3/20/2005 - I
saw an interesting video clip on Chessbase of Kasparov talking about the
hypothetical 1975 world championship match between Fischer and Karpov. This
match has got to be the biggest what-if story in chess.
Kasparov asserts that Fischer was not prepared to take on Karpov in
1975. Fischer did not know how to beat the leader of the new generation.
In this hypothetical scenario of the 1975 match, Kasparovís
overall opinion was that if Fischer could have survived the first 10-15
games, and not be too badly wounded by Karpov, then Fischer's chances were
really good. But Kasparov claims Bobby Fischer was not stable.
He would not be playing Spassky, who was too much of a gentlemen
and too soft. Fischer would
be taking on the soviet machine that backed Karpov, who only cared about
winning. Kasparov feels Fischer could crack under the pressure.
I think before we get into the fictional 1975 Fischer vs. Karpov
match, we must address a few issues first. In his DVD series Chess for
Life, Victor Kortchnoi gave very interesting answers to the question of
what a chess playerís peak years are. He felt that Karpov's peak was in
1984, the first half of the Karpov vs. Kasparov match.
I think the best time for a chess player is in his early to mid
thirties. Lets take a look at when the various world champions won their
titles. Capablanca was 33 when he became champion by defeating Lasker in
1921. Alekhine was 35 when he became champion by defeating Capablanca in
1927. Euwe was 34 when he became champion by defeating Alekhine in 1935.
Botvinnik was 37 when he won the 1948 world championship.
Smyslov was 36 when he became champion by defeating Botvinnik in
1957. Tigran Petrosian was 34 when he became champion by defeating
Botvinnik in 1963. Spassky was 32 when he became champion by defeating
Petrosian in 1969. Bobby Fischer was 29 when he defeated Spassky for the
title in 1972.
There have been
a few players who became champion in their early 20ís. Emmanuel Lasker was
26 when he became champion by defeating 59-year-old Wilhelm Steinitz.
Mikhail Tal was 24 years old when he became champion by defeating
49-year-old Botvinnik. Botvinnik had a habit of losing his title defenses.
He had drawn matches with Bronstein in 1950 and Smyslov in 1954. Botvinnik
lost matches to Smyslov in 1957, Tal in 1960, and Petrosian in 1963. I
think the reason for these failures was that Botvinnik was busy working as
a scientist in the engineering and computer fields.
I donít think he properly prepared for some of these matches. It
was only after he lost that he did the proper preparation. He won his
rematches against Smyslov in 1958 and against Tal in 1961.
Kasparov was 22 when he became champion in 1985 by defeating 34-year-old
Anatoly Karpov. Garry is a special case; he was able to survive the 1984
aborted-match against Karpov. Garry got off to a horrible start
losing 4 out of the first 9 games. By
game 27 he was down 5-0. Garry
was clearly feeling the pressure of his first world championship match.
Early in the match, he
tried to force things. However, he was able to wear out Karpov and force
the match to be aborted after 48 games. After the aborted match, Garry
said he didnít appreciate the pressures of a world championship match.
Itís different than a candidate match. Clearly Kasparov felt the
pressures of playing in his first world championship match. It takes
special character for a young challenger to starve off defeat. Garry
learned a great deal during the 1984 match. He made the proper changes to
his game and would defeat Karpov in 1985.
It takes special character and talent for a champion to be so
young, Kasparov was just 22.
What makes Kasparovís victory so special is that he defeated
Anatoly Karpov, a sitting world champion at the peak of his career. Karpov
was a young, experienced title defender. He had two successful defenses
against Victor Kortchnoi. So Kasparov becoming a champion at 22 was quite
another example in Vladimir Kramnik who was 25, when he became champion by
defeating 37-year-old Garry Kasparov. When you look into this match, I
donít think you can say that Kramnik defeated a peaking Garry Kasparov.
Garry was worn out by having to defend his title 8 times in 15
years against the best of the rest. Botvinnik
said that each world championship match takes a year off your life. Also
Kasparov was still reeling from the defeat he suffered at the hands of Deep
Blue in 1997. I recall reading a 2000 Chess Life interview with Garry Kasparov
before the start of the match with Kramnik. Garry said he could
lose this match. He wasnít very confident. He didnít bring the ninth
pawn with him. During the 2000 match, Garry made some great saves from the
black side of the board. However his white game was nonexistent. He was
clearly a defeated man at the start of the match.
So as we analyze these matches, I think we see that itís a very
rare event that a challenge in his early 20ís can defeat a sitting
champion at the peak of powers.
think we are ready to discuss the hypothetical Fischer vs. Karpov match.
Garry Kasparov is making the case that 32-year-old Bobby Fischer would
have lost his 1975 match with 24-year-old Anatoly Karpov. Garry says that
Fischer would have trouble with Karpov because he wasnít the gentleman
that Spassky was. With the backing of the soviet machine, Karpovís will
to win would have decided the match. Kasparov seems to believe that
Spasskyís gentleman manners led to his defeat. I am not
so sure thatís the reason Spassky lost in 1972.
machine was in full force prior to the 1972 match. All top Soviet
grandmasters had to prepare a report on Bobby Fischer. There is no
question the soviet chess machine was geared up to defeat Fischer. Bobby
defeated the soviet machine, once. I donít see why he couldnít do it
again. However, having the soviet chess machine behind you can be both a
blessing and a curse. Sure it can help you prepare for a match and it can
help you become a stronger player. However it can be a giant albatross
around your neck. It can weigh you down during a match.
I think that there
were many factors affecting Spassky during the 1972 match.
Playing in a world championship match is stressful enough. There is
no question; itís a stressful sporting event. However it takes on more
pressure when the match is a political war game used for worldwide
propaganda purposes. The soviet government used chess to show the world
that their system and people were superior to the west. Both Taimanov and
Petrosian were punished for losing to Fischer. The Soviet Government
funded chess and paid their players. If you embarrassed the soviet state by
losing to a westerner, you got punished.
think Spassky loss was due to Bobbyís match-antics. I think it goes deeper
than that. So I think Spassky failure was due to the pressure of playing
in a world championship sporting event, dealing with the soviet albatross
around his neck, and playing against Bobby Fischer, one of the greatest
chess players of all time. Spassky made a very telling comment after he
lost to Fischer in 1972. Right after the match, Spassky said, I lost a
chess match, nothing more. He knew what was coming. He also was punished and was
prevented from traveling abroad. I think the soviet albatross caused
Spassky to fall out of love with the game.
this soviet albatross played a role in Anatoly Karpovís near collapse to
Victor Kortchnoi in 1978. The stakes were really high there. Kortchnoi had
defected to the west in 1976. He was a traitor to the Soviet State and
peoples. So Karpov had to deal with the pressure of a world championship
match, the soviet albatross, and the tough competitor named Victor
Kortchnoi who was a traitor to the soviet system. Lets not forget Karpov
was the hero to the soviet people. He had to defeat Victor Kortchnoi, who
was the traitor to the soviet people. This added pressure of the soviet
machinery almost cost Karpov the match.
talks about the 1975 match; he says that the key thing would be if Fischer
could survive the first 10-15 games. Garry says, that if Bobby could
survive the first 10 games, he could beat Karpov.
I think Garry is inappropriately applying his own tough experience
at the hands of Karpov in 1984. It
was a very young Garry Kasparov vs. the experience Anatoly Karpov, who was
at his peak. It was a badly wounded Garry who survived the first 10 games
of the 1984 match. It was
Garryís inexperience that cost him 4 losses in the first 9 games.
I think history would have changed if only Karpov had tried to force
things to end the 1984 match earlier. I think Karpov rejected this
notion, because he tried it against Kortchnoi in 1978. By game 21 of that
match, the score was 4-1 in Karpov's favor. Karpov need two more wins. So
Karpov tried to force things. This nearly cost him the match. Karpov was
tired after playing 20 tough games. He nearly lost the match, when Kortchnoi
railed to tie it with a 5-5 score by game 31. However, Karpov hung on and won the
32nd game and retained his title.
Karpov was only 10 games into the match, it was early, and Karpov could
have tried to force things. I think that strategy would have worked.
However, Karpov was holding out for a Fischer type 6-0 score.
But now lets
consider the 1975 scenario. I think the roles would be reversed. I think
that itís a question of whether or not Karpov could survive the first 10
games. In 1975, Fischer is the champion at the peak of his powers. The
a young, inexperienced Anatoly Karpov at 24 years of age. I think Karpov is feeling the
pressure of his first world championship match, the pressure of the soviet
albatross around his neck, and the pressure of having to play the great
World Champion Bobby Fischer.
tells us that top players fell under the Fischer spell, they all played
under their strengths. There is a long list of players who melted under
this pressure, Taimanov, Larsen, Petrosian, and Spassky. GM Andy Soltis
said that when you are playing Fischer and winning, you know you are going
forget this would have been Karpovís first title challenge. Would he
also not appreciate the pressures of a world championship match as
Kasparov failed to do? Bobby Fischer also failed to appreciate the
pressures of his first title challenge in 1972. He tried to win a
completely drawn first game of his 1972 match. Bobby lost game one and
failed show up and play the 2nd game. He dug himself a huge hole, but
like Kasparov, Fischer dug his way out. But unlike Kasparov, Fischer dug
himself out quickly and had a commanding lead by game 10 with a score of
6.5 Ė 3.5.
Leko also felt the pressure of being in his first world championship
match. He also over pressed and tried to win a completely drawn endgame. Peter
lost game one of his match, a loss that prevented him from becoming the
15th world champion. I think Karpov also would have tried to force things. That would
have spelled disaster against Fischer.
Bobby was a great match player. He knew how to hold a lead, He
pitched 6-0 shut outs against Taimanov and Larsen. Bobby
easily defeated Petrosian, who was tough defensive minded player, by a
score of 6.5-2.5. Bobby knew how to get himself out of a hole. He
recovered quickly against Spassky in the 1972 match after trailing by two
also asserts that Bobbyís 3-year lay off would have hurt him. Well Bobby
had a history of withdrawing from competition, only to come back renewed
and much stronger. Bobby
Fischer also showed that he could leave his outside issues behind, when he
was at the board. Karpov also had the disadvantage of not knowing what Bobby was playing. Fischer
stop playing official games after 1972. Fischer also expanded his opening
repertoire during the 1972 match. Bobby
Fischer had the advantage of having Karpovís most recent games. In fact
Bobby went over a game of Karpovís in 1974. Fischer wrote to Chess
Life's Larry Evans
about a missed win by Karpov. So evidence shows Bobby was still involved
in chess and keeping tabs on Karpov.
not forget the 1975 match would been decided by the first to win 10
Not sure if Karpov would be able to hold out in a long match. Karpov seems
to tire in the later stages. He allowed Kortchnoi to close in during the
1974 final candidate match. This also occurred in the 1978 match against
Kortchnoi. We already discussed that Kortchnoi after trailing 4-1 was able
to tie the match 5-5 in the 31st game. Karpov faded in the 1984
match against Kasparov. After 27 games and a 5-0 lead, Karpov allowed the
match to drag on for another 21 games. Karpov would not win another game
and would collapse by losing games 32, 47, and 48. FIDE step in and
stopped the match with Karpov leading 5-3. So I think no question, an
unlimited match did not favor Karpov.
also consider what Karpov said about his chances in a match against
Fischer. In his video on Bobby Fischerís games with Ron Henley, Karpov
estimated his chances of defeating Fischer at 40% in 1975 and 50% by 1978. The issue isnít whether Fischer can defeat the leader of
the new generation, as Kasparov asserts. The real issue is whether or not
the leader of the new generation can defeat the leader of the old
generation. I think that all conditions favored Fischer in 1975.
All signs indicate that Karpov would have had a tough time with
Bobby in 1975. However one thing is certain, we will never get the answer
to the question of who would have won the 1975 Fischer vs. Karpov match?
Unfortunately the match never occurred.
Bobby Fischer retired after the 1972 match.
Chess had to move on. Anatoly Karpov became the 12th
World Champion. He was forged into
steel by the world championship
process. Karpov showed he was the best of the rest. Karpov was an active
champion. He defended his title four times against the best of the rest. He held his title for
10 years. In 1994 Karpov equaled Bobby Fischerís top rating of 2780.
Karpov remained one of the best players for over 20 years.
He played and won a lot of tournaments. Karpov is a great
Ambassador to the game. This fictional account doesnít diminish
Nor does the
fact that Karpov never defeated Fischer, diminish Kasparovís title.
Garry Kasparov was also forged to steel by the same world championship
process. He was the greatest
world champion in chess history. Garry held the title for 15 years.
He successfully defended his title numerous times against the best
of the rest. Kasparov also was an active champion and played and won many
tournaments. Kasparov broke the 2800 plateau in 1992 and he remains above
it today. He is without
question this games greatest ambassador. Garry remains the best player in
the world, a position he has held now for over 20 years. Garry
Kasparov recently announced his retirement from professional chess. This
was brought about by FIDE's ineptness.
far as Bobby Fischer is concerned, he was a nonfactor as a world champion.
He didnít play an official game until 1992, when he gave Boris Spassky a
rematch in Yugoslavia. Fischer played this match in defiance of a
Presidential decree. Bobby
won the rematch and quickly disappeared again. He lived as a fugitive
overseas. He popped recently and did some very bizarre, hate filled
interviews on a Philippine radio station in 2000 and 2001. Fischer's
anti-American and anti-Semitic comments caused the US government to renew its interest in
Fischerís legal problems. His passport was revoked in Japan in August of
2004. He was arrested in Japan and has been fighting extradition to the United
States ever since. Iceland has
also renewed its interest in Fischer. They have issued Fischer a passport
and Icelandic citizenship. This
just might be what Fischer needs to be released from prison. Bobby Fisher
is a hero in Iceland. It is the place where he achieved his life long goal
of becoming a world champion. Despite
his hate filled beliefs, the chess world is better for having him as
champion then not having him as champion. Bobby Fischer energized the game
of chess like no other player before or since. Lets hope he gets out of
prison, drops his hate filled tirades, and returns to chess in some capacity.