November 29, 2016


When Chess Was a Battle of Superpowers (SERGE SCHMEMANN NOV. 29, 2016, NY Times)

Ideology permeated Soviet sport, including chess. One story I wrote for The Times from Moscow, in June 1981, was about Boris Gulko, a Soviet champion who was excluded from major tournaments after he applied to emigrate to Israel. Allowed to compete in the Moscow open championship that June, he won, and then brought a hushed pall over the awards ceremony when he urged the Soviet Chess Federation to facilitate the emigration of the wife and son of Viktor Korchnoi, a Soviet grandmaster who had defected to the West.

Korchnoi twice challenged the Soviet champion Anatoly Karpov, a Kremlin loyalist who assumed the title after Fischer failed to defend it. Their matches are memorable largely for bizarre controversies, which ranged from demands that chairs be X-rayed to complaints of hypnotism and secret codes.

Karpov next ran into a Jewish Armenian challenger named Garry Kasparov, at 21 an aggressive player who had stormed through the ranks of Russian grandmasters. Both were Soviet players, so it was not quite an East-West sequel, but Karpov was the standard-bearer of the Soviet establishment, and Kasparov became the favorite of dissidents and the West as they slugged through a marathon series of matches, the first of which went to 48 games.

I covered that match for The Times in Moscow, and the tension was palpable in the hushed excitement that would sweep the crowd whenever Kasparov made a bold move and the K.G.B. types scattered through the audience to see who applauded.

...but they had to stop that match because Kasparov had exhausted Karpov after fighting back from a seemingly insurmountable early deficit..

Posted by at November 29, 2016 4:39 AM