Features May 23, 2014 | 9:58 PMby Colin McGourty

Karpov prepares for Fischer

The 12th World Chess Champion Anatoly Karpov today turned 63. Although he still makes rare appearances at the chessboard his 10-year reign as undisputed champion began almost 40 years ago in 1975, when Bobby Fischer forfeited the title. A Russian documentary team followed Karpov back then as he prepared for a match against Fischer, and we bring you a full transcript of the 20-minute film. Don't miss fascinating footage of Tigran Petrosian playing blitz, Karpov's first press conference as champion and much more.


Anatoly Karpov in the Bundesliga earlier this year, still going strong 39 years after he became World Chess Champion | photo: Georgios Souleidis 

Despite famously claiming it wasn't his cycle, young Soviet hope Anatoly Karpov won Candidates Matches against Lev Polugaevsky, Boris Spassky and Viktor Korchnoi to qualify for a showdown against America's Bobby Fischer in 1975. The reigning champion, however, hadn't played a game after winning the "Match of the Century" clash against Spassky in Reykjavik in 1972.

The documentary was filmed after Fischer had resigned his title in June 1974 when his initial terms for the match were rejected. The World Chess Federation (FIDE) Congress in March 1975 accepted Fischer's demand that the first to 10 wins match would be unlimited in length, but narrowly voted against his wish that a 9-9 draw would see him hold onto the title. After that it was unclear whether Fischer might still accept the new offer, so all the weight of the Soviet chess machine was thrown behind Anatoly Karpov.

The following documentary provides a behind-the-scenes glimpse of a crucial moment of chess history:

Part 1

Outside in Tula 

Children play outside in the snow in Tula, an industrial city 120 miles south of Moscow. The sign above the building entrance says Tula Gingerbread – one of the things Tula is known for.

31 December 1974, Tula

Karpov at home with his parents

Anatoly Karpov lights a candle on a Christmas tree. Champagne is opened as his family celebrate the New Year.

Voice-over (0.16-1.06): 23-year-old Leningrad University student Anatoly Karpov saw in the New Year as the World Championship Challenger, the winner of three Candidates Matches against leading world grandmasters. He saw in the New Year in Tula, where his mother and father live. 

Anatoly learned to play chess at the age of 4, at 11 he became a candidate master, at 15 a master and at 19 a grandmaster. Karpov has won the European Championship and World Olympiad. He’s won some of the strongest international tournaments in Moscow, Hastings, San Antonio, Leningrad, Madrid, beating ex-World Champions Petrosian, Smyslov, Tal and the best foreign players, Andersson from Sweden, Byrne from the USA, Portisch from Hungary, Hort from Czechoslovakia, Larsen from Denmark, Mecking from Brazil, Hübner from West Germany, Uhlmann from East Germany… (voice fades out)

Karpov to camera (1:09-1:23): In general, I have to say that even when I became World Junior Champion I still wasn’t sure about devoting myself to chess. Could I do that or should chess be something secondary? It was only when I became a grandmaster at 19 that I realised I had the right to take chess completely seriously.

Training camp

Anatoly Karpov: Screenplay – A. Samoilov, Director – N. Boronin, Cameraman – M. Mass, Soundman – M. Podtakuj, Editor – T. Yanson

Semyon Furman (1920-1978): As the trainer who coached Anatoly Karpov to the World Championship Semyon Furman’s place in chess history is ensured. Although a late developer, he became a very strong player in his own right. Born in Pinsk, Belarus, he had to wait until he was 46 in 1966 to finally receive the grandmaster title, but over the course of his career the players he beat included World Champions Smyslov, Petrosian, Spassky and Tal. He was an opening specialist (sometimes known as “the World Champion when playing White”), and developed into a formidable trainer. He worked with Bronstein, Botvinnik and Korchnoi, before first assisting the 17-year-old Karpov at the Soviet Team Championships in 1968 (Karpov scored 10/11). Karpov moved from Moscow to Leningrad to be nearer his coach, who proved crucial as Karpov climbed the chess heights in the 1970s. Furman’s death from stomach cancer in 1978 was a blow to Karpov both in personal and chess terms, coming in the same year as the World Championship defence against Viktor Korchnoi.

Karpov and his coach, Semyon Furman, walk along a corridor. They enter a room where Efim Geller is playing a video game (Indy 500!). Karpov greets the seated Valery Krylov and jokingly says: “Efim Petrovich is at work…”, before saying good morning and talking to Geller.

This film was shot during the period A. Karpov was preparing for the match to decide the World Championship title

Karpov to camera (2:03-2:45): Today chess, in my opinion, is a fusion of science, art and sport, and each player, each chess personality in general, sees one side suits him, puts the emphasis on that and tries to develop it i.e. for some chess is more a sport, for some it’s more an art and for others it’s more a science. For me, sport nevertheless stands a little bit above art and science.

Karpov and Vaganian play blitz

A. Karpov - R. Vaganian, International Grandmaster: blitz training

Rafael Vaganian (1951-): The hugely talented Armenian grandmaster is five months Karpov’s junior and also became a grandmaster at what for the time was the unusually early age of 19. Over the course of his career he went on to win numerous major tournaments, including the Soviet Championship of 1989. He was arguably the world number 3 in the mid-1980s, and was rated 2670 as recently as January 2005. His current rating is 2571.

The players tease each other a little during the game. Furman is smoking, and Karpov complains saying “Semyon Abramovich!” His coach takes a last draw and snubs out the cigarette.

Karpov (3:55-4:17): There's an element of struggle – a struggle not only with your opponent, but maybe even for some people it’s more a struggle with themselves. Some chess players say that in order to win a game above all you need to beat yourself.

The flag drops in the blitz game.

Karpov (4:45-5:10): A lack of time – that’s the bane of our century. It’s a very difficult problem, and of late the solution has been to reduce the time for rest. That leads to exhaustion, of course, and it’s undesirable. Everything depends on when spring comes, but in general, of course, spring will come. (laughs)

Karpov answers the telephone

Karpov rushes down some stairs to pick up a telephone.

End of March 1975, near Moscow

Voice-over (5:12-5:34): While we were shooting this film preparation for the match was going on as normal. At the time FIDE had accepted almost all of Fischer’s demands: the location of the match, the line-up of arbiters, playing to ten wins without a limit on the number of games. On 31st March, Karpov sent a telegram to the FIDE President confirming his readiness to play even under those conditions. Now it was up to Fischer.

Karpov in a birch forest with Valery Krylov

Karpov (5:59-6:15): Chess is almost everything in life for me, and I try to plan my time so as to devote almost all of it to the interests of chess.

The bird song and silence is interrupted by Furman beeping the car horn. Karpov is then driven through a classic Soviet urban landscape to a stamp shop (the sign reads “Filatelia”).

Karpov (6:24-6.43): Chess is, above all, creativity, and the worst thing possible is to become a chess automaton. To prevent that happening at certain points you need to get away from chess, to do something else and distract yourself from it.

Karpov enters a stamp shop, talks to the shop assistant and gives autographs.

Part 2

Karpov signs some more autographs, wondering why the boy wants him to put his signature on a stamp. He then asks about a full collection of stamps for 1974 or 1973, saying he needs it as a present. The seller replies that he’ll have 73 in May, with an exhibition planned for May 8th.

Opening preparation with Furman and Vaganian

Karpov (0.48 – 1.02): Before working with Furman I knew opening theory very badly, but Furman helped me to eliminate those gaps. After that I was able to work on my own.

The players discuss an opening line. At one point Karpov turns to Vaganian to remark (ironically): “The game of chess is a dangerous game”. Karpov claims Furman’s play makes no sense and when Furman finally concurs with, “so I made a mistake,” Karpov responds, “of course you made a mistake!”

Karpov (1.56-3.24): Sometimes I’m accused of approaching chess too rationally, even drily. At the forefront of all chess performances is the sporting result. Of course on the inside chess players also have another aspect in mind – beauty – but everyone still tries to post the best sporting result. Therefore there are situations where in order to achieve better sporting results you perhaps have to neglect chess beauty. Sometimes, in critical positions, you take less time than necessary so as not to get so tired, to continue playing the game at the highest level, to save time.  For some reason the word “rationality” has a very narrow meaning for many people, even a negative meaning, but as I understand it rationality is the ability to make the best possible use of the time and energy available to you.

Karpov plays billiards

At one point while lining up a pot he says “it’ll go” (it doesn’t).

Karpov (3.58-4.35): In general chess, as I see it, as it’s seen by people who know chess well, might even be called a very cruel form of sport; a cruel form of sport because two players sit down and one has to defeat the other, while in other types of sports – team sports – the burden of losing and the joy of winning are spread out among the whole team. Here a man, a player, must deal with it all himself, without outside help.

Tigran Petrosian plays Vaganian at blitz  

Ex-World Champion T. Petrosian

Tigran Petrosian (1929-1984): Also of Armenian descent, Petrosian was a phenomenally successful grandmaster. He beat Botvinnik to claim the World Championship title in 1963 and defended the title against Spassky in 1966 before finally losing to the same player in 1969. His tactical brilliance and blitz prowess somewhat belied a reputation for dour defence.

Furman sits to the right of Petrosian while Karpov stands. It may be Mikhail Tal sitting on Vaganian’s left (in any case he was among those helping Karpov prepare for the match). Petrosian maintains a steady stream of trash-talk. His comments include (very roughly):

Petrosian (4.39-5.49): Ok. I’ll take on f5. He didn’t see it. What did you say? It’ll be a draw. Ohhh, so look what a darling you turned out to be. You want to declare perpetual check. Against me? What should I do? Well, maybe it’s a mistake, but I’ll take it. Why give a sucker a chance? 

Semyon Abramovich, what do you think? Why did that young man chirp up like that? I can say that in my view, as someone 20 years older… How should we interpret that? Nowadays people calculate variations, while in the past they’d sacrifice, give check and then look at what they’d sacrificed. They felt that if there was nothing there then the game of chess would be incorrect.

Karpov (5.50-6.40): Apart from that a chess player lands blows – to put it bluntly, blows to the head – it’s much tougher than physical pain. The loss of a game is a deeper blow than to the face or head in boxing. It’s something more internal. Externally everything passes quickly, maybe there’s a bruise, or maybe not even that. Inside – it’s very hard to take, and again if someone’s focused only on chess then it’s much, much more difficult for him.

Karpov and Krylov play tennis as Karpov learns he’s the new World Champion

Valery Krylov: Krylov first worked as a masseur for the USSR basketball team, before assisting Karpov as a physiotherapist and psychologist for many years. Initially he was tasked with trying to narrow the gulf between Bobby Fischer and Karpov when it came to physique. In an interview for Sport Express Krylov memorably described the Karpov he first encountered: “He weighed 57 kg. After five squats he became dizzy. In the swimming pool he’d swim eight meters doggy paddle and then sink to the bottom”. After Karpov entered semi-retirement Krylov went on to work with Vladimir Kramnik, accompanying him to the matches against Garry Kasparov in London in 2000 and Veselin Topalov in Elista in 2006. He also found time to set up his own sport, the (American) Indian Biathlon.

Voice-over (6.44-7.01): Fischer was supposed to have until 24:00 on 1st April to confirm his readiness to defend the World Championship title, but Fischer remained silent. FIDE President Max Euwe extended that deadline until 11:00 on 3rd April. If no confirmation came from Fischer then Anatoly Karpov would be declared the World Champion.

Part 3

Voice-over (0.05-0.11): It was a normal training day for Karpov. It started at the chessboard and continued on the tennis court.

3 April 1975

Chess journalist and author Iakov Damsky interrupts the tennis:

Damsky (0.37-0.49): Can you spare a moment? I can’t go onto the court. I want to congratulate you because 20 minutes ago you were declared World Champion.

Karpov (0.48-0.51): Thank you!

Damsky (0.51-0.57): That’s the first thing, and then secondly, for the sake of millions of TV viewers, could you play another five minutes more tennis. Nothing too serious.

Karpov (0.58): I can't...

Damsky (0.59-1.03): I can see you’re half-dead, but now you’ll get at least two weeks rest!

Karpov (1.03): Yes, of course.

Damsky (1.04): So you’ll play, ok?

Damsky (1.11-1.18): Anatoly, Dr. Euwe delayed the announcement that you were World Champion by another day. How did you get through the night?

Karpov (1.18-1.23): Absolutely calmly. It didn’t affect my sleep or my state at all.

Damsky (1.23-1.25): Your nerves are so good?

Karpov (1.25-1.26): So far I’ve got nothing to complain about.

There follows footage of Karpov swimming to the accompaniment of radio broadcasts from around the world conveying the news of his title.

Voice-over (2.16-2.36): Karpov being declared World Champion was a fitting culmination of his sporting achievements. Twice, in 73 and 74, he was named the world’s best player and given the gold Oscar. Millions of Soviet chess fans congratulate Anatoly Karpov and wish the World Champion great new successes.

The official World Championship ceremony

Moscow, Pillar Hall, House of Unions

Max Euwe congratulates Karpov and puts a laurel wreath around his head

Karpov gives his first press conference as World Champion

Viktor Baturinsky (3.30-3:40): Would you agree, voluntarily, to defend the World Championship title in 1976 against Fischer under FIDE conditions? Those are all questions from the DPA [the German Press Agency].

Karpov (3.41-4.34): You see what the issue is. In general Fischer has brought chaos to the chess world. There’s a clear, well thought-out and organised system by which the World Champion is decided, and once every three years the World Champion is obliged to defend his title. He’s obliged to maintain order in the whole chess world. 

First press conference of the 12th World Champion

Journalist (4.35-4.49): What provoked you to state your desire to play a match against Fischer, when he might end up beating you and thereby confirm his thesis about a so-called “paper champion”?

Karpov (4.50-5.11): It’s funny to talk about a “paper champion” as that term better fits Fischer, who since winning the World Championship title in 1972 hasn’t played at all and was, in effect, a paper champion. In general that’s a term thought up by Edmonson [Ed Edmonson was in charge of the US Chess Federation], because he had nothing else he could say.

Journalist (5.13-5.23): Do you think ex-World Champion Fischer will ever again return to the chess world, or is it your opinion that he’s lost for that world?

Karpov (5.24-5.51): It all depends on Fischer’s state at the moment, and what motivations he had for refusing to defend his title. If he wasn’t ready in chess terms that’s one thing, but if he simply wasn’t in any fit state to sit down at a chessboard then that’s another matter entirely. Everything depends on that.

Journalist (5.52-5.58): Anatoly Yevgenyevich, you said that you have a lucky charm and that it’s a secret. Can you now reveal it?

Karpov (5.58-6.02): That’s something I won’t reveal until my career’s over.

Leningrad Documentary Films Studio, 1975

Sort by Date Descending Date Descending Date Ascending Most Liked Receive updates

Comments 3

Guest 12938920979
Join chess24
  • Free, Quick & Easy

  • Be the first to comment!


Create your free account now to get started!

By clicking ‘Register’ you agree to our terms and conditions and confirm you have read our privacy policy, including the section on the use of cookies.

Lost your password? We'll send you a link to reset it!

After submitting this form you'll receive an email with the reset password link. If you still can't access your account please contact our customer service.

Which features would you like to enable?

We respect your privacy and data protection guidelines. Some components of our site require cookies or local storage that handles personal information.

Show Options

Hide Options