Epic Kasparov-Karpov chess rivalry may have new chapters to come
Gary Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov have battled on virtually even terms through four world championship matches encompassing an incredible 120 games - and we still probably haven't seen the end of their rivalry. Indeed, no sooner had the latest duel concluded, with Kasparov pulling out a dramatic last-game victory to retain his crown, than chess enthusiasts began anticipating ``KK5'' when the title goes on the line again in 1990. For this to happen, Karpov will now have to fight his way through a series of qualifying matches. But that is what the former champion did to earn the challenger's role this time - and he is already predicting he'll be back again after barely failing in a 12-12 tie match which enabled Kasparov to keep the championship.
For now, though, the long and bitter series of duels between these two contrasting personalities goes on hold as the attention of the chess world turns to other competitions. Early next year 14 leading players (five from the USSR, two each from Hungary and England, and one apiece from the United States, Canada, Switzerland, Iceland, and the Netherlands) will gather in St. John, N.B., for the first in a series of elimination matches. Karpov, who as the most recent finalist is exempted from this round, will join the seven survivors in a series of ``Candidates' Matches'' over the next couple of years to determine the challenger.
Some people undoubtedly hope a new face will emerge, feeling that the ``KK'' matches have run their course and are getting monotonous. But while another such meeting might not have the popular appeal of one involving a fresh challenger, it would continue an amazing rivalry which has already made chess history by both its longevity and its closeness. Also, it would renew the perennial stories about how these two rivals represent such opposite poles in the Soviet spectrum.
Ever since Kasparov rose to prominence in the early 1980s, much has been made of the differences between the two - in personality, in chess style, and in politics. Indeed, they are far apart in all of these categories - Kasparov, the flamboyant, outspoken, media-conscious newcomer of Jewish and Armenian stock from Baku in the Republic of Azerbaijan, vs. Karpov, the ``establishment-type'' Muscovite. But wide apart as they are, the gap seems to grow even more enormous in the recounting by the media and in the perception of the public.
In chess, for example, Kasparov is indeed the greater risk-taker, but the popular image of a wild, kamikaze-type player is exaggerated, as is that of Karpov as a super-cautious automaton. Like all grandmasters, Karpov is fully capable of sharp play, and has played many games featuring sacrifices and brilliant attacks. Kasparov is similary capable of changing his style and playing it close to the vest when it suits his purposes.
Politically, Karpov is clearly the party-line type the Kremlin prefers, while Kasparov exhibits more individualistic qualities - such as his recent emergence as the first Soviet to star in a western TV commercial. But again, it is an exaggeration to think of one as practically a westerner and the other as an aloof ``Soviet Man.'' Both, in fact, speak excellent English, and the 36-year-old Karpov has appeared more open and relaxed lately, even commenting on the latest match for an American newspaper. On the other side of the coin, both have been members of the Communist Party since they were youths, and both have plenty of connections in high places.
As for their rivalry, nothing in chess history has approached it in terms of the number of games played at the championship level or the closeness of the competition.
Karpov, who won the title by default when Bobby Fischer declined to defend in 1975, had already defended it successfully twice against Soviet defector Viktor Korchnoi and was in the 10th year of his reign when Kasparov rose to the challenger's position in 1984.
Their initial contest was played under rules which said the winner would be the first to win six games. Kasparov played both recklessly and poorly in the early stages, falling behind 5-0. But here he showed his ability to change styles, launching a long period of ``siege warfare'' in which he concentrated on not losing while hoping to wear down his older opponent. The strategy worked, and after five months of play and 48 games, with the score now 5-3 but with Kasparov having just won two straight games and appearing stronger, the match was halted ``without result,'' in a controversial decision by International Chess Federation President Florencio Campomanes. Both players objected, but Kasparov was the biggest loser since the result left Karpov the champion.
The rules were changed for the next match, reverting to the 24-game format that had been in effect during the 1960s and '70s, and Kasparov won it, 13-11, to become the youngest champion in history at age 22. That didn't finish the matter, however, as the new rules also called for a rematch. So in 1986 they met again, and again Kasparov won, this time 12-11.
Then came this year's match in Seville, Spain, and again the two rivals proved evenly matched. Going into the 23rd game the score was 11-all (3 wins each and 16 draws). Karpov, knowing he had to win the match to regain the title, went all out in his final try with the advantageous white pieces and came through with a dramatic victory. That put the burden on Kasparov, since Karpov now needed only a draw, which is the most common result at this level. The champion was equal to the occasion, however, coming through with a brilliant victory of his own to salvage his title.
Adding this 1987 score to their previous matches, the two men have played 120 world championship games over a four-year period, with the score standing 60-59 in Kasparov's favor (17 wins to 16, with the remaining 87 games ending in draws).
You can't get much closer than that - which is one reason many people think that three years from now we will indeed find these same two foes sitting down to fight it out yet another time.