Chess titans Kasparov and Karpov meet again — 25 years on

Gone were the little red desk-top flags with the Soviet hammer and sickle. But, as they fiddled nervously with their pieces, it was clear that the old rivalry between Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov was still there.

Karpov (58) sweated slightly above the fat knot of his tie. Kasparov (46) made sure his pieces were facing the right way.

Nerves had already seen both Russian grandmasters complain about the playing conditions before Tuesday’s much-awaited rematch. ”They moaned about the lighting — but they are playing in the lecture theatre, not the main hall, so there is not a lot we can do about that,” said one organiser at the Palau de les Arts in Valencia, eastern Spain. ”I guess they are just like any other divas.”

With up to 10-million internet chess fans looking on, the old gladiators went into battle. Karpov, ready in his seat, picked up a white piece and made his opening move. In their 1984 encounter the already chisel-faced Karpov lost 8kg. This time around he looks large enough to last a year or more.

Both players, who are being paid up to €100 000 each for the rematch, were perhaps relieved that, unlike the epic, draining contests that made them famous, this ”semi-rapid” game was due to last just an hour.

Pieces flew as they got off to a frantic start. With a total of just over 25 minutes’ playing time each, there was little time for contemplation. Nor were they likely to be booed by the audience, as they were in Moscow, for taking ages just to agree on a draw.

Even so, Kasparov was soon burying his face deep into his hands as he pondered his moves, while Karpov’s eyes darted quickly around the board.

The website carrying their game collapsed almost immediately — presumably because the server belonging to the local government of Valencia was unable to handle the number of people wanting to see it.

Two dozen Russian journalists were also a reminder of the chess giants’ status at home.

”Apart from the prime minister and the president, we are probably the most famous men in the country,” Karpov joked in an interview with Spain’s Super newspaper.

The epic battle that started in the Hall of Columns at Moscow’s Palace of the Trade Unions in 1984 found a fitting home for its well-fed old age in the slick, clean spaces of architect Santiago Calatrava’s soaring Palau de les Arts opera house.

Suspicious Soviet officialdom had been replaced by short-skirted hostesses and uniformed security guards. Grit and global politics were gone. Luxury and Mediterranean cool were in. With its besuited officials, the event had all the trappings of an international dentists’ convention.

About 25 years had gone by since the pair embarked on their extraordinary, abortive five-month tussle for the world title. The game they started on September 10 1984 was the first of 144 over the next six years.

Kasparov said he would have liked to have been back home for the anniversary rather than in Valencia, a city which claims to have invented the modern game of chess in the 15th century. His political ambitions and opposition to Vladimir Putin meant, however, he was persona non grata. ”We couldn’t play in Moscow because that would have been publicity for Kasparov, and they don’t want that,” he told Valencia’s Levante newspaper.

Kasparov seems always to have got the better of his older opponent. As a precocious teenager he denounced Karpov as ”a player of no special talent”. In the 1984 title match he was deemed to have worn Karpov down psychologically, forcing world chess officials to call off the match to save the latter’s reputation.

Tuesday night saw the first hint that history might repeat itself. Losing the first game, Karpov looked to be perhaps back on the road to defeat.

By Friday, when they have played a dozen ”semi-rapid” and super-fast ”blitz” games, it will all be over. They will both go home wealthier. Only one, however, will go home happy. –

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