The rivalry between Kasparov and Karpov is probably one of the most famous and sharp struggles in chess history. Last week (September 2009) in Valencia, Spain, the eternal rivals met again, in a re-enactment of their legendary 1984 showdown. “We are as famous as Pele or Maradona”, Karpov quipped, comparing himself and his opponent to the two legends of South American football.
Kasparov-Karpov matches are considered by many as the greatest in chess history, for many reasons. First, it was an epic battle: two players enduring five full matches for the world chess championship in six years is unprecedented. All five matches were very closely contested, with two of them coming down to the final game. Four of the matches went the distance – 24 games – and the one that did not go an insane 48 games. Further, one of the players (Kasparov) is widely recognized as the greatest player of all time, while the other (Karpov) is easily a candidate for the top five ever, and at least arguably the greatest player ever prior to his rival. Add to this the high level of their play, the clash of styles and personalities, the vicissitudes of the matches, and the intrigue and, taking the matches as a whole, the struggle was perhaps the greatest event in the history of chess.
In 1984, aged 34 and 21, Karpov and Kasparov played out in Moscow, USSR, their first match. Karpov started in very good form, and after nine games Kasparov was down 4–0 in a “first to six wins” match. Match over, right? Incredibly, no! Kasparov started a strategy of grimly hanging on, and managed to regain his equilibrium. While he assumed of course that the match would eventually be lost, he survived the immediate disaster and drew the next seventeen (!) games. At that point, Karpov won yet another game, and a 6-0 whitewash looked imminent. It didn´t happen. Kasparov won game 32, and after fourteen more draws and the start of a new year (1985), won games 47 and 48 as well.
What happened next was unprecedented and remains controversial to this day: World Chess Federation made the decision to stop the match without a victory. Kasparov lays out the case that this, as well as other events that occurred before the match, were done by leading members of the Soviet Chess Federation for the benefit of Karpov. (Needless to say, Karpov tells a different story, which is why I suggest multiple accounts of this episode.) The upshot was that the match was terminated and the players started anew in a traditional 24-game match.
That second match in 1985 was a thriller: it went back and forth, featured some exquisite chess and the occasional blunder, and came down to the last game. Kasparov led by a point, but if Karpov won (with White), the match would be drawn and Karpov, as champion, would keep his title. Karpov had his chances too, but Kasparov’s defense and subsequent counterattack won the day, the game, the match and the title. In 1985 at age of 22 Kasparov became the youngest world champion
In the next 4 years Kasparov and Karpov played 3 more matches battling for the chess crown, a statistic unprecedented in chess, but a new era in chess has begun and Kasparov prevailed in all of them.
In 1986 match Kasparov opened a three-point lead and looked well on his way to a decisive match victory, but Karpov fought back by winning three consecutive games to level the score. At this point, Kasparov dismissed one of his seconds, Grandmaster Evgeny Vladimirov, accusing him of selling his opening preparation to the Karpov team. Kasparov scored one more win and kept his title by a final score of 12.5–11.5.
A fourth match for the world title in 1987 was very close again, with neither player holding more than a one-point lead at any point. Kasparov was down one point in the final game, needing a win to hold his title. A long tense game ensued in which Karpov blundered away a pawn and Kasparov eventually won a long ending. Kasparov retained his title as the match was drawn by a score of 12–12.
A fifth match between Kasparov and Karpov in 1990, was no different than previous ones: again, Kasparov won a close match by a margin of 12.5–11.5.
Overall the two players played more than 200 games against each other! The total score including rapid and exhibition games is in favour of Garry Kasparov: he beats Anatoly Karpov 39 to 25, with 138 draws (or 29 to 21 with 131 draws if only “classical” games are counted).
Replay of the historic challenge of twenty-five years ago, has shown that the gaps only became wider: Kasparov emerged victorious beating Karpov 9:3. “Karpov proved unable to sustain the enormous psychological pressure on the board”, was Kasparov comment afterwards. The loser replied that he will be getting his revenge at the next match between the two champions, scheduled for December in Paris.
The two K-legents played many remarkable games; see in viewer below probably the best game – called the “Brisbane Bombshell” – in which Kasparov defeated his opponent after only 40 moves.
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