I never thought I would see the day when former world chess Champions Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov are on the same side. Someone recently commented that in politics there are no permanent friends or enemies, just permanent interests. This seems to be very true and chess is no exception. In politics alliances are constantly being broken and formed. What is so big that could have united these once sworn enemies who are very much like chalk and cheese in many respects.
Karpov is bidding to become the first World Chess Champion to become Fide President since Max Euwe in 1978. Max Euwe presided over FIDE from 1970 to 1978. It was during the same period that the great Bobby Fischer won his match against Borris Spassky in 1972 and abandoned his title soon after despite Euwe’s efforts to facilitate a match with the challenger Anatoly Karpov. Karpov is seeking to unseat the incumbent president of Fide, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov who has indicated that he will contest the elections to be held at the 39th Olympiad in Khanty-Mansiysk in September this year.
PLAYING STYLES – For starters their playing styles, during their active days were very different. Kasparov was an attacking and aggressive chess player. His repertoire of openings was really for the attacking player, Sicilian Defence (he mainly played the Najdorf which is probably the sharpest line, possibly together with the Dragon, the King Indian Defence. Karpov on the other hand was renowned for his positional play. His choice of openings such as the Queen’s Indian, Queen’s Gambit, English Opening reflected this. He was predominantly a Queen’s Pawn opening player. Given a choice he preferred simple plans to complex ones. In this respect Karpov’s play was reminiscent of the great Capablanca who generally chose the simplest way to win. When Kasparov and Karpov played the same openings such as the Ruy Lopez their treatment of it was very different.
PERSONALITY – Nigel Short once described Karpov as cold and calculating. On the board Karpov was restrained, showing very little emotion over the board. On the other hand Kasparov had a reputation for intimidating opponents with his conduct at the board. Sometimes he would huff and puff like a dragon, indeed a restless character on the board. Their mannerisms over the board in a way seemed to mirror the nature of the game. The confrontational and direct approach from Kasparov against the patient and positional approach from Karpov. Off the board Kasparov was an outgoing character who was in the media a great deal. He played several matches against computers including Deep Thought, Deep Blue, Fritz and Deep Junior. I am not aware of any matches computer match by Karpov during his tenure as World Champion.
ORIGINS – Both are Russians but the similarities seem to end there. Karpov hails the Urals region of the former Soviet Union while Kasparov was born in in Baku, Azerbaijan , Soviet Union; now Azerbaijan, to an Armenian mother and Jewish father.Kasparov has considered himself to be also Armenian, Jewish and Azerbaijani. Both players passed through the hands of Mikhail Botvinnik at his chess school.
CLARITY and COMPLEXITY – It would appear that Karpov sought positions and play that offered the most clarity even thought it presented the least winning chances. Kasparov on other hand would readily plunge a game into complexity even though that could compromise his chances of winning.
THE FAVOURITE and HATED ONE – When Anatoly was world champion he enjoyed the support of the state, then Soviet Union. Kasparov however, was viewed with suspicion and had the odds stacked against him in his quest to become world champion. During the aborted 1984 – 85 World Championship between Karpov and Kasparov, the World Championship Match was stopped without explanation by the late Florence Campomanes. At the time Karpov was leading the match but the momentum had swung in Kasparov’s favour.
POLITICAL VIEWS – Kasparov and Karpov have had very different political views. Karpov was a staunch supporter of the ruling party, the Kremlin in his country. Kasparov, typical of the risks he took on the chess board, took on the president Vladimir Putin. He formed the United Civil Front movement, and joined as a member of The Other Russia, a coalition opposing the administration of Vladimir Putin. It remains to be seen whether the Kasparov – Karpov partnership will be a long lasting one or like most alliances in politics change as the situations and circumstances change. Will they remain on the same side? Only time will tell.