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"I was no Soviet black colonel," he grumbles. "I am a bull colonel. I like to horse around."
There's no horsing around over the board, however, for the Soviets view a chess championship as a crusade. Which was why, on the night of the first game, they all looked steely-eyed when Victoria Shepherd strolled in accompanied by two other members of Ananda Marga, all three dressed in flowing orange robes. Shepherd said that her conviction had been overturned and Dwyer was free pending an appeal.
"So now he brought her here to try to scare us," said a member of Karpov's entourage.
What she was really there for, Shepherd said, was to strengthen Korchnoi's mind and sharpen his powers of concentration through meditation. A week after she arrived, she said that Korchnoi lost the first two games because "the meditation he was doing made him too calm, too relaxed. It is fine for a Milano businessman with an ulcer, but it is no good for a man trying to win the world chess championship. He learned this from someone else. I am teaching him meditation that energizes, gives concentration, great willpower. When Viktor starts to win again, the Soviets are going to make a tremendous protest. It's going to get heavy here in November."
But for now, despite Shepherd, the Soviets could hardly be more confident. Korchnoi's listless performance has tended to draw attention away from the smooth, precise play that has characterized Karpov's games. Sitting in his hotel room one day last week, his fine-boned hands folded in his lap, he conveyed the calm of a man in control of things.
Karpov, in fact, has been in control for some time now, at least over the chessboard; he learned to play the game at the age of four. He was born in 1951, in the industrial city of Zlatoust, in the Urals, the son of an engineer. "A very intelligent man," Karpov said. "He was chief engineer at least 15 years. Only one pity: He had a lot of jobs and he spent only a small amount of time with the family. He taught me how to play. He was a great amateur player. I first beat him when I was seven. When I was 10 we stopped playing together. I became very strong."
It wasn't long before his reputation spread to Moscow. "We heard there was a little genius in the Urals," says Alexander Roshal, Karpov's press attaché, a chess master and teacher at the time of Karpov's discovery. "He was a chess master at 15. So we brought him to Moscow and we played. I lost one game, two, three. I said, 'I'm not playing too well—let's play tomorrow.' The next day, same thing. Karpov never said a word the whole time. I couldn't figure it out. Then he said, 'Couldn't it be that I'm just a better player?' "
At the time Karpov was so small that he had to stand up to play at a table. "We had to get a pillow for him," Roshal says.
One of Karpov's first teachers was Mikhail Botvinnik, a former world champion who played chess as if it were a science. He was the opposite of Mikhail Tal, yet another Soviet former world champ, master of attack. "I didn't know chess theories at the time," Karpov says. "And Botvinnik taught me that chess was a hard job. Chess, to me, is a combination of sports, mathematics and art. Possibly to somebody like Botvinnik, the scientific game is most important. With others it is the flights of fancy, the artistic, that is most important. To me the competition, the sport, is most important. I would say I have a universal style. I have had some good games that were attacking games and some that were positional games. I want to be a universal player because I want to play a Tal like Botvinnik and a Botvinnik like Tal. That way I can change the tempo of a game, change the style, change my personality as a player." Although Karpov is the world champion, there are those who regard Fischer as the most capable of all, perhaps the best that ever lived.
After he forfeited the 1975 championship match to Karpov, in a dispute over playing conditions, Fischer dropped out of view. He hasn't played a match in public since he defeated Boris Spassky for the world title in Iceland in 1972. Occasional sightings of Fischer are reported. Karpov says he has seen him twice. In 1977, while passing through Tokyo, he had lunch with Fischer in the Tokyo airport. "We talked about the possibility of a match," Karpov says, "but we had no success. We couldn't agree in full because he wanted to play till 10 wins. I didn't want that because 10 wins is a very long match. I wanted to play six wins." They met again later that year outside Cordova, Spain, where Karpov was playing a tournament. Again they could reach no agreement. Money was no problem. "We had a $3 million guarantee," Karpov says. Nor did they play chess. Not even a casual game, but they talked chess strategy, and at one point in Tokyo they pulled out pocket chess sets and analyzed parts of a Capablanca game.