Anatoly Karpov

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Anatoli Karpov
Anatoli Karpov

Anatoli Yevgenyevich Karpov (Анато́лий Евге́ньевич Ка́рпов) (born May 23, 1951) is a Russian chess grandmaster and former World Champion. He is considered one of the greatest chess players in history, especially in tournament play: he is the most successful tournament player of all time, with over 140 first-places to his credit. From 1978 to 1998 he played in every FIDE World Championship match. His overall professional record is 1,118 wins, 287 losses, and 1,480 draws in 3,163 games. His peak ELO rating is 2780.



Karpov was born on May 23, 1951 in Zlatoust in the former Soviet Union and learned to play chess at the age of 4. At age 12 he was accepted into Mikhail Botvinnik's extremely prestigious chess school. Ironically, Botvinnik had this to say about a young Karpov: "The boy doesn't have a clue about chess, and there's no future at all for him in this profession." Karpov proved him wrong by becoming the youngest Soviet National Master in history at 15, and won in his first international chess tournament several months later. In 1967 he took 5th in the Soviet Junior Chess Championship and won the European Junior Chess Championship several months later. But his career really took off in 1969 when he became the first Soviet player since Boris Spassky (1955) to win the World Junior Chess Championship with a score of 10 out of 11. Soon afterwards he tied for 4th place at an international tournament in Caracas, Venezuela and became the world's youngest Grandmaster.


The 1970s showed a major improvement in his game. His ELO rating shot up from 2540 in 1971 to 2660 in 1973, when he came in 2nd in the USSR Chess Championship and placed first in the Leningrad Interzonal Tournament. The latter qualified him for the 1974 Candidates cycle, which determined who was allowed to challenge the reigning World Champion, Bobby Fischer.

Karpov beat Lev Polugaevsky by +3=5 in the first Candidates match to face former World Champion Boris Spassky in the next round. Karpov was on record saying that he believed Spassky would easily beat him and win the Candidates cycle to face Fischer, and that he (Karpov) would win the following Candidates cycle in 1977.

Most expected the Spassky-Karpov match to be a one-sided rout by the ex-champ Spassky. They were right that it was a rout, but by Karpov! Although Spassky won the first game as black in good style, tenacious and aggressive play from Karpov secured him a memorable win +4-1=6. (An exquisite Sicilian Scheveningen was probably the game of the match). Karpov was certainly not hurt by the fact that Spassky's chief opening analyst, 1955 Soviet Champion Efim Geller, defected to Karpov's side several months before the match.

The Candidates final was against fellow Russian Viktor Korchnoi, a notable fighting player. Intense games were fought, including one "opening laboratory" win against the Sicilian Dragon. Karpov went 3–0 up but tired towards the end and allowed Korchnoi two wins, but Karpov prevailed +3-2=19. Thus he won the right to challenge Fischer for the World Championship.

Though everyone was eagerly anticipating the world championship match between the young Soviet prodigy and the incomparably dominant American Fischer, the match never came about. Fischer drew up a list of ten demands, chief among them the provisions that draws wouldn't count, the first to ten victories wins, and if the score was tied 9–9 he (Fischer) would keep the crown. This means that candidate needed two wins more than the reigning champion because narrowest possible win for him is 10–8. The International Chess Federation (FIDE) flatly refused at first, but eventually conceded the first two. However, Fischer demanded all or nothing, and when FIDE refused to give into the third demand, Fischer resigned his crown, to the huge disappointment of the chess world, which had been waiting for the much-hyped Fischer-Karpov match. Karpov later attempted to set up another match with Fischer, but all the negotiations fell through. Fischer never did play Karpov (or Kasparov, for that matter) and scorned them as inferior players. This thrust the young Karpov into the role of World Champion without beating the reigning one. There was always the thought that Karpov was just a paper world champion—he earned it in a ceremony, not over a chessboard as a true Candidate.

When Kasparov was in a bitter struggle for the world championship with Karpov, he often reminded others that Karpov won the title by default. But while preparing a monumental book series Kasparov: On My Great Predecessors, Kasparov argued that Karpov would have had the better chances, because he had beaten Spassky convincingly and was a new breed of tough professional, and indeed had higher quality games, while Fischer had been inactive for three years. Critics argue that Kasparov was trying to boost his own prestige by boosting that of the man he defeated. Spassky thought that Fischer would have won in 1975 but Karpov would have qualified again and beaten Fischer in 1978. Zsuzsa Polgar thinks Fischer would have won very narrowly in 1975 due to his greater experience.[1] (

World champion

Missing image
With Max Euwe on the left, Karpov is crowned as the new world champion

Shamed that he had become the twelfth world champion in this manner, and desperately trying to prove he was worthy of the crown, Karpov participated in nearly every tournament for the next ten years. He created the most phenomenal streak of tournament wins against the strongest players in the world the chess world had ever seen. This tournament success even eclipsed the pre-war tournament record of Alexander Alekhine. He held the record for most consecutive tournament victories (9) until it was shattered by Garry Kasparov (14).

In 1978, Karpov's first title defence was against Viktor Korchnoi, the opponent he beat in the previous Candidates tournament. The situation was vastly different from the previous match. In the intervening years Korchnoi had defected from the Soviet Union. The match was played in Baguio in the Philippines, and a vast array of psychological tricks were used during the match, from Karpov's Dr. Zukhar who attempted to hypnotize Korchnoi during the game, to Korchnoi's mirror glasses to ward off the hypnotic stare, Korchnoi's offering to play under the Jolly Roger flag when he was denied the right to play under Switzerland's, to Karpov's yogurt supposedly being used to send him secret messages, to Korchnoi inviting two local cult members (on trial for attempted murder) into the hall as members of his team.

The off-board antics are better remembered than the actual chess match. Karpov took an early lead, but Korchnoi staged an amazing comeback very late in the match, and came very close to winning. Karpov narrowly won the last game to take the match 6–5, with 21 draws.

Three years later Korchnoi re-emerged as the Candidates winner against German finalist Dr. Robert Huebner to challenge Karpov in Merano, Italy. This time the psychological trick was the arrest of Korchnoi's son for evading conscription. Again the politics off the board overshadowed the games, but this time Karpov easily won (11–7, +6 -2 =10) in what is remembered to be the "Massacre of Merano".

Karpov's tournament career also reached a peak at the exceptional Montreal "Super-Grandmaster" tournament in 1979, where he ended joint first with Mikhail Tal ahead of a field of superb grandmasters like Jan Timman, Ljubomir Ljubojevic, Boris Spassky, and Lubomir Kavalek. Meanwhile, he had also won the prestigious Linares tournament in 1981 (and again in 1994), the Tilburg tournament in 1977, 1979, 1980, 1982, and 1983, and the Soviet Championship in 1976 and 1983 (and again in 1988).

To illustrate Karpov's dominance over his peers as champion, his score was +11 -2 =20 v Spassky, +5 =12 v Robert Hbner, +6 -1 = 16 v Ulf Andersson, +3 -1 =10 v Vasily Smyslov, +1 =16 v Tal, +10 -2 =13 v Ljubojevic.

The   was between  (left) and Anatoly Karpov (right).
The 1984 World Chess Championship was between Garry Kasparov (left) and Anatoly Karpov (right).

Karpov had cemented his position as the world's best player and world champion when Garry Kasparov arrived on the scene. In their first World Championship match in 1984, Karpov quickly built a 4–0 lead, and needed only two more wins to keep his title. Instead, the next 16 games were drawn, and it took Karpov until Game 27 to finally win a game. In Game 31, Karpov had a winning position but failed to take advantage and settled for a draw. He lost the next game, but drew the next 14. In particular, Karpov held a solidly winning position in Game 41, but again blundered terribly and had to settle for a draw. After Kasparov suddenly won Game 47 and 48, Karpov suffered a mental and physical breakdown, having lost 10kg (22lbs) over the course of the match. The FIDE President controversially terminated the match, which had lasted an unprecedented four months with five wins for Karpov, three for Kasparov, and a staggering forty draws. A rematch was set for the following year. In a hard fight, featuring an incredible blunder by Karpov in the final game, Karpov lost his title 11 to 13 in the 1985 match, ending his ten-year reign as champion.


Karpov remained a formidable opponent for most of the eighties. He fought Kasparov in three more World Championship matches in 1986 (held in London and Leningrad), 1987 (held in Seville), and 1990 (held in Lyon and New York City). All three matches were extremely close (the scores were 12.5 to 11.5, 12 to 12, and 12.5 to 11.5). 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, and should have led to Karpov's winning the title. Instead, in the final game, needing only a draw to win the title, Karpov blundered on his 33rd and 64th moves and lost, ending the match in a draw and allowing Kasparov to keep the title. Still, the five world championship matches between them are considered the finest in history.

The overall game score between them stayed virtually even until the late 1990s, when the score shifted decisively towards Kasparov. Currently, in their 235 formal games played, Karpov has 23 wins, 33 losses, and an incredible 179 draws. In their five world championship matches, Karpov has 19 wins, 21 losses, and 104 draws in 144 games.

Although twelve years older than Kasparov, Karpov still has the stamina and endurance to be a match for Kasparov. In 2002, he even beat Kasparov in their most recent match, 2.5–1.5, although unlike their other matches, this was played at rapid time limits. Their rivalry has undoubtedly spurred them on to greater heights than they would otherwise have achieved on their own. In particular, Karpov is on record saying that had he had the opportunity to fight Fischer for the crown like Kasparov had the opportunity to fight him, he (Karpov) could have been a much better player as a result. Though the struggle for the world championship made them enemies, Karpov and Kasparov maintain a tremendous level of respect for each other. The two of them and their titanic struggles make up a chess rivalry unseen since the days of Capablanca and Alekhine.

Champion again

It came as a surprise, then, that Karpov lost a Candidates Match against Nigel Short in 1992. Everyone had expected a sixth Kasparov-Karpov match. But in 1993, Karpov reacquired the FIDE World Champion title when Kasparov and Short split from FIDE. Karpov crushed Jan Timman—the loser of the Candidates final against Short. Once again he had become World Champion, and once again he did so controversially. He defended his title against Gata Kamsky (+6 -3 =9) and Viswanathan Anand (+4 -2 =2) in 1996 and 1998, respectively. However, in 1998, FIDE largely scrapped the old system of Candidate Matches, instead having a large knock-out event in which a large number of players contested short matches against each other over just a few weeks. In the first of these events, champion Karpov was seeded straight into the final (as in previous championships), but subsequently the champion had to qualify like other players. Karpov resigned his title in anger at the new rules in 1999, upon which Alexander Khalifman became World Champion.

All these FIDE champions, however, were truly paper champions. Everyone knew very well that no player could rightfully call himself World Champion without first defeating Kasparov in a World Championship match. The fact that the FIDE champions were regularly crushed by Kasparov in tournaments testified to his dominance. The FIDE matches received little public attention, while Kasparov's matches with the PCA and subsequently Braingames were widely reported in the media. For more details about these series of champions, see the World Chess Championship article.

Towards Retirement?

Karpov in the  plays less chess than he used to.
Karpov in the 21st century plays less chess than he used to.

In 1991 Karpov temporarily dropped to third in the FIDE ranking list, the first time since 1971. Though he quickly recovered, many said that Karpov had lost his edge, and that his playing level had declined. However, Karpov decisively proved the naysayers wrong in one incredible performance against the world's very strongest players (in the order of their finish, Kasparov, Shirov, Bareev, Kramnik, Lautier, Anand, Kamsky, Topalov, Ivanchuk, Gelfand, Illescas, Judit Polgar, and Beliavsky) in the landmark "super-strong" tournament Linares 1994 (average ELO rating 2685, the highest in history, meaning it was the first Category XVIII tournament ever held).

Impressed by the strength of the tournament, Kasparov had said several days before the tournament that the winner could rightfully be called the world champion of tournaments. Perhaps spurred on by this comment, Karpov played the chess of his life and dramatically won the tournament. He was undefeated and earned 11 points out of 13 possible (the best world-class tournament winning percentage in 64 years), dominating second-place Kasparov and Shirov by a huge 2.5 points. Many of his wins were spectacular (in particular, his win over Topalov, detailed below, is considered possibly his finest throughout his career). This astonishing performance against the best players in the world put his ELO rating tournament performance at an unbelievable 2985, the highest performance rating of any chess player in any tournament in all of chess history (not counting Fischer's 11/11 showing in the 1963/1964 U.S. championship, which would give an "infinity" performance, but it's also true that the tournament was of much inferior quality). This is truly the "feather in his cap".

Even recently, few players have surpassed Karpov's achievements. Since he dropped out of the top three players in the world on the FIDE rankings, only Garry Kasparov, Viswanathan Anand, Vladimir Kramnik, and (as of January 2005) Veselin Topalov have been in the top three slots. In other words, Karpov is the last person to have been in the top three in the world before Kasparov, Anand, Kramnik, and Topalov. In addition, Karpov is the only player to ever have ranked number one in the world ahead of Kasparov.

However, Karpov's outstanding classical tournament play has been seriously limited since 1995, since he prefers to be more involved in politics of his home country of Russia. He had been a member of the Supreme Soviet Commission for Foreign Affairs and the President of the Soviet Peace Fund before the Soviet Union broke up. In addition, he had been involved in several disputes with FIDE and became increasingly disillusioned with chess. In the April 2005 FIDE rating list, he is 27th in the world with an ELO rating of 2674.

However, more recently, because of his traditional strength at managing his thinking time, Karpov has instead begun revamping his style to specialize in rapid chess. He has limited his preparation and tires quickly in classical tournaments, but he can still defeat opponents, even Kasparov and Anand, in fast games.


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 Jos Ral 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."

People believed Karpov's style was always bland, but he was capable of brilliant attack (for example, Torre-Karpov, Bad Lautenberg 1976 shows Karpov provoking his opponent to overextend then counterattacking through the centre with a pretty pawn sacrifice, and the aforementioned Topalov game features a double exchange sacrifice in which he offers a rook three times within nine moves). Though he keeps his opening repertoire relatively narrow (he likes to stick to the Queen's Indian and Caro-Kann Defences), his middlegame is solid and his mastery of the ending in particular unparalleled. He thinks quickly and rarely gets into time trouble. It is also said that he exploits even the smallest advantage in space better than anyone else in history.

But Karpov's greatest strength is his mastery of prophylaxis, pioneered by Tigran Petrosian and Aron Nimzowitsch. He can anticipate and frustrate his opponent's plans before they do any damage. This leads to a safe, though slightly passive, position. Usually, his opponents become frustrated and try to create something out of nothing. They would become overly aggressive and overextend their forces. Karpov then pounces relentlessly and crushes his opponent.

Sample game

Missing image
In this position, Karpov, already with a slight advantage, initiates the first of three rook offers

This game, Anatoly Karpov v Veselin Topalov, Linares 1994, given in algebraic notation, played during one of his best tournaments, features Karpov offering a rook for capture three times, and eventually sacrificing two rooks for a scintillating victory.

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. Nf3 cxd4 4. Nxd4 e6 5. g3 Nc6 6. Bg2 Bc5 7. Nb3 Be7 8. Nc3 O-O 9. O-O d6 10. Bf4 Nh5 11. e3 Nxf4 12. exf4 Bd7 13. Qd2 Qb8 14. Rfe1! g6 15. h4 a6 16. h5 b5 17. hxg6 hxg6 18. Nc5 dxc5 19. Qxd7 Rc8

(see diagram)

20. Rxe6!! Ra7 [20...fxe6 21.Bxc6 Ra7 22.Qxe6+ Kg7 23.Be4 and White is clearly better] 21. Rxg6+! fxg6 22. Qe6+ Kg7 23. Bxc6 Rd8 24. cxb5 Bf6 25. Ne4 Bd4 26. bxa6 Qb6 27. Rd1 Qxa6 28. Rxd4!! Rxd4 [28...cxd4 29.Qf6+ Kh6 30.Qh4+ Kg7 31.Qxd8 Qxc6 32.Qxd4+ and White is better] 29. Qf6+ Kg8 30. Qxg6+ Kf8 31. Qe8+ Kg7 32. Qe5+ Kg8 33. Nf6+ Kf7 34. Be8+ Kf8 35. Qxc5+ Qd6 36. Qxa7 Qxf6 37. Bh5 Rd2 38. b3 Rb2 39. Kg2 1-0

Further reading

Preceded by:
Bobby Fischer
World Chess Champion
Succeeded by:
Garry Kasparov
Preceded by:
Garry Kasparov
FIDE World Chess Champion
Succeeded by:
Alexander Khalifman

Template:End box

External links

His "best" games:

et:Anatoli Karpov es:Anatoli Karpov fr:Anatoli Karpov it:Anatoly Karpov he:אנטולי קרפוב nl:Anatoly Karpov ja:アナトリー・カルポフ no:Anatolij Karpov pl:Anatolij Karpow pt:Anatoly Karpov ru:Карпов, Анатолий Евгеньевич fi:Anatoli Karpov tr:Anatoly Karpov


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