Person of day - 23 MAY 2023
He learned to play chess when he was 4, just like the legendary Capablanca. When he was 15, he became the youngest chess master. In 1969, 19-year-old Anatoly Karpov became the junior world champion and the main hope of Soviet chess, whose hegemony would be broken three years later by Robert Fischer.
The generation of Soviet players that the American defeated was unable to regain the title to the USSR. And then Soviet chess made its bet on young Karpov, who progressed rapidly. At the 1973 inter-zonal tournament in Leningrad, he began his fight for the highest chess title and split 1st-2nd places with Viktor Korchnoi. And even though Karpov said that this cycle “wasn’t his”, he performed brilliantly in matches against Polugaevsky, Spassky and Korchnoi. A decisive battle against Fischer awaited, but it never took place as FIDE refused to answer the American champion’s demands. Fischer considered himself offended and quit chess. FIDE’s President Max Euwe declared Anatoly Karpov the world champion; on 3rd April 1975, the 24-year-old Soviet grandmaster ascended to chess’ Olympus.
In the following years, Karpov showed that he did not become a champion by accident and that he was worthy of the title. He won the USSR championship in 1976 and came first in large international tournaments in Milan, Amsterdam, Las Palmas, Tilburg and Bugojno.
In 1978, Karpov was supposed to defend his title against Korchnoi, who left the USSR two years prior. This unlimited match in Baggio proved very difficult. Karpov led 5:2 but allowed his opponent to equalise the score. However, the world champion played confidently in the 32nd game and won the match 6:5. Three years later, he defeated Korchnoi once again in Merano, this time more easily - 6:2.
After this, a prolonged 6-year contest between Karpov and Kasparov dominated chess, during which they played 5 matches! After he was unable to win the first unlimited match in which he led 5:0, Karpov lost the next contest a year later, thus surrendering the champion title to Kasparov and never regained it.
After he ceased to be champion, Karpov remained active in the largest tournaments, where he demonstrated his signature understanding of position, strategy and endgame technique. His greatest victory took place at a 1994 super tournament in Linares, where he overtook Kasparov and all the other grandmasters and won 11 out of 13 points! Kasparov called this result one of the finest in chess history!
Today, Anatoly Karpov plays rarely, preferring to focus on social work. He is the Vice-President of the Chess Federation of Russia. After heading the Soviet World Fund in 1982 until its collapse, Karpov became the President of the worldwide Association of World Funds, which united the funds of former Soviet republics and social organisations of other counties. Karpov’s reputation as a social leader is as high as it is at the chess board: in the last elections of the State Duma, he became a deputy from Tyumen and he is the deputy chairman of the Duma Committee for Nationalities.
Mikhail Tal once said that “Karpov’s personality is his playing style. He is as determined in life as he is at the chess board. That is his main trait.”