GM Anatoly Karpov

Full name
Anatoly Karpov
May 23, 1951 (age 69)‎
Place of birth
Zlatoust, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
in 2019



Anatoly Karpov was the 12th World Champion (1975-1985), and is considered to be one of the greatest players of all time.  He was the highest rated player in the world for over 100 months (a feat only bested by Garry Kasparov and Magnus Carlsen), and regained his FIDE world champion title from 1993-1999.  

Karpov's boa constrictor style was used to positionally strangle his opponents, depriving them of counterplay until they were selecting from only losing moves.  Former World Champion Viswanathan Anand states that "Karpov isn't so interested in his own plan, but he will keep on foiling yours!".  Karpov's strangling technical play, and impeccable endgame technique have become topics for countless articles and videos.  Here is an example of Karpov torturing former World Champion Boris Spassky and his isolated queen's pawn.

Anatoly Karpov learned to play chess at the age of 4 and improved quickly.  He was accepted into the chess school of former World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik when he was 12 years old, and with Botvinnik’s instruction he was able to skyrocket into the world’s elite players.  In 1969 at the age of 18 he became an International Master and one year later he became a Grandmaster.

Anatoly Karpov 1967
Karpov in 1967. Photo: Jaq. de Nijs/Dutch National Archive, CC

He qualified to play against Bobby Fischer for the World Championship in 1975, but the match never happened because Fischer’s demands were not met.  Many people (including Kasparov) believe that Karpov would have won the 1975 match against Fischer, as Fischer had been out of practice for 3 years and was playing a younger opponent who Fischer knew little about.  Unfortunately, the world will never actually know what would have happened in this match.

Karpov reigned as the top player for the next decade, winning over 160 total tournaments in his lifetime.  He defended his crown against the challenger, Viktor Korchnoi, in very exciting matches in 1978 and then again in 1981.  In 1984, one of the greatest chess rivalries in history began - Karpov played 5 consecutive World Championship matches against Garry Kasparov from 1984-1990.  Here is an example from their 1984 match, where Karpov dismantles Kasparov from a very dry position - a classic Karpov squeeze:

These two chess legends played a total of 144 games for the world championship.  Out of these 144 games, 104 were draws, Kasparov had 21 wins, and Karpov had 19 wins.  The games from the Karpov-Kasparov rivalry have produced some of the great classics of all time, but also changed chess history.  After these matches, Karpov continued to play at the highest levels of the chess world.  In 1993, Karpov regained the FIDE world champion title which he held until 1999.  Karpov refused to defend his title in 1999, in protest to FIDE's change of rules for the title (a Fischer-esque move!).  

Anatoly Karpov World Champion 1996
World Champion Anatoly Karpov playing in 1996. Photo: Stefan64, CC

At the beginning of the 21st century, Karpov decided to stop playing classical time controls and began focusing on rapid and blitz events.  In 2002, Karpov defeated Kasparov in a rapid exhibition match.  In 2012, Karpov won the Cap d'Agde tournament ahead of top class competition (including the #9 ranked Vassily Ivanchuk).  After his effective retirement, he ran for for the office of FIDE President in 2010, and was heavily involved in Russian politics.  Karpov remains a source of inspiration for all aspiring positional players, as well as a hero to countless players, including former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik and current World Champion Magnus Carlsen.

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