by Ian Rogers
Back in the 1980s and 1990s, Garry Kasparov (pictured cover and top)and Anatoly Karpov were seen as gods.
The twin World Champions could do no wrong, and arbiters and organisers bent over backwards to ensure that the two Ks stayed onside, to the extent of overlooking sharp practice and worse.
Of course Kasparov’s move take-back against Judit Polgar is best known but Karpov has far more outrageous incidents on his CV, from bullying an opponent who had won on time into accepting a draw (Dos Hermanas 1994) to a strange incident at a European Rapid Championship in Gijon 1994 where Karpov, playing Leonid Yudasin, allowed mate in one.
Here versions of the story vary.
According to contemporaneous reports, Yudasin expressed surprise and pointed to the f1 square exclaiming “That’s mate!”. Karpov meekly conceded the game but later, at the urging of the organizers for whom Karpov was the tournament’s main drawcard, entered a protest on the grounds that Yudasin’s comment had distracted him. Sure enough, Karpov’s protest was upheld, the game replayed and Karpov won the game and the tournament.
However, speaking 18 years after the event, Yudasin (pictured above) told a rather different story. He said that Karpov tried to take back his losing move, was refused, and then resigned, but it was Yudasin’s idea to replay the game. (Apparently he felt guilty about winning a game where he had been outplayed.) Yudasin said that he and Karpov then replayed the game without any arbiter being aware that it was a second game (which seems rather unlikely given that all the other players seemed to know about the replay!).
Such was the dominance of Karpov and Kasparov over their contemporaries that many pundits in the 1980s and 1990s believed that a desire to win by any means was a prerequisite for becoming World Champion and therefore that a polite personality like Viswanathan Anand would never gain the highest title.
That theory was, mercifully, proven to be wrong and certainly today’s top players no longer try for, nor expect, special favours.
Events over the past year have reinforced the fact that the world’s elite players are no longer a protected species, with Magnus Carlsen being given a loss on time in his home country after misunderstanding the time control and Wesley So being forfeited for writing inspirational notes to himself during a game in the 2015 US Championship.
In March at the Candidates tournament Hikaru Nakamura tried to touch one piece and move another, adding the words “J’adoube” which in the Kasparov and Karpov era would add just about enough plausible deniability to win a dispute.
However Nakamura’s opponent Levon Aronian, with a few stern words, and the arbiter who had been watching closely had no hesitation in forcing Nakamura to obey the touch-move rule.
However last month the return to semi-competitive play by Kasparov brought back memories of the bad old days.
The former World Champion, now 53, emerged from semi-retirement to take on the US’ three best players in a lightning chess tournament and finished third but his score was inflated by a cheating incident.
Playing against Nakamura in the diagrammed position, Kasparov played the move 26…Nb4, took his hand off the piece and was about to press the clock, then realised his move was a blunder and changed to 26…Nf4.
As in the old days the arbiter did not intervene and Nakamura, with a rueful smile, decided not to make a fuss and simply continued to play. (The game was eventually drawn.)
Interviewed after the game, Kasparov dug a deeper hole for himself, saying “”I wasn’t sure – it’s very difficult in blitz to say if you let go of the piece.”
Nakamura tried to minimise the seriousness of the incident by explaining, “It’s Garry after all. Maybe I’m not taking this event as seriously as he is.”
Curiously, Nakamura’s action (or inaction) was endorsed by other top players, with Levon Aronian saying “I would let him take back a move too. Garry is playing a tournament [again] – he doesn’t play much. He forgot certain things, so let him play.”
When asked how this fitted with his own reaction to Nakamura’s infraction in Moscow, Aronian replied “It [an exhibition blitz tournament] is a huge difference from the Candidates tournament [a qualifier for the World Championship].”
Kasparov derived no financial benefit from his action since he donated his $US10,000 prize to the US Chess Olympiad team. However his reputation as a chess god, above the rules which apply to mere mortals, remains.