Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Rematch question up in air after Kasparov wins world chess title

Gary Kasparov's dramatic conquest of Anatoly Karpov for the world chess championship broke so many records and set so many historic precedents that one hardly knows where to begin enumerating them. Just by earning the right to play for the title last year at age 21, Kasparov became the youngest-ever challenger. And now by ending Karpov's decade-long reign, the 22-year-old grandmaster from Baku in the Soviet republic of Azerbaijan has earned his niche in history as the game's youngest champion of all time.

In terms of duration, the lengthy, once-delayed duel between the 34-year-old Russian titleholder and his fiery challenger of Jewish and Armenian parentage also has far surpassed all previous records. And even after one marathon 48-game match that was stopped without a decision last Feburary followed by Kasparov's 13-11 victory in the new 24-game struggle that ended in Moscow this past weekend, their duel may not yet be over!

About these ads

Indeed, because of a rules change in effect for this match, Kasparov could have to risk his newly won crown in a rematch starting just three months or so from now. That would set up the possibility of still another superlative -- the dubious distinction of winding up with the shortest reign of any champion -- though of course he could prevent that from happening by winning or drawing the return match. And in any case, this whole controversial question is still up in the air at the moment.

Many observers oppose the rematch rule, which was in effect in the 1950s and early 1960s but then dropped as unfairly favoring the champion.

At the news conference following his victory, Kasparov also criticized the rematch provision, calling it ``strange'' that he had to give the defeated titleholder a second chance whereas Karpov would have been under no such obligation had he retained the crown.

Replying to a question about the rule, Kasparov said he was always ready to play, but called it ``unfair'' and offered his opinion that such a match would not be good for the players or for the game of chess.

The question of whether Kasparov might go even further and try to wield his new influence as champion to modify the existing rules for this cycle was not immediately known -- and in fact might not be necessary depending upon Karpov's feelings on the matter. The dethroned champion has not yet made any public statement concerning a rematch, and those close to him seem uncertain as to his wishes. One aide told reporters in Moscow that he thought Karpov would definitely demand a return match, but another r eport in Moscow said the dethroned champion had been advised not to undertake another such gruelling struggle so soon.

The match that just ended was actually the continuation of the 1984 championship contest, which began in September of that year under different rules in which the title was to go to the first player to win six games. Karpov won four of the first nine games and appeared ready to make short work of his young challenger. But Kasparov switched tactics from the fiery aggression for which he is known to a more defensive stance calculated to wear the slim, frail-looking champion down.

The strategy worked, too, as a record-breaking series of draws ensued. Karpov won one more game to take a 5-0 lead, but the gruelling ordeal eventually wore him down and Kasparov was ready to pounce. He won one game along the way, then took the 47th and 48th games in succession as Karpov's play looked more and more feeble. At this juncture, International Chess Federation FIDE President Florencio Campomanes halted the match on the ground that everyone concerned was exhausted. The action was criticized in many quarters as favoring Karpov, but Campomanes has always insisted that he acted strictly in the best interests of the game. And indeed, as he pointed out last weekend, the higher quality of play and overall excitement generated by the second match seemed to justify his decision.

About these ads

The new match was limited in length to 24 games, with the champion to retain his title in the event of a 12-12 tie. Kasparov shocked the titleholder by winning the very first game, but Karpov took the fourth and fifth contests to move in front. After a series of draws, the challenger evened the count by winning Game 11, then in Game 16, playing the black pieces, he sacrificed a pawn and scored a brilliant triumph that, as things turned out, put him in the lead for good. When Kasparov also won the 19th g ame to go two points up with five games to play, the match appeared all but over. Karpov rallied, however, holding a couple of difficult positions for draws with the black pieces and winning once with white to take it down to a 24th and decisive game on Saturday. Another win with the white pieces would have salvaged his title via a drawn match, but Kasparov, who needed only a draw to clinch the crown, defended skillfully in an exciting game and eventually even won it in brilliant fashion to finish with a tw o-point margin.

For Karpov, the defeat ended a reign which began in 1975 when he won the challenger's role, then took the title by default when American Bobby Fischer -- who had defeated Boris Spassky three years earlier -- declined to defend in a dispute with FIDE over match rules. Karpov defended his crown twice against Soviet defector Viktor Korchnoi, in 1978 and 1981, and then in the 1984 match against Kasparov which spilled over into this year.

Kasparov, who burst upon the chess scene as a child prodigy, won the Soviet youth championship at age 13 and at 17 became the second-youngest player (after Fischer) to achieve the title of International Grandmaster. His reputation grew so quickly that despite his youth, he was favored to become the 1984 challenger, and he justified that role by defeating Korchnoi and former world champion Vassily Smyslov to earn his chance at Karpov.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.