The competition between the two formidable Russians, Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov, has never been higher. A savage rivalry adds flavor to any sport, even if everything related to chess openings. Two fierce opponents, gifted and motivated, have produced many beautiful moments in sports.
You might anticipate the hardest punches conceivable when Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier fought in the boxing ring. Martina Navratilova’s serves had more venom than normal when she spotted Chris Evert on the opposite side of a tennis court. When Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna met on a Formula One circuit, they invariably drove each other insane. On a different sort of track, just seeing Sebastian Coe was enough to make Steve Ovett sprint for his life every time.
Even in chess, the gentlest of all games, there have been fierce rivalries, dating back to Wilhelm Steinitz and Johannes Zukertort’s first World Championship encounter in 1886. But there has never been a more ferocious competition than that between Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov, the two greatest Russians of all time. It was a long-running battle that spanned several decades and five World Championships.
The first of these championship matches took place in Moscow in 1984-85. The reigning champion was Karpov, 33, and the pretender was Kasparov, 21. Karpov had been the World champion since 1975, when Bobby Fischer declined to defend his title and won the championship without ever playing a game. He had shown that he was the top player in the world by defeating Victor Korchnoi in the World Championships in 1978 and 1981.
He wasn’t a prodigy, but he was a wonderfully consistent player who played with a conservative, solid approach. He was really difficult to overcome. Kasparov was a dedicated, aggressive, and innovative player. He had won the privilege to face the incumbent champion by defeating Alexander Beliavsky (6-3), Korchnoi (7-4) and Vasily Smyslov in the Candidates round (8.5-4.5). The match in 1984 had a lot of hype around it. But no one anticipated the match to go on for five months with no outcome. A total of 48 games were played in the longest World Championship match ever.
After the first two games were drawn, it was Karpov who drew first blood, winning the third game. He was in excellent form, winning the sixth and seventh games as well. He won the ninth game after a tie in the previous game. He was 4-0 after only nine games, and he only needed two more wins to maintain the title (the player who wins six games was to be the champion). Karpov appeared to be on his way to winning the match with ease. However, the younger guy resisted valiantly for the remaining 17 games, resulting in a tie.
Then Karpov won the 27th game, leaving him with only one victory between him and the title. Kasparov, on the other hand, was not willing to give him that, as he mounted one of the most spectacular comebacks in sports history. He battled back from the verge of defeat, which was only one loss away. He eventually tasted victory in the 32nd game after drawing the following four.
Momentum shifts and after a few more draws, Kasparov won games 47 and 48. Even though he was still down 3-5, his opponent appeared to be in trouble. The tide had swung in our favor. FIDE, the world chess governing body, intervened and called a halt to the match, claiming that both players were too exhausted to continue. Kasparov was obviously taken aback and expressed his anger during a press conference. He had good right to be disappointed. Karpov had always been the establishment’s favorite, whether it was FIDE or the government, and Kasparov had always been the outcast.
When the match was re-started seven months later in Moscow, the rebel hit back. It would be a best-of-24-games match this time, with Karpov prevailing in the case of a tie. Kasparov got off to a winning start in the new encounter. Karpov, on the other hand, won the fourth and fifth games in a row. Kasparov, on the other hand, drew level by winning the 11th game, bringing the score to 6-6 at the halfway point.
After a spectacular win in the 16th game, he took the lead. He won three games in a row to extend his advantage to two points. In the 22nd game, though, he made a mistake and lost. After the following game was drawn, he needed a draw to become the youngest World champion in history, at the age of 22. With a win in the last game, Karpov might still maintain his championship.
However, by winning the game, Kasparov was able to take the title in style. He had won the match by a score of 13-11. In the game of chess, a new superstar has emerged. In 1986, 1987, and 1990, the two titans faced off in three more World Championships, with Kasparov winning all three. They played 144 games in five World Championships. Karpov won 19 games, while Kasparov won 21. There were a total of 104 drawings.
In the foreseeable future, it’s difficult to envisage such a chess battle.