Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov will renew their rivalry at the board in Valencia, Spain tomorrow to mark the 25th anniversary of their first world championship match. They will play two days of two rapid games each and a third day with eight blitz games. The official site is here. Being a Spanish chess site we can pretty much assume it will be un wreck de tren. [There are reports of the official site being "hacked," as apparently some people are getting an ad page. But that's just a host's parking placeholder, not a malicious act. They either moved servers very recently, screwed up DNS propagation, or someone in the chain of registrar-host-server admin screwed it up or set a very slow TTL. If it's just a recent server move it will fix itself as the world's DNS servers update their caches. Try a hard browser refresh, too. Not to be paranoid, but there's a chance this sort of behavior could be caused by a DDOS attack on the site (common against Kasparov's political news sites like the one I run), but no way to know that from the outside.] Let's just hope the live games function. Both players give simuls on Monday evening. The play dates are the 22-24 and the games begin quite late, 7pm local time, 1pm EDT. Rapid time control is the standard 25'+5" and the blitz is 5'+2".
I'll try to toss up some of the piles of coverage coming out in the Spanish press. There have already been several good interviews. As often happens, they feel freer to cut loose with the international mainstream press. (Karpov: "If the 1984 match hadn't been played in the USSR I would have won easily." Also, "I don't care [that I've fallen out of the top 100] because I know I can beat any of the top 100 players. The difference is they dedicate all of their time to chess and I do not.") Some more culled tidbits: The match is part of "Valencia: Birthplace of Modern Chess," with several days of symposiums. Yuri Averbakh and Lothar Schmid are two participants you'll know. Sulaiman Al Fahim, president of the UAE chess federation and all-round rich guy, is one of the major patrons of the entire event and is there to watch the match. One rumor has it he's also there with some sort of chess-related business plan under his arm. He was tipped to be working on Linares 2010. Also, he might be trying to recruit Spanish football star Villa for the UK team Portsmouth he owns.
Karpov arrived well before Kasparov and has a formidable team of seconds: Riazantsev, Onischuk, and Bologan. He's been training on the Spanish coast for a week. Meanwhile, Kasparov just arrived Sunday from a session in Norway with Carlsen, but you know he's serious because his mother Klara is there! Much is being made in the Spanish press about how Karpov and Kasparov aren't staying at the same hotel and are avoiding seeing each other until the opening day. Both players have pointed out this is simply tradition. Dutch veteran arbiter Geurt Gijssen is overseeing the match. He was also the arbiter of the last two K-K WCh matches in 87 and 90.
Kasparov is the prohibitive betting favorite, which to me shows significant ageism. I'm not at all sure four years without pushing a pawn in anger is worth less than 12 years of age. Chess is about concentration and regular practice is required to maintain it. Plus, you just know these guys would get up for each other were they 92 and 80. Karpov hasn't been playing well, for Karpov, but at least he's been playing.
It's difficult to overstate the supremacy of Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov in their heyday and the impact of their five consecutive world championship matches. The first pawn in the saga was pushed on September 10, 1984, in Moscow. Karpov was the defending champion in his prime at 33. He had battled through the legends of the previous generation and completely dominated his peers. Until Kasparov arrived Karpov's only real competition was the specter of Bobby Fischer. By 1984 Karpov was the veteran of two bitterly contested world championship matches against Viktor Korchnoi -- not to mention long candidates matches against Polugaevsky, Spassky, and again Korchnoi.
Kasparov had been touted as a future championship contender since he was 10, though few imagined he would make it so far so fast. He tore through his much older candidates opponents. But he was no match for Karpov in 1984, that much became clear very quickly. In an unlimited-length match with the winner being the first to win six games, Karpov won four of the first nine without a loss. It was over and the only question was how long it would take for the chastened and punch-drunk Kasparov to succumb. The string of draws that followed were at first a curiosity, then a comedy, then a head-scratching record. 17 draws, from game 10 on October 8 to game 26 on November 12. Obviously Kasparov was just trying to survive, but why did Karpov also start to play cautiously? The prevailing theory on this is that Karpov wanted the clean sweep, the 6-0 humiliation that would scar his young challenger forever. It would also imitate the famous 6-0 scores of Fischer's candidates match victories, in a way matching the opponent Karpov was never able to face.
That looked even more likely when the month of draws ended with another Karpov win in game 27. Now it was 5-0. But after four more draws Kasparov finally won his first game -- after an incredible three months of play. (I've long said Kramnik shutting out Kasparov for 15 games in 2000 was one of the greatest feats in chess history. Obviously the man and the situation were very different in 84, but Karpov shut him out for 31 games!) I won't get too far into the various controversies and irregularities that occurred during and after the match, such as interrupting it for a state funeral. There are plenty of books and long accounts on the web for all the details. Suffice to say there were 14 more draws in a row and the match moved into 1985. The "who was more exhausted?" argument usually goes to the slighter and older Karpov, and the four very short draws he took with white during this stretch would seem to back that up.
Kasparov then won again, game 47 (!) at the end of January, but the score was still 5-2 in Karpov's favor. The match was then postponed for a week, providing plenty of fodder for conspiracy theories present and future. Karpov hadn't won since game 27 back in November and Kasparov clearly wasn't the same overconfident youth who had started his first world championship match nearly five months earlier. The slugger had become a boxer, courtesy of 47 intense personal lessons from the world champion -- an impression verified by Kasparov in Valencia, where in an El País interview he called Karpov "my great teacher." The extreme difference in their playing styles was a factor in this effect as well. Karpov's unique positional genius baffled just about everyone, but after so many games Kasparov had absorbed so much from his opponent he could finally grasp, even predict, his opponent's moves. Just how much he had learned would only become clear in future matches, as this first one, known forever as the Marathon Match, ended abruptly after Kasparov won again in game 48.
Football has Maradona's "Mano de Dios." American football has Franco Harris's "Immaculate Reception."(It hit the ground, god damn it!!) In 1985, the first Karpov-Kasparov world championship match saw the "The Termination." The players had rested for eight days after the 47th game. After the 48th, the score now 5-3 Karpov, the organizers announced a six-day break. On February 14 came this stunning announcement from FIDE president Florencio Campomanes: "The match is terminated without any announcement about the result. A new match will begin from a position of 0-0 on September 1, 1985."
The real epilogue to this was Kasparov winning that second match (limited to 24 games), and its very first game, and becoming, at 22 instead of 21, the youngest world champion ever. But at the time, and still today, The Termination is one of the most controversial events in the long history of chess and many things about it are still disputed. (Mostly revolving around whether or not Karpov had lobbied for or at least accepted the termination in advance.) Kasparov protested loudly, though he admitted later his chances of winning the match were still poor. But there's no simple answer to his question at the time, "if they are only concerned about the players' health, why are they canceling the match now and not when it was 5-1 two games ago?"
With such a launch, how could their rivalry fail to become one of the greatest in sports history? All the controversy in the world, however, can't substitute for chess quality. The five K-K clashes (84-85, 85, 86, 87, 90) were between two of the most dominant sportsmen ever. The quality of the chess, especially the 85 and 86 matches, was the highest ever reached at the time. Add the drama, especially Kasparov having to win the final game in 87 to draw the match, and you have a six-year span that established an entire era. I was a bit young to follow the first matches myself, but I do sort of pity those who missed it entirely -- and what "K-K" meant. Older folks might say much the same about the original K-K, Karpov-Korchnoi. Karpov himself said he never felt as motivated by Kasparov as by his "natural rival" Korchnoi. But it was Karpov and Kasparov, riding the waves of the the chess boom launched by Fischer, who turned chess into a multimillion dollar concern and put it onto front pages around the world. We're certainly seeing how much their names and rivalry still resonate today, as hundreds of news stories pour out from Valencia.
On that topic, I'll give Karpov, in an interview from Valencia, the last word:
"There are few sports in which a duel like Karpov-Kasparov is so well known around the world. We have a degree of popularity like Pelé y Maradona. Today, the players who are numbers one and two in the world are very good. But they lack the character that would allow them to cross over the borders of the game."
Macauley is in Valencia for the ICC and will be filing video reports and more at the Chess.FM blog.