The day Garry Kasparov defeated Anatoly Karpov and the Soviet nomenklatura: 35 years after his world chess title

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The Ogre of Baku was consecrated on November 9, 1985, in a duel in which the representative of the communist tradition and the modern and rebellious young man faced each other.

It is the greatest rivalry in the history of the sport. They hated each other as much as they needed each other, “says the expert. He is not referring to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. He is not referring to Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe or to Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. He is not referring to Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna or to Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali. The words of the Spanish journalist Leontxo Garcia They define a duel whose epicenter is met this Monday 35 years: On November 9, 1985, Garry Kasparov became world chess champion against Anatoli Karpov and changed the history of that sport.

Gone was that first match Unfinished World Cup that had marked an era. Five months had elapsed, from September 1984 to February 1985. With no game limits and six wins as the only threshold, Soviet chess players had engaged in a contest in the best style “the survivor wins.”

This duel was more than between two masterminds. If the historic Bobby Fischer-Boris Spassky had been the match of the Cold War, this was the old model of the Soviet Union against which, precisely from that 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev, who in those months assumed as general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, would lead. In other words, the leader of the regime.

There were still several years to go before the dissolution of the USSR, which was sustained despite the signs of change becoming stronger. Chess was an important part in the sport of the communist project: it allowed to endorse the brilliance of those who played it and having the best in the world in Karpov was an unmistakable sign of the intellectual superiority of that political sector.

But Kasparov arrived young, modern, barely in his 20s, with challenging ideas of projection of all that was the culture of the Kremlin’s high command.

Forty-eight games had lasted the 1984 World Cup without being able to consecrate a winner. The champion to win six games would be the first to win, and Karpov seemed to have it within his grasp by winning four of the first nine contests, but then had to wait until Game 27 to break the draw streak and score his fifth success.

But nevertheless, the sixth win would never come. Twenty-one crashes and endless wear and tear later, young Kasparov would go 3-5 and, curiously, after two wins in a row for the 21-year-old, the president of the International Chess Federation (FIDE), Florencio Campomanes, canceled the event.

The manager attributed it to the fatigue of the players and Kasparov, who had started to win games, did not forgive him. Up on a stage, he shouted: “This is a sham and must continue”. There were 200 million Soviets who were surprised by the unexpected outcome, while 600 journalists from more than 30 countries used their fingers and their voices.

Karpov, who was older than his rival but still a young man (34 years old), had come to lose 10 kilos during those endless games that were costing him even his health. His rival, in the words of the great Russian master Yuri Averbakh, “matured in the middle of the end: he started as a boy and by the end he was already an adult fighter”.

In order not to repeat that, the 1985 World Cup was not played until one of the chess players achieved 6 victories but a limit was established: the champion would be the best after 24 games.

And despite the fact that it was played seven months after the previous one was canceled, the new duel seemed to continue with the tone that the old clash had shown. What an example: Leontxo García wrote in the newspaper El País, as the series progressed, that the champion had been “humiliated” and that the challenger “played splendid from start to finish: he was perfectly prepared to play to win.”

Seeing some movements with the horses, a Brazilian journalist went so far as to say, in his search to compare how the Russian masters tried to take advantage of him: “It is the fight of two thoroughbreds (those of Kasparov) against two donkeys (those of Karpov)” .

Of course, the ability of the reigning monarch could not be doubted and the duel made it clear: Kasparov entered the last game with a 4-to-3 advantage for Karpov. If he won and tied the match, would retain the title.

But since necessity has the face of a heretic, Anatoli risked, as was not his custom, and facilitated the process for a well-prepared Garry, who won the game and became the youngest world champion in history at age 22, by winning 13-11.

“The greatest joy of my life”, he defined it. There was a new champion and he represented, in every way, a new country.

Three months later, Campomanes fought for a rematch. Kasparov did not want to dispute it, but he had no choice: “They told me they would disqualify me if I did not accept.”


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