, but he damaged chess for a long time.”
This FIDE election, then, can only be a good thing now that Ilyumzhinov is out. Who will win? “I don’t think anyone can win on the first round of elections,” he says.
“I think Arkady [Dvorkovich]’s chances will be there if the gap is very narrow. Politically, Makropoulos has the stronger team but Dvorkovich has the more professional team. Financially the federation would be more healthy with Dvorkovich.”
When Karpov ran for FIDE president in 2010, he saw how some country chess federations feared reprisals if they voted for the losing party. This brings up the issue of the whole system, one country -one vote. Henley explains, “it sounds democratic but after, you see that powerhouses like China, India, Russia, US – their vote is the same as some island in the Pacific that maybe has ten members in the federation that play chess.”
“Maybe it is time to make something like the UN Security Council,” suggests Karpov. The idea is that a federation would need to have representatives of a certain level before they could participate in votes on certain topics such as the World Championships, etcetera. “It could be considered for chess.”
Tea With Anatoly Karpov
What are the key things that Anatoly believes players should focus on if they want to get better at chess?
- Have a chess friend you can play and analyze games with.
- Take chess seriously! Analyze your own games, and be sure not to repeat your mistakes.
- Understand how to prepare for a game. Study preparation.
- Be confident in your strengths when you play a tournament. If you believe you can not win, then you will lose.
Anatoly Karpov didn’t visit iChess only for the excellent tea! He has recorded a 15-hour course on his approach to chess – and it’s simply on another level to anything you’ve seen before. In his course, Anatoly focuses on the areas in which he is a virtuoso: positional play, strategy and the endgame, picking out specific subjects like counter-attacking, passed pawns and opposite-colored bishop endgames.
Then he goes deep into chess principles, dissecting and explaining the most instructive examples of each topic, using his own games and taken from 40 years at the very top. This is a rare opportunity to learn directly from one of the greatest players of all time, as Anatoly Karpov talks candidly about his games, opponents and the method he used to solve problems at the board. A true pioneer of the game, Karpov introduced strategic ideas, refined techniques and astounded the world with his masterful play.
With the course, you’ll also get access to a 380+ page pdf ebook on Karpov written by GM Ron Henley, and an exclusive collection of bonus chess courses with Karpov. Click here to get Karpov’s Comprehensive Chess Course for Club Players with 35% off.