Tuesday 22 February 2005

Archive: UNCUT! 36

The Sean Marsh Chess Column

*Column 36*
* *February 2005* *

Dear Readers,

I urge chess players everywhere to go out and buy one – or all – of the four volumes of Gary Kasparov’s ‘My Great Predecessors’. In fact, you don’t even need to go out to do it – just a couple of internet clicks and you can buy them from the comfort of your own home.

There is little doubt the Kasparov books will go down in history as milestones, crammed full of expert analysis and stimulating views.

I have no doubt that Volume 4 will be the most popular volume to date, as it covers the great Bobby Fischer.

It will probably be the one most people scrutinise in depth and I’d be surprised if it didn’t end up being the best selling one of the whole series and should go on to become one of the best selling chess books of all time.
It is hard to escape the cult of the Fischer personality even now, so many years after he first of all quit serious chess and then turned away forever from classical chess as we know it. Reading the Kasparov book brings several unanswered questions with the usual quota of mystery and intrigue normally to be found surrounding the most enigmatic of all chess champions.
Kasparov hints several times that Fischer had a genuine fear of Karpov, who was improving at a terrifying pace. It is correctly pointed out that Karpov would have been completely immune to all of the standard Fischer tricks, all the mind games regarding the lighting, the carpets, the cameras etc.
This is borne out by the way the 12th World Champion coped with his incredible title defences with Korchnoy in 1978 and 1981. It is very hard to appreciate, more than 20 years on, how intense those matches were and how vital it was for Karpov to uphold the honour of the USSR against the dreaded, outspoken defector.
Against Fischer, Karpov would have followed the letter of the FIDE law to the first dotted ‘i’ to the last crossed ‘t’. He would have quite happily stood his ground and claimed the match if Fischer had found an excuse to threaten to quit the match ‘unless…’. It seems a little strange that Fischer would later negotiate with Karpov for a match, having conceded his FIDE title and defaulted his Candidates’ place, especially as with each passing year Karpov gained in strength. He was making tournament success look a little too easy and it was a sensation when he lost any game at all.
Maybe part of Fischer still loved chess and desperately wanted to be back where he belonged - playing for the ultimate title. Yet pride was never going to allow him to drop back into the Candidates cycle which left only one route - a straight match with Karpov. If he was reluctant to play him in 1975, he would have even more reason to avoid him in the latter part of the decade. Perhaps everyone involved in the negotiations knew - albeit subconsciously - that there would ultimately be an insurmountable point of dispute.
It is very sad that Fischer’s later comments regarding Karpov (and Kasparov) should be ludicrous ramblings about ‘Fixing every move of every game’.
A final point. It is a fact that the might of the whole Soviet chess machine was working for Spassky in the run up to the 1972 match (see the wonderful book: ‘Russians v Fischer’) but it is also known that Spassky was very lazy and didn’t put the work of others to good use.
There is no doubt whatsoever that Karpov would have embraced the work of the team and this would have given him excellent chances of success. Fischer would have realised this - was it another factor in his withdrawal from the scene? What do readers think on the subject of Fischer v Karpov? How about a little debate in the forum of this very site?

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