Silver hair and sharp suits have replaced the fresh faces and Soviet tailoring of 1984 but there was no mistaking the aura surrounding two of the world’s greatest chess players, Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov, as they prepared for an historic rematch on Monday.
The two grand masters, who fought an epic psychological war when they battled for the world chess crown 25 years ago, will start their rematch in the Spanish city of Valencia on Tuesday.
Both promised to do their best to match the intensity and drama of the gruelling 1984 encounter that was controversially called to a halt without a clear winner after five months of play.
While both men admit they are now past their playing prime, they have been preparing their encounter for weeks. “Their prestige it at stake,” explained the organiser, Basilio Lopez.
They travelled to Valencia with support teams of four or five people for a match that organisers said would have an internet audience of as many as 10 million.
The two players were holed up last night in separate hotels in the Spanish city preparing for a series of blitz and semi-rapid games to be played over four days.
“We are both still capable of playing high-quality chess,” said Kasparov, now aged 46, who stopped playing competitive matches nearly five years ago.
“If Kasparov still played competitively he would be the best or close to it,” agreeed Karpov who, at 58, has continued to play despite dropping out of the top 100. Bookies were backing Kasparov, believing his opponent’s age would slow him down.
If their previous encounters were portrayed as a battle between the old Soviet Union and thrusting young reformists their meeting has already been coloured by Kasparov’s political battle with Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
Kasparov lashed out yesterday at a journalist from a Russian broadcaster, which he accused of not reporting the moment he was arrested and jailed in 2007 for leading an anti-Putin demonstration in Moscow.
“I’ll answer in English first so that you can see how they twist my words later,” Kasparov snapped in words reported by the Spanish press. More than two dozen Russian journalists were in Valencia.
Foes as friends
Kasparov had praise, however, for his opponent — who was seen during their encounters in the early 1980s as the face of Soviet communism. “Many of my friends forget about me when I was jailed,” said Kasparov. “Karpov tried to visit me.” Kasparov had already turned up the heat with declarations to El Pais in which he accused modern Russia of being “a corrupt dictatorship disguised as a democracy”.
Karpov admitted that the two men disagreed politically and remained different in many other ways. “As human beings we are totally opposite in every area of life,” he told Valencia’s Super newspaper.
Karpov has been in training with his coaching team for the past two weeks. Kasparov has turned to youth to invigorate him. He has been training with Magnus Carlsen, an 18-year-old chess phenomenon from Norway.
Kasparov said he had age on his side but admitted that the lack of match practice might work against him. “That makes me wonder whether I will be able to recover my instinct for the game,” he said.
“Normally you start playing more slowly once you have passed the age of 50,” Karpov said. “But I won when we last played in New York seven years ago.” Both were critical of modern chess, blaming the people who run the sport internationally for its decline. “In my day we were more concerned about the beauty of the game,” said Karpov, who hoped computer chess and the internet would return the game to its glory days.
Valencia is where the modern rules of chess were born in the 15th century when the queen — reputedly modelled on Isabel of Castile — was introduced to the board.