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Beating Back A Game Challenge
William Nack
October 13, 1986
Anatoly Karpov played valiantly in their Leningrad showdown, but Gary Kasparov outlasted his rival to retain the world chess championship
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October 13, 1986

Beating Back A Game Challenge

Anatoly Karpov played valiantly in their Leningrad showdown, but Gary Kasparov outlasted his rival to retain the world chess championship

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Outside the lecture room, the hallway was hung with boards depicting the history of the chess club. They revealed that the palace had produced eight grand masters, and the honor role included the names of Taimanov and Spassky. Notably absent from the role was a ninth grand master who had studied there as a child—Viktor Korchnoi, who twice challenged Karpov for the world title. But he defected to the West in 1976 and for that he has been condemned in the Soviet Union to the status of "nonperson" and thus stricken from official memory.

"Not a good example for children," said a Soviet press attaché.

Not so in Taimanov's case. "The Young Pioneers determined my chess life," said Taimanov, who studied as a young man at the palace under three-time world champion Mikhail Botvinnik. "Botvinnik gave impetus to his students.... When I became a grand master I tried to pay this back. I taught at the club after the war. Spassky was one of my pupils. He was about 10 years old when he started, a chess genius. So I can say, 'One generation gives to another generation.' Lenin had a good definition of chess. It is the key to understanding the game's role in the Soviet Union. He said, 'Chess is the gymnastics of the mind.' " Lenin was a chess buff and encouraged it after the revolution.

Korchnoi might be unremembered, but Bobby Fischer certainly is not. The American is regarded with awe by Soviet chess fans. At the palace, in fact, Fischer's picture appears with those of a host of Soviet world champions. Next to his picture, he is quoted as saying, "Chess is a struggle in which the expenditure of strength can only be justified by victory."

Still, the struggle between Karpov and Kasparov will be remembered in no small part because of Karpov's remarkable resurgence. In the 17th game, playing black, Kasparov had resorted to the Gruenfeld Defense, his old reliable since the beginning of the match. By now, he was coasting on his big lead, 9½-6½, and yet it was also obvious to those watching that Karpov and his seconds had solved the puzzle of the Gruenfeld and that Kasparov had grown lackadaisical. He resigned without a fight.

Game 18 was especially memorable. Kasparov played well early in the game but got into time trouble and found himself with just seven minutes left for 13 moves. As if to underscore his tenacity, Kasparov rose from his chair and took off his coat after his 29th move, obviously telling Karpov that the fight had just begun. No matter. Kasparov blundered three times after that, turning a winning position into a losing one, and Karpov won again to draw within a point.

In contrast, Karpov won the third game in a row, not because of Kasparov's mistakes, but rather by his own sheer excellence of play. "A fantastic game by Karpov," said Gert Ligterink, a Dutch international master. "It was perfect. This game was like a symphony; it was Karpov's best of the match. Kasparov was completely outplayed, obviously dejected by the two losses that had preceded it."

But then, after the two draws had made the score 10½-10½, Kasparov at last composed himself and regained the offensive. In the long 22nd game, the second day's play opened with Kasparov's sealed move—a knight's attack on Karpov's king—that was so bold and brilliant that after the referee announced the move, the crowd, utterly silent in anticipation, rose and cheered. They realized at that instant that the game—and certainly, too—the match, was Kasparov's. Sure enough, on Monday, Kasparov, working carefully for the draw, played the challenger even to gain the final half point and assure the defense of his title. The struggle was over at last, but this time, even without victory, the strength that Karpov had put into the match had certainly been justified.

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