Anatoly Karpov's 2007 Ukrainian TV interview. Part 1: Fischer and Korchnoi

Nov 26, 2014, 1:58 PM |


There was always much more politics than sports in the Soviet chess. For the ruling Communist regime, chess has become a symbol of unrivaled intellectual prowess. The whole big country, from Moscow to farthest fringes, would fervently watch TV and listen to the radio during the World Championship matches, everyone knew basic chess terms. Sometimes curious things happened; once the deputy of the Supreme Soviet chairman Podgorny, for instance, called the sports commentator [Vadim] Sinyavsky and asked emotionally, "Nikolay Viktorovich couldn't record the location of the White Rook, could you please repeat?"

In the early 70's, a new star arrived at the world chess arena - Anatoly Karpov. Multiple-times World Champion, winner of 11 Chess Oscars and one of the first official Soviet millionaires, he's also the subject of various fans' legends (many of which are close to the truth...)

Brezhnev allegedly told him after he won the World Championship match in Baguio: "Now that you've won the crown, hold on to it!"

Satirist Arkady Arkanov called him, a bit spitefully, "the Hero of Socialist Labour of our time".

Two Soviet defence ministers offered to promote him to the rank of Colonel: first Grechko, then Ustinov. "Why make me a Colonel? I'm already a chess general", Karpov answered.

Anatoly Evgenievich did lose some battles in his life. In 1985, he was dethroned by a young, ambitious and defiand Garry Kasparov. At a time when Karpov was totally sure in his strength (and, believe me, he was a very cold-blooded man)!

During the first match against Kasparov (it was the longest one in chess history, lasting 5 months) Anatoly went to the play-off of the 27th game by car, which skidded on the icy road. He was lucky that the road was empty - the oncoming cars stopped at the red lights... Karpov's car turned around three times and stopped at the curb. The grandmaster and his driver caught their breath as they watched the cars passing by. "Are you all right?", Karpov asked his teeth-chattering driver. "Seems so", he answered. "Well, let's go." Karpov won the adjourned game and increased his lead to 5-0...

They say that Karpov believed in his luck too firmly, but his legendary self-control didn't help him against Kasparov. They played five World Championship matches, but Anatoly Karpov failed to win even one. Interestingly enough, in this confrontation, Garry presented himself as a progressive man of new formation, and dismissed his rival as careerist and CPSU favourite, even though Karpov joined CPSU only at the age of 28, already being the World Champion, while Kasparov did so at 18, still being a green rookie.

The indirect rivalry between the two K's continued until March 2005, when Kasparov announced his retirement from chess. But Karpov, despite being 12 years older, isn't going to retire yet. He spends only 3-4 months a year at home, still tours the world, opens chess schools for Russian children, gives simultaneous displays to prison inmates... "Since 1984, since those crazy matches against Kasparov, I've never rested for longer than 10 days", he admits. For 40 years in professional chess, the supergrandmaster played more than 2500 games and won 158 tournaments - that's an absolute record, and nobody is any close to beating it.

Sometimes it seems that the 55 years old maestro is still trying to prove something to... Kasparov? Himself? Others?

Recently, his fierce enemy, the frantic Viktor Korchnoi, grudgingly admitted: "I've done a lot to make Karpov infamous, but still, in Western Europe he's regarded higher than Kasparov, his reputation is better there..."


To be fair, Anatoly Evgenievich, it's amazing how a boy from a simple working-class family, born in a remote Ural town of Zlatoust (I've been there), would suddenly take up chess. Why?

I don't think that it's unusual: my father liked the game and taught me... My generation had a very rough childhood. My sister who's 5 years older remembers the post-War misery, and I was born in 1951, when life was slowly changing for the better. There was no hunger, shops were slowly filling with wares... My father enrolled into Bauman Moscow Higher Technical School - it organized post-War crash courses for new specialists that were in high demand.

He was sent there by the factory he worked at, so he received a worker's scholarship, but it still was small. He lived in Moscow, while we remained at Zlatoust; my mother, who had two little children, didn't work. She would sew some things and sell them privately, but I still can't understand how my father managed to make ends meet - he was sending most of his money to us. Of course, when he returned, our living improved: there were few specialists of his caliber available. My father climbed all the rungs of the hierarchy: he was a worker, a master, a shop superintendent, and when he returned to Zlatoust from Moscow, he was immediately appointed as a factory director.

In the evenings, I would watch my father playing chess with his friends, and I became fascinated with the game. At first, I used chess pieces as toys. I played war: Knights were cavalry, Rooks were artillery, etc...

Did you play Chapayev as well?

(Chapayev is a Russian name of a board game that involves knocking off your opponent's checkers or pieces from the board.)

Why not? This game is much more interesting to play with chess pieces than with checkers. I especially liked to watch how a Knight flies into the opponent's ranks: everything would be knocked around, and then it was easy to knock the pieces off the board. I played many games, but when I was 4 or so, my father started to explain the basics of chess to me. Interestingly, he would never checkmate me: he would restart the game and patiently explain everything to me again. When I was 7, my sister's friends and classmates would play me a lot.

Were you called a wonderkid?

(Smiles) There was probably no such term then, but when I was 5, I could count very well, in the elementary school I would count even better than the arithmetics teacher. School was relatively easy for me: memory didn't fail, and I was diligent enough. Though I can't say that I prepared my homework painstakingly: I did it quickly enough, wouldn't even learn the verbal homework...

I think that in the Soviet time, it was easier for someone talented to make it to the top because it wasn't so dependent on parents' wealth and connections. If a child showed exceptional talent, there was an open road to Moscow for him. Did you travel down such a road?

Well, I'm not so sure about a "road to Moscow", but, of course, they did try to support talented kids. I was very lucky with my patrons: they didn't help me with money, like now, but with more intangible stuff. I started to learn chess in earnest in the Metal Workers' Culture Palace, where it was very popular. The chess section would open immediately after the end of workday and close at 11-12 p.m. The cleaners would come and try to get us out, but we would still sit and play.

I've never went to tournaments with my parents, as it's customary now - my patrons would accompany me everywhere. First, to other towns in immediate vicinity, then even further. Since I was seven, mother and father would let me travel with club mates, and I have to thank the factory's director and chief engineer for giving leave to the workers to accompany me... You have to agree: letting the lead engineer to go with some kid to Chelyabinsk for half a month or to a Russian SFSR championship somewhere even further, that's some sacrifice.


You have entered the chess elite like a meteor, ending up first in Moscow, then in Leningrad. I've heard that when you first came to the infamiliar surroundings, you thought that Botvinnik, Korchnoi and Tal weren't real surnames, just stage pseudonyms. There were no such surnames in the Ural region?

Well, we did have some Jews, but not many, so those surnames indeed sounded unusual for me, and I actually thought that if there are pseudonyms in literature, why can't there be any in chess? (By the way, I didn't just meet Botvinnik - I've even enrolled into his school in the Moscow region). In my youth, there were no national problems in the Ural regions (I think it's still like that now). Russians, Ukraininans, Tatars, Bashkirs, Jews - everyone lived together, that wasn't an issue at all.

Zlatoust is an old Russian city, founded by industrialist Demidov, but on Bashkir territory. The toponymics are all Bashkir: Kasatur mountain, Ai river (Moon river), the highest Southern Ural mountain Taganai, which means "Moon's pedestal".

Vysotsky sang in his famous song "The Honour of the Chess Crown": "Schifer would employ tricks..." You were first declared a World Champion in 1975, without playing your predecessor, Robert Fischer. The situation was quite dramatic...

Let's begin from the start: in 1966, I've become the strongest young master in USSR, then I won the European youth championship (the 50's generation was very talented, many of them are still playing actively). Then I won the youth world championship, winning 8 last games of 11. At 19, I became the world's youngest Grandmaster; this title was much harder to get in the 1970's, norms were different. In 1971, I've won two major tournaments in Moscow and Hastings, and in the Candidates' cycle, I've eliminated Polugaevsky, Spassky and Korchnoi - they were among the strongest players of the era.

Why then Fischer refused to play with you? Were there any financial reasons?

No, quite the opposite: the prize fund was the biggest in the sports' history, $5 million. By the way, professional boxers should be grateful to chess. Do you remember Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier's match at Philippines for $10 million? Nobody's even dreamed about such a sum back then; the half of them was prize money from the unplayed Fischer vs. Karpov match. When Fischer refused to play me, Philippines gave those unneeded millions to boxers.

Did you want to play the great and powerful Bobby, or did you sigh with relief, "It doesn't matter that there's no match - I'm the World Champion!"?

I did want to play him, I prepared, but... By the way, I met Fischer for the first time in 1972.

What impression did he make on you?

We met only in passing: I wasn't allowed to go to the Fischer vs. Spassky match in the Iceland. The great chess player and chess scientist Vladimir Alexeevich Alatortsev sent a memorandum to the sports minister Pavlov: something along the lines, let's send Karpov to the Spassky vs. Fischer match as an intern. Pavlov wasn't handling such rountine assignments himself: he sent the paper to a deputy of his (I know who is it, but won't say the name), who declared, "Due to lack of short-term perspectives, I consider this inexpedient."

I first met Fischer in the U.S. - two months after he became the 11th World Champion. I played in a major tournament in Texas, and the organizers, of course, invited the biggest national star for the closing ceremony. Bobby came to the last round, greeted everybody, got acquainted with those he'd never met before, but didn't come to the ceremony. We'd hoped to meet him again, but he never came.

He had a very strange gait: he would walk sideways, like a bear. How do we usually walk? If we make a step with left leg, the right arm goes ahead, and vice versa, and Fischer would move arms and legs on on side, then on the other...

There's an opinion that many chess geniuses are not of this world, you know, a bit crazy...

Why only chess? Many geniuses were a bit crazy. Fischer, for instance, had three paranoias for his whole life. The first concerns the Jews: he was born in Brooklyn to a German father and Jewish mother. His mother Regina was from Odessa and spoke good Russian, and it would seem that he wouldn't become an antisemite, but look how this turned out. In the beginning of Bobby's career, his main rival was Samuel Reshevsky, an orthodox Jew, and Reshevsky's fellow Jews opposed Fischer strongly. Since then, he didn't consider himself a Jew and became an antisemite; also, as a true Yankee, he hated Communists and USSR. The third paranoia, anti-American, began when after a scandalous statement he wasn't allowed to return to his homeland, and recently, he'd become ridden with the fourth paranoia - anti-Japanese, after he wound up in a Japanese jail. Ultimately, he went into an exile, and Icelanders were very brave to grant him asylum.

Alas, Robert Fischer has become a problem not only for the U.S., but for the whole planet; nevertheless, his persecution is unfair, incorrect and ugly. I think that the Icelanders are heroes who saved both the world and a great chess player from that problem.


As far as I know, you had some kind of secret talks with Fischer, and the Soviet authorities knew nothing about that and were quite worried about where did Karpov go - didn't he defect...

...together with Korchnoi?

Yes, they took place approximately at the time when Korchnoi declared his intentions not to return to USSR?

In one day, hour, maybe, in the same minute even. I remember it very clearly: I met Fischer on 26th July 1976.

And you didn't tell anyone where you were going?

Of course not - our talks were secret. They began at 7 p.m. in Tokyo, and at 10 a.m. in Amsterdam, Korchnoi entered a police station and asked for asylum. There are nine hours between Tokyo and Amsterdam time zones, so it all happened simultaneuosly. The Soviet minister of sports could as well circle the date with a black marker twice, and leave a note: exactly at noon (Moscow time) Korchnoi defected in Amsterdam, and Karpov met Fischer in Tokyo.

Was it an accident, or?..

An accident, of course.

So, what kind of secret talks did you have?

We discussed conditions for our possible match... Of course, we couldn't have an official World Championship match at that point, but it was clear: no matter how the match would be named, it would be an undisputed championship match between two strongest and perhaps the most popular holders of this title in history.

This meeting with Fischer had dire consequences for me. I was almost declared a traitor to the USSR interests, accused of trying to sell the world title to Americans, etc. They even tried to prosecute me, compiled some dossiers, but eventually all calmed down.

How did Fischer speak with you? On equal terms, or was he looking down upon you?

Absolutely normally. He never allowed himself any arrogance when speaking about chess professionals, and, no matter what Bobby thought of me personally, he respected me as a fellow grandmaster. Since Tokyo, we have actually met numerous times, even in 1976.

After all these years, I can't understand only one thing: why I wasn't forbidden to go abroad for such an unsanctioned action. I remember saying that I was going to Spain and would probably meet with Fischer again. It was in August, less than a month since 26th July. They have reluctantly let me abroad, but warned that nobody supported the idea of a match against the American. Still, I haven't changed my plans. Upon returning, I told the higher-ups: yes, we did meet and discuss the match's organization. The talks continued in 1977 as well, in the U.S., but it was our last chance. The clock was ticking, soon I've had to play an official World Championship match. I didn't know whom I'd face, but I thought it would be either Korchnoi or Spassky.

Why did Fischer buy himself more and more time and ultimately didn't get to play you at all?

He feared for himself. During his entire great chess career, Bobby had one problem...

The fifth paranoia?

Perhaps. He feared to begin the competition. Chess players still don't have any tests to tell them whether they're in a good form, by the way. I can't tell it before I begin the tournament, but after the first game, I get a clearer idea. I think that Fischer had a similar understanding. Remember his match against Spassky: Bobby arrived 9 days late, played the first game badly, didn't come to the second game at all... He once quit an Interzonal tournament where he had a good score. (As far as I remember, he once left an Olympiad as well.) The fact is, Fischer was never sure of himself at the start. Only after a few games he would find his best playing and understand that he could basically give odds to anyone...

I read Fischer's latest interview and loved some thoughts so much that I even wrote them down. So, the quote: "The match between Karpov and Kasparov in 1984/85 was staged by CPSU and KGB. Kasparov and Karpov are liars and dealers, they should be jailed, like Khodorkovsky." Though Bobby was equally harsh towards his compatriots. "The vast majority of Americans are stupid, brainless pigs", he said. What an outspoken man he is...

(Laughs) Outspoken as the truth itself!

Do you think Fischer can still play chess today, or he's incapable?

It's hard to say. Firstly, time never waits, and, sadly, we all grow old. Fischer is 63 years old, nobody knows his current form. I think that it would be impossible to play classical chess with him, because his uncertainty really grew into a full-fledged mania. His own chess, now that's another matter...

The Fischer chess?

Yes, with computer-randomized position that prevents any home preparation. I like his idea, in a way.

To close the topic: would you be interested to meet him today?

Fischer was always very interesting and spontaneous, and I still respect him, no matter what he says about my match with Kasparov. (Smiles.) It's obvious that our first match with Garry, which took place in Moscow, ended abnormally, and recently, I got proof of that. Shortly before his death, Geidar Aliev admitted in an interview that he interfered, and interfered very roughly... The decision about stopping the Karpov vs. Kasparov match in 1985 was made under pressure from him and Yakovlev. I think that one of my greatest mistakes was agreeing to play Kasparov in the Soviet Union, because in no other country of the world the rules wouldn't be violated so blatantly. And, let me reiterate, I greatly respect Fischer and I'm very glad that he's finally free from all his non-chess troubles.


From Fischer, let's slowly go to Korchnoi. The entire world held its breath as it watched Baguio and Merano, the sites of 1978 and 1981 World Championship matches. In the USSR, Korchnoi's name was tabooed at the time, so the newspapers would say, "Anatoly Karpov played against the challenger." Those messages were more important for us back then than the reports from spaceports and drifting polar stations, let alone the agricultural news - everyone waited impatiently for each game's ending.

Many people thought that you embodied the Soviet system, so those who didn't particularly dislike Karpov but didn't like the Soviet Union (like me), of course, supported Korchnoi. Not many people know the unique history of your relationship. You were friends, your families were also on friendly terms, you even vouched for Viktor Lvovich when the authorities first suspected him in wanting to defect to the West, and he returned to the Soviet Union to not let you down, but defected next time...

All you said is the truth. Yes, we know each other for a very long time - ever since his simultaneous display in Chelyabinsk, where I, a schoolboy at the time, managed to draw him. In the beginning of my career, Viktor Lvovich helped me a lot... In the 1960's, my coach Semyon Abramovich Furman helped Korchnoi to prepare for the Candidates' matches. Later, they came apart for various reasons, but their wives were friends up until the death of Bella Korchnaya.

Bella helped me to transfer from the mechanics and mathematics faculty of Moscow State University to the economics faculty of Leningrad State University. When she learned about my problems, she asked her husband, and he talked to his friend Sergei Borisovich Lavrov - a great man who, sadly, died too soon. Academician, chairman of the USSR Geographical Society, he was the chairman of LSU's Party committee back then...

The situation was really stupid. In MSU, I was persecuted because I wouldn't transfer from CSKA to the students' sports society, Burevestnik. Before I became the youth world champion, they turned a blind eye, but when I showed my strength, they put a knife to my throat: if you don't transfer to Burevestnik, you won't be able to study further... They stripped me from the free attendance right, gave me very uncomfortable exam dates, even though I studied well...


No, no, no, everything was very serious. I fled to Leningrad, but the story repeated there as well. After that Pavlov, who was a very shrewd man, understood that there was a very big problem, and it needs to be solved. CSKA weren't the only ones who encountered problems, the same thing happened, for instance, to Trud and Spartak societies...

Finally, the points system was changed because of me. If, for instance, I played at the USSR Spartakiad or USSR Championship as a LSU member, then both CSKA, my sports society, and Burevestnik (since I was a student) would get points. This rule was put in place in 1970 to calm down Burevestnik.

And that's how you befriended Korchnoi?

I'd rather say "we got closer" - so close, in fact, that I played a secret training match with him at his home. Why secret? Viktor Lvovich was preparing for a Candidates' match against Geller, he was CSKA's leader, and I played for CSKA's youth team already; if the club knew that I was helping Korchnoi to prepare, they'd consider me a blackleg.

Still, Korchnoi had quite a personality! Before our match, he thanked me for agreeing to become his sparring partner and then said, "In my match against Geller, I'm interested in how to hold my own with Black, so I'll play all the games with Black". I agreed, but when Viktor Lvovich fared worse than he expected, he said, "You know, Anatoly, I've trained enough as Black, so I want to check out some ideas for White as well." This was against our agreement, but I was so interested in playing such a strong chess player that I didn't argue. Eventually, Korchnoi managed to draw the match: he won one game, and, to everyone's delight, our match ended 3-3.

After that he probably "liked" you even more?

(Smiles) Korchnoi was always a bad loser.

I heard that the first rift between you happened in 1974, when you were to play each other in the Candidates' match. You defeated Spassky, but while you were edging him out in the last game, Korchnoi was talking to all the mutual friends and acquaintances in the press center and playing hall, warning everybody, "Now you have to choose whom to be friends with - me or Karpov..."

Viktor Lvovich is one of those people who can fully motivate themselves to fight only if they have bad relationship with their opponent. Still, Korchnoi was and still is a chess player, and after he calms from the initial anger from defeat, he admits that his opponent was indeed worthy and showed high class.

Our families were indeed on friendly terms, we visited each other, met... I can't say we were friends, but our relationship was good, perhaps even great. When he was forbidden from traveling abroad, I did all I could to bring him back to the national team and repeal the disqualification, then I helped his family to leave USSR and join him in Switzerland...


Is it true that Petrosian disliked Korchnoi and did various things to spite him?

Again, their relationships varied. It's well-known in the chess world that Korchnoi threw a game to Petrosian in 1962, when he became a challenger to Botvinnik. Their wives were friends, and Petrosian's wife persuaded Bella Korchnaya to talk Viktor Lvovich into losing the game on purpose. He didn't care about the result...

...and agreed?

Yes, but after signing the game sheet, he was very angry at his wife. Korchnoi understood that he just backstabbed Keres, Petrosian's main competitor, but that's not all. Nobody knows what exactly happened in 1971, when they played a Candidates' match: after nine draws, Korchnoi lost game 10. Petrosian won that strange match, but, as far as I know, Pavlov interfered there... Fischer was going to qualify to play Spassky, and we were trying to prevent that, and Pavlov allegedly asked the players who could actually stop Fischer. During his match against Petrosian, Korchnoi said that the generation demolished by Fischer had no chance at all against him, but Tigran Vartanovich believed that he had some chances. Soon after that, Korchnoi was "persuaded" to throw the match, but later, in 1974, their relationship became very sour. It happened at Ukraine, in Odessa, where they again met in a Candidates' match...

They didn't fight, I hope?

No, no fights, even though the story became the stuff of legend. Actually, it was all very simple. Korchnoi was playing very good and better prepared, and Petrosian had just recuperated from an illness, but still thought he could win. But Viktor Lvovich was completely different then, he dominated, and at some moment Tigran Vartanovich understood that he had no chance.

The conflict basically arose around nothing. As far as I remember, they were playing in the Odessa Theatre of Russian Drama, the chess table was standing on the theatrical circle, and Petrosian (it's actually common among chess players) would move his legs when worried, and the more nervous he became, the more he shook the table. This, of course, irritated Korchnoi. The organizers should have just fixed the circle in place, but for some reason, they didn't do that. Korchnoi appealed to the arbiter a couple of times, complaining that his partner interferes with his thinking, but Petrosian couldn't control himself at that point - his nervous system was too delicate because of years and years of chess tournaments.

When he got a difficult position, he would still inadvertently shake the chess table, and at one point, Korchnoi (he told me that himself when we both still lived in Leningrad) said to Petrosian: "You have to win the game on the table, not under the table." He said it quietly, but still loud enough for the audience to hear. Tigran Vartanovich was offended and said that his opponent angered him, and that's why he lost. And it all went downhill from there...

How was it to play two very dramatic World Championship matches against someone whom you knew for so long? The entire Soviet country, the Politburo and dear Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev himself watched the struggle intently, and you just couldn't lose to a defector who was declared a traitor in his home country. The Western world was against you, the homeland was behind you, and you had nowhere to retreat...

Well, the West was against me since Fischer's times - it was nothing new to me... After my talks with Bobby, I had a period when I was disliked in USSR, but then the authorities decided to support me again because I had to play Korchnoi, so life gave me a lot of hard lessons. Anyway, when I sat at the board, I just forgot about all special meanings, responsibilities and patriotism, or else it would be just impossible to play.

Were your nerves stable?

They're still stable, and back then they were even stronger.

OK, so, you came to the stage and sat against Korchnoi... Did he try to provoke you, say something bad?

Of course he did. Korchnoi would very often behave tactlessly, throw baseless accusations, during the game he would make faces to me - later, Kasparov adopted the same habit. By the way, it's not always funny - especially if you made a mistake, and the opponent starts rubbing it in. There's documental evidence of that.

And what kinds of faces did Korchnoi make? Triumphant?

Various. He was playing to the crowd: look, what a mistake - and that's the world champion? But every chess player has the right to make mistakes - the only question is when and how often they make those mistakes.


Were you ever approached by any "responsible comrades" who would tell you, "Anatoly, look, your whole country is behind you. If you show weakness, there will be consequences - don't even think about losing!", or something?

No, God saved me. I don't know how it happened, but I usually went abroad alone - and that happened quite often. And there's more: I was invited for a briefing at the Party Central Committee only once, before my very first visit abroad.

Did they trust you so much?

Perhaps I did receive special treatment, and, anyway, the higher-ups knew that I was a very responsible man and I hated all those pep talks. Even in Baguio 1978, when I suddenly had a crisis during the Korchnoi match, I wasn't under any pressure.

I had a comfortable lead, there was no question that I would win, but suddenly, there was a psychological breakdown - I've lost several games in a row. Someone from Moscow called the delegation leader (I know that), my coach was contacted as well, but nobody approached me.

Even the coaches?

Even they.

Vitaly Ivanovich Sevastianov, then chairman of our chess federation, helped me a lot. Perhaps, as an astronaut, someone with great intuition, he understood that in Baguio, I was greatly bothered by the weather. For three months (the match's duration), we had as much rain as Moscow usually has in two years. One typhoon would go away in the morning, and another one would come in the evening: sometimes we would sit under torrential rain for days... Playing chess and having no opportunity to go out is very challenging: just imagine - you get fully soaked even before you get into the car.

With our (sadly, late) council general, Valery Pavlovich Butrin, Sevastianov just decided to get me back into normal atmosphere, get me away from chess and allow me to regain my composure. When the score was 5:5, I asked for a time-out, and we went to Manila, to the basketball world championship final: USSR played Yugoslavia. I visited the game, then remained in the embassy for another day...

And Korchnoi faltered?

He thought that he had initiative, and so should have won the 32nd game, but then he understood that he was playing the "earlier Karpov"... Korchnoi tried to avoid the struggle, but it was too late, because he chose a wrong opening for that. If my opponent would be more patient and flexible, if he evaluated the situation right, he might have won, but overall, the match was completely hopeless for him.

Didn't you ever think that you could lose the championship to him?

I've never thought about that, though after losing three games in a row, you react inadequately on what's happening. It's like getting knocked down in boxing: once, then twice... but, thankfully, you cannot lose by technical knockout in chess, it's more merciful.

Many years have passed. The Soviet Union dissolved, new countries appeared, everything got mixed up, Korchnoi returned to his homeland... Did you meet him after all that?

We meet with Viktor Lvovich regularly. For instance, we played in Switzerland recently: there was a small one-day tournament in honour of the 150th anniversary of the world's largest bank, Credit Suisse... This bank has been sponsoring chess for many years, so they have invited the most interesting, in their view, contemporary grandmasters: Kasparov, me, Korchnoi and Judit Polgar. And after that, we quite suddenly met at Malakhov's program on the ORT channel.

Do you talk now as if nothing had happened?

It can be different, but now our relationship is much better. Korchnoi is 75 years old, he's gone soft... We greet each other, I think there's some mutual respect between us, but if you ask Korchnoi about the past, he...

...gets angry?

He starts speaking nonsense, something about being irradiated in Merano, etc. That's why, he says, he wasn't playing his best game and lost 6-2. Actually, in 1981, I was just playing much better than him, and he was getting old and couldn't put up much of a resistance.

Is it possible for you two to go to some restaurant and just sit there, reminiscing about the old times?

One on one - probably not, but in a company... We once played in one tournament in Argentina and would often sit at the same table. Though his current wife is just insufferable. Petra Leeuwerik spent quite a few years in our Gulag system, and, to be honest, she was there for a reason: she was an American spy.

Are you serious?

Yes, completely. She was caught in Wien, Austria. She didn't work for too long: got caught on the third day, or so. She was imprisoned in Vladimir, then sent to the Vorkuta camp, so...

...she "loves" Russia with all her heart, doesn't she?

Something like that.