Categories: Russian

Karpov on the World Champions

Anatoly Karpov gave a long interview to the Russian RIA News. The most fascinating section is his assessment of his own place in the pantheon of Chess World Champions, including his controversial opinion that Anand and Topalov would have been unable to achieve the same success without computers.

I originally mentioned this interview at the Daily Dirt.

Who among the World Champions, in your opinion, made the most revolutionary breakthrough in the development of chess – as an art, a sport and in terms of popularizing the game?

Each World Champion made a significant contribution, starting with Steinitz (the title holder from 1886-1894), who, for a period, brought an end to romanticism in chess. While Lasker (1894-1921) introduced into chess – in the most serious of manners – a psychological aspect. Capablanca (1921-1927) possessed a unique talent as a positional chess player, and an excellent sense of danger.  Alekhine (1924-1934, 1937-1946) was the first to establish a fundamental approach to preparation for tournaments and matches. Euwe (1935-1937), despite my admiration and friendship towards him, doesn’t quite fit among the champions, though he was a bold chess player – but nevertheless not at the same level as Capablanca and Alekhine. And then Botvinnik (1948-1954, 1958-1960, 1961-1963) with his scientific approach to chess, Tal (1960-1961) was a return to romanticism. Petrosian (1963-1969), a celebration of defence, Spassky (1969-1972), the exact opposite, a rejection of defence and an emphasis instead on activity. Fischer (1972-1975) was a universal chess player with unique abilities, both in hard work and preparation, moreover on his own. And then…

Then you (1975-1985, 1993-2000)…

I simply developed that universal style which dominated with the arrival of Spassky and then Fischer. But all the same we were different chess players, of course. Both Spassky and Fischer were brilliant at developing and sensing the initiative. In that regard I was, perhaps, a little inferior, but on the other hand I stood out by having excellent technique for converting an advantage, positional sense and an ability to maneuver positionally – in that area I was clearly superior to Spassky, and Fischer, and perhaps everyone, except Petrosian.

Kasparov (1985-1993, 1993-2000) had an especially honed feel for the initiative and developed the deep preparation for tournaments and matches that was applied by Alekhine, Botvinnik and Fischer…

Then to that list, no doubt, you can add Vladimir Kramnik (2002-2008), largely due to his victory over Kasparov. And, perhaps, Vishwanathan Anand (from December 2008 to the present) among contemporary players and, perhaps, Topalov (2005-2006).

And how would you characterise Anand and Topalov?

With Anand and Topalov it’s more about computer chess, although both of them have great talent, nevertheless it’s already the age of chess computerisation.

You mean, if I can put it like that – 21st-century chess players?

I wouldn’t say that, because it seems to me that 21st-century chess players are inferior in many positions to 20th-century players. But, using computers and appropriate preparation, they’ve achieved sporting results that they no doubt wouldn’t have achieved if it weren’t for computers.

Anatoly Evgenievich, in the history of chess, apart from World Champions, there have been more than a few striking chess players who only came up a little short at the right moment of winning the chess crown. Who would you include in that list?

You could of course put Mikhail Chigorin on that list, as he played two World Championship matches. And only particular adverse conditions – and his not being entirely healthy – allowed Steinitz to obtain victory in both matches. Also you’d include, no doubt, Akiba Rubinstein, Efim Bogoljubov, David Bronstein, who in 1951 drew his match with Botvinnik, when he’d been leading for the whole match and should have won. Then Paul Keres, without question, and Viktor Korchnoi – that, it seems, is everyone.

Regarding the current situation: there are three surnames you hear at the chess Olympus – Anand, Kramnik, Topalov. Who, in your opinion, could displace them in the near future?

The young chess players can displace them, among whom it’s absolutely clear that Sergey Karjakin and Magnus Carlsen stand out.

Karpov mentions Jakovenko, Morozevich and Grischuk, but doesn’t consider any of them real World Champion candidates. He’s also asked:

How do you rate the chances of Vasily Ivanchuk, Peter Leko, Levon Aronian?

Of course, going by his chess ability, love of chess, and selflessness Vasily could long since have become World Champion, but he has a totally unstable nervous system, which always knocks him off track. He should, for instance, have become World Champion instead of Ruslan Ponomariov, but he let the chance slip. As for Leko, I think he was broken by the match with Kramnik, where he was winning and should have become champion, but let the chance slip when Kramnik managed to draw that extremely tough match and preserve the World Champion title. Aronian? Yes, Aronian is a bright chess star, but I don’t know. He has chances, he works  a lot – but again in terms of chances of becoming World Champion I’d put Karjakin and Carlsen ahead of him. 

The first part of the interview is interesting in hindsight as evidence of Karpov’s disillusionment with the state of chess, long before he officially became a candidate for the role of FIDE President. He doesn’t lay the blame for the problems of chess solely at the feet of FIDE, though, as this small fragment illustrates (he has previously mentioned that some chess players broke away from the World Championship system):

By “breakway section” do you mean the appearance of the Association of Chess Professionals?

No, the fact that Kasparov played a number of private matches. And he took some other grandmasters with him. And the chess elite thought that they could eat from two tables. Which they did manage to do, for a short period of time – yes, it was possible, but then both tables ended up bare.

Judging by the fact that FIDE has been run by Kirsan Ilyumzhinov since 1995, does he also bear some guilt for what happened?

Without question, as he categorically changed the World Championship system, which played an absolutely negative role both in deciding the World Champion, and in regard to the mass public. Now even professional chess players can’t say who the World Champion is – everyone’s confused. And we’ve got a sequence of champions who are… I wouldn’t say undeserving – there were strong chess players among them – but if the previous system had still existed then some of them couldn’t have become World Champion.

mishanp :

View Comments (5)

  • Yes, it's not quite ideal - this interview was actually published on the 20-21 July, 2009 - but I'm sticking to the date I originally posted.

  • It's striking he doesn't mention Smyslov at all in his list of WC. I think Karpov's way of winning tournaments (notably the series post-Fischer pre-Kasparov) gets something from his heritage. Thank you mishanp!

  • Great read! thanks for sharing.

    I wish he had become FIDE president. I´m not sure what exactly he would have done differently but whatever that is it can´t be as bad as the chaos that reigns today.