confrontations during the cold war (4): unimaginable “abdication”

Year 1972 was a turning point of the Cold War for the Soviet Union. Losing the honor of world champion, the Soviet government was in dismay, as if it had lost its decisive advantage against the United States. The person who could retake the world champion title for the Soviet Union would become the great man of the country.

It was hard to imagine that Anatoly Karpov would become the hope of the Soviet Union. Karpov was short, thin, and feeble, and it was even tough for him to sit in front of his games for hours. He seldom played aggressively and made brilliant sacrifice, and he was blamed for making too many draws. But he worked hard and was creative, cautious and confident in his games, which are essential qualities of a world champion. He improved quickly and became one of the best players of the Soviet Union in his twenties. In 1974, Karpov defeated many prestigious players such as Spassky and Korchnoi on the way of winning the Candidate tournament. Karpov felt excited, for he could finally challenge talented Fischer and fight for the world champion.

Korchnoi – Karpov in the Candidates’ Final

Karpov experienced a hard time preparing for the match against Fischer. He felt very stressful, because for him, it would be the match mixed with patriotism. He was an obedient communist, a good citizen of Soviet Union, and he bore the mission of retaking the world champion title for his country. If he lost the match, he would be considered by the Soviet authorities as a political failure, just like Spassky. But even the Soviet Union acknowledged that Fischer played almost perfectly and was hard to defeat. Thus, aiding with the best trainers of the Soviet Union, Karpov exerted all his efforts studying all of Fischer’s games thoroughly and looking for his weaknesses.

Karpov studying Fischer’s games

However, to the disappointment of all the chess enthusiasts, the exciting match between Fischer and Karpov did not take place. Fischer declared that he would give up his world champion title, because FIDE could not fulfill his demand for the match. Fischer proposed that the match continues until one player wins 10 games out of 18 games, draws not counting; in case of a 9-9 score, Fischer retains the title. Fischer’s proposal was rejected by FIDE because it was considered as unfair for the challenger. It required the challenger to win by at least two games (10-8). Apparently, FIDE did not allow Fischer to quit and give up the title so easily. FIDE tried to negotiate with Fischer, but Fischer was reluctant to make any concessions and refused to show up in the match.

Unprecedentedly, a new world champion rose without a world championship match. Karpov became the hero of the Soviet Union. But Karpov felt pity of not encountering and defeating the American genius. In order to prove his strength, he actively participated in all kinds of tournaments and achieved impressive results.

Karpov became the world champion

In fact, for Fischer, the match in Reykjavik was the last chess battle he waged (though he had a rematch with Spassky two decades later). His interests in chess disappeared along with his world champion title. He became a near-total recluse, and he never played any tournaments but only appeared on local chess clubs in Los Angeles from time to time. Perhaps Fischer was unwilling to see his strength weakened with his age. Plus, since he did not like the Soviets, he might have felt sick of playing against Soviet players, and also fear that his title would be taken away by the Soviets. It would be shameful for the Americans. Thus, he quit from the chess world in his prime.  He remains a legend and an inspiration for new generations.


-Kasparov, Garry (2004). My Great Predecessors, Volume IV.

My Great Predecessors, Volume IV

-Böhm, Hans; Jongkind, Kees (2003). Bobby Fischer: The Wandering King.




Young and active tournament player with excellent results including a 1st place at the BSSZ Aranytiz International Master, 1st place at the Chinese Youth Chess Championship G16, and part of the top 10 contenders in two World Chess Championships for girls G16 and G18.

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