For nearly five hours several hundred spectators in the Teatro Lope de Vega in Seville, Spain, have been riveted to their red velvet seats, watching two men think. It is Game 15 of the world chess championship, and Gary Kasparov, the defending champ from the Soviet Union, is locked in a silent minuet with countryman Anatoly Karpov, his "permanent rival," whom he last disposed of a year ago in Leningrad. Kasparov crouches at the board, ferocious and menacing. Across the table sits Karpov, face fixed in a thin smile, feet wound behind the front legs of his high-backed office chair. Kasparov shoots his cuffs, scratches his nose, buries his face in his hands.
This is an article from the Dec. 7, 1987 issue
"It's going to be lots of blood," Ricardo Calvo, a Spanish international master, had predicted before Game 15.
"Today is blood," agreed Eganov Sii Avush, head of Kasparov's delegation. "Blood. Much blood."
Americans have a hard time thinking of chess as a game that spills much blood, but at this level of competition, it's like a brain hemorrhage. Push. Scrape. Nudge. Kasparov's pawn infantry launches a frontal assault. Click. Nudge. Bump. Karpov fires an artillery strike with a rook. Bump. Scrape. Click. Kasparov mounts a cavalry charge with his knights. The moves are so staggeringly complex that even the grand masters on hand have no idea who's ahead.
After all these hours the theater has the disheveled look of a bus station on a day schedules are disrupted. Only Kasparov is unruffled. His head is up, his eyes alert. But he starts to seethe when Karpov seals the 43rd move, adjourning the game until the next afternoon. Kasparov and everyone else thinks it's a clear draw. Karpov can force an endgame, but it would never be conclusive.
At week's end Kasparov and Karpov were even in the 24-game series that began Oct. 12. Each had won three, lost three and drawn 11, for 8½ points. To win, a player needs 12½ points or six victories. In the event of a 12-12 tie, Kasparov would retain the title.
For the last three years Kasparov and Karpov have been the two best players in the world. After 113 games over four championship matches, Kasparov has only one more win than Karpov. But Kasparov beat Karpov in their second and third championship series, and was gaining on him in the first when it was called off.
It has begun to look as if they'll play each other in a perpetual series of unpleasant, genuinely unfriendly championships. They're like two boxers whose skills are almost equal and who know each other intimately. There are no surprises. "After three years of seeing the same face, you lose invention," says Andrew Page, Kasparov's British manager. "It's like being in a bad marriage. Each represents the antithesis of the other."
Karpov, who's 36, is a brilliant if colorless tactician, whose cautious game is predominantly positional, relying on an accretion of minute advantages.
Kasparov, 24, prefers risky attacks, wide-open gambits, movement. He subverts traditional ideas of defense, dazzling and seducing the opposition by whipping up assaults from seemingly innocuous positions. In moments of crisis he seems to pluck brilliant moves out of his sleeves like silk scarves. Kasparov's queen sacrifice in the 11th game of his second match with Karpov—he gave away a poisoned queen to win an unassailable position—is regarded as one of the classic coups de theatre of chess.
Kasparov sees his ongoing struggle with Karpov as not so much a battle between two schools of chess as between two philosophies. To Kasparov, he and Karpov personify different epochs in recent Soviet history: He's in the vanguard of glasnost; Karpov is an apparatchik relic from the Brezhnev era. "It's a battle between democracy and totalitarianism," says Kasparov, himself a party member.
In his autobiography, Child of Change, Kasparov writes that to become champion he had to fight a political regime that tried to isolate him like a passed pawn. He contends he would have been crushed if his arrival hadn't coincided with Mikhail Gorbachev's.
"Gary is idealistic, revolutionary and not very pragmatic," says British grand master Raymond Keene. "He's the kind of person who'll never, ever forgive."
Kasparov's dislike for Karpov, who was world champion from 1975 to '85, stems partly from his belief that Karpov cheated him in Leningrad. Karpov, he says, made use of notes of Kasparov's game plans supplied by a "traitor" in the Kasparov camp. But as odious as he might find Karpov, Kasparov's feelings for him are mild compared to those he harbors for that "tiny and infinitely cunning Filipino named Florencio Campomanes," who's president of the International Chess Federation (FIDE). Kasparov maintains that in the 1985 championship, Campomanes, bowing to Soviet establishment pressure, jobbed him by stopping the match when Karpov started losing his edge.
Karpov dismisses the autobiography as disingenuous and downright dishonest. "Kasparov's lies are scandalous," he says. "He writes only the truths that are useful to him. Even Bobby Fischer never spoke in such a way about chess players. It's all designed to put more psychological pressure on me." Karpov has been on guard against Kasparov's psychological and psychic disruptions since a critical loss in Leningrad. He felt turbulence in his brain, he says, which he believes was caused by a parapsychologist on Kasparov's team. But Karpov seems to have eliminated psychic phenomena as a factor in the current match. Though he blew one game through a careless blunder, he has shown great psychological toughness against his countryman.
The squeaky-voiced Karpov is correct and undemonstrative, frail and weedy, a bit of a nerd. Kasparov is fractious and robust, broad-shouldered and darkly handsome. He exudes confidence. Karpov's great passion is collecting stamps. Kasparov is a soccer player, a swimmer, a jogger, a cyclist and a reader of Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Karpov is recently married and has a son from a former marriage. Kasparov is a sort of playboy of the Eastern world.
Kasparov's well-publicized dalliance with Marina Neyolova, the smoldering czarina of the Moscow stage, ended in 1986. Last winter Neyolova, who is 16 years older than Kasparov, had a child whose paternity is still in doubt. She claims Kasparov is the father; he says he's not. Kasparov's mother, Klara, reportedly felt the actress was breaking her son's concentration. Klara, who is paid by the Soviet Chess Federation as a coach, keeps a close eye on her boy, observing his games from the spectator seats through opera glasses and shadowing him on walks with a video camera.
On game days Kasparov gets up at 9:30, talks over openings with his seconds, has lunch, walks two miles, sleeps, wakes at 3:00 and dines on black caviar. "It's very high in calories," he explains. The games begin at 4:30 and can last as long as five hours.
Striding through his daily two miles, Kasparov compares the intrigues of Fischer to Alice and her looking glass. "Fischer was caught between reality and mentality," he says. "Chess replaced everything. He had beaten everybody, but in the end chess beat him. He tried to convince himself he could prevent any mistake and never lose. The horror! But enough of Fischer. I'm not interested in ghosts."
Money is another matter. Kasparov is already a millionaire from book royalties, appearance fees and tournament earnings. (The winner in Seville will receive some $1.1 million; the loser will get around $600,000.) Page, a slick former actor and also former race driver, carefully grooms his client's marketability. Kasparov recently made a Schweppes commercial for Spanish TV. Seated at a chessboard with a blonde model draped over his shoulder, he pops open a bottle of tonic water with a knight. Page hopes to get Kasparov ads for clothes, health foods and breakfast cereals. "Wholesome image-type things," Page says. "I wouldn't want him to endorse a vodka or a cigarette. Nothing that would upset the regime."
Kasparov enjoys the decidedly unSocialist privileges that come with being champ. "Why would I ever defect?" he asks. "I love my country. All my friends are there. I have considerable power. I'm wealthy. I can travel wherever I want. I'm a star."
Some attribute Kasparov's brashness to his provincial upbringing in the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan, an oil-rich state bordering Iran. His father, Kim Weinstein, was a chemical engineer; Klara was an electrical engineer. They worked out chess problems while fixing dinner. One morning when Gary was five, he offered a solution to a problem they hadn't been able to solve the night before. At the time, he didn't know a bishop from a parish priest. His parents dropped plans to send him to music school and had him concentrate on chess. Kim died of lung cancer two years later, and Gary adopted his mother's maiden name—Kasparyan—a common practice in the Soviet Union.
By age 10 he was invited to attend the chess school of Mikhail Botvinnik, the three-time world champion. Botvinnik recognized Kasparov's prodigious memory and powers of ratiocination. At 12, he earned a national reputation as a juvenile player, and was encouraged to Russianize his name to Kasparov. In 1980 he won the junior world title; the next year, at 18, he became the Soviet champ.
Karpov, then in the middle of his 10-year reign, had won his world title by default. Fischer had made so many contradictory demands about how, when and where his championship match with Karpov should be played that FIDE stripped him of the crown. Karpov became an important political figure in the U.S.S.R. by twice turning back challenges by Viktor Korchnoi, a Soviet defector. Karpov was rewarded with the Order of Lenin and the special favor of President Leonid Brezhnev.
Karpov and Kasparov began to dislike each other in 1985, during their first match. According to the rules then, the title would go to the first player to win a total of six games, regardless of how many had to be played. It was a system that encouraged caution and, therefore, resulted in numerous draws. Still, Karpov took an apparently invincible 4-0 lead. But, stunningly, Kasparov dug in and held on grimly for 17 straight draws.
Kasparov lost another game and then drew four more until, in the 31st game, Karpov seemed on the verge of victory. "He had me but couldn't pull the trigger," says Kasparov, who wriggled free and drew that game. Kasparov won the next, and the 47th and 48th. Now seemingly incapable of finishing off his young challenger, Karpov slept fitfully and appeared on the brink of physical collapse. At this juncture Campomanes arrived in Moscow and annulled the match, which by then had lasted 159 days. He tried to justify his decision on "medical grounds" to protect both players from an endless ordeal on the boards. An enraged Kasparov denounced Campomanes, charging it was all a ruse to give Karpov a chance to recover his strength.
When play resumed in Moscow seven months later with a best-of-24 format, Kasparov inched to an early lead and held it all the way to the final game. With the score 12-11 in his favor, Kasparov needed only a draw to win, yet he sprung a daring, ingenious trap and beat Karpov. Tchaikovsky Hall erupted in rhythmic chants of "gar-EE, gar-EE, gar-EE." At 22, Kasparov had become the youngest world chess champion.
But Campomanes had made another condition: If Karpov lost, he would be entitled to a rematch within a year. Kasparov balked but finally played. He held his title by a single point.
In Seville, Kasparov is the favorite of the fans. As idiosyncratic as the next chess player, he inspected 40 or 50 chairs before picking one he liked. He decided against a heavy, thronelike model from the regal Alfonso XIII Hotel because it wouldn't tilt. "The psychological value of sitting in a chair like that would have been enormous," moaned Page, disappointed at his man's decision.
The psychological gamesmanship peaked in Game 15. Karpov had asked for the adjournment because he doesn't like to propose a draw publicly. At 1 p.m. the following day, he had his bodyguard call Gert Gijssen, the chief arbiter, to make the offer. Gijssen phoned Kasparov's house and got his cook. "He's out for a walk," she said. Gijssen called back in half an hour. "He's napping," said the cook. "Call back at three." Gijssen relayed this to Karpov's bodyguard. Furious, Karpov rescinded his offer. The game would resume at 4:30.
But at 4:30 Karpov was a no-show. His motorcade pulled up at 4:40. He strolled onstage. Gijssen announced that the game was over: "You've offered a draw and it has been accepted." A confused Karpov stomped off.
Each player held a press conference to condemn the other's behavior. "If Karpov needs 15 hours to validate his position," sneered Kasparov, "I can wait two hours to think it over."
Page and former world champ Mikhail Tal stood in the wings, laughing. "Circus, circus, circus," gurgled Page.
"No, not circus," corrected Tal. "Pantomime."