Fischer – Karpov 1975 World Championship Match

THE MATCH THAT NEVER HAPPENED

Upon his return to America after his triumph in the Match of the Century, Fischer was treated like a celebrity. He got invited to talk shows, his face appeared in almost every newspaper and magazine and numerous companies hurried to offer him lucrative sponsorship contracts. However, when everyone expected him to become one of the wealthiest persons in America, he surprised everyone by rejecting all offers – he considered it as an 'exploitation' and he considered that „None of the offers were in the interests of chess. Chess is the main thing.“

Alas, for Fischer the chess was obviously not the main thing, as after his match against Spassky he stopped competing in tournaments altogether.  The main reasons were his absurd monetary demands; for instance, for his participation in the 1972 Skopje Olympiad, Fischer demanded 150,000 dollars. Despite his fame and charisma, no organizer was willing to invest such an amount of money. Especially since Fischer himself turned down the sponsors.

While Fischer was inactive, the next World Championship Cycle was well underway and it produced a surprising winner. Although he said the words : „It is not my cycle“ before the start of the Candidates matches, after beating his compatriots Polugaevsky, Spassky and Korchnoi, young Soviet star Anatoly Karpov qualified for the match against Fischer.

A match that was never meant to be.

You see, back in 1973, at the Fide Congress, long before the final Candidates Match, Fred Kramer, the President of American Zone and the person who represented Fischer's interests in Reykjavik, read Fischer's proposal for the new World Championship format:

  • The match should be unlimited
  • The first player to win 10 games would be declared winner
  • In the event of the 9-9 result, champion retains the title

At the next FIDE Congress, held in 1974 at the Olympiad in Nice, the delegates agreed to the first two points, but the 9-9 clause was rejected as unfair – the challenger would have to win the match with the two points margin (you might remember this clause first appeared way back in the Lasker – Schlechter match). Fischer, upon hearing this news, sent out the following telegram:

„As I made clear in my telegram to the FIDE delegates, the match conditions I proposed were non-negotiable. Mr. Cramer informs me that the rules of the winner being the first player to win ten games, draws not counting, unlimited number of games and if nine wins to nine match is drawn with champion retaining title and prize fund split equally were rejected by the FIDE delegates. By so doing FIDE has decided against my participation in the 1975 world cess championship. I therefore resign my FIDE world chess championship title. Sincerely, Bobby Fischer.“

After Karpov became the champion, an extraordinary FIDE Congress was convened in March 1975, in which Fischer's demands were once again the main topic. With the very narrow vote, the delegates rejected the 9-9 clause once again and the fate of the match was sealed. On April the 3rd, 1975, Karpov was officially declared a world champion; the first time the challenger won the title without playing a single move.

I think it is a great pity that world has never seen a Fischer – Karpov World Championship match. There is no denying it would have been a fantastic clash which would have also clarified an eternal question about the greatest player ever a bit. Many years later, even Karpov himself lamented in his memoirs he would have been a stronger player if it weren't for the unfortunate 9-9 clause:

„I don't know how Fischer feels about it, but I consider it a huge loss that he and I never played our match. I felt like the child who has been promised a wonderful toy and has it offered to him but then, at the last moment, it's taken away.“

The reasons for Fischer's refusal to play are not completely clear. Even today, an abrupt abdication by the American legend causes many controversies. American patriots are convinced he would have smashed Karpov, while many others, like Kasparov, think Fischer was unable to overcome his psychological traits and simply feared facing a young and unknown opponent. In his On My Great Predecessors series, Kasparov has elaborated his opinion in great detail (pages 467-470 of the Part Four of the series, and pages 292-298 of the Part Five of the series). I have summarized Kasparov's words together with my thoughts in a Quora Answer of mine. I would like to repeat three main reasons why I consider Karpov would have been the favourite:

Inactivity

As pointed out in other answers, after the 1972 Match of the Century against Spassky, Fischer didn’t play a single competitive game for three years. It would have been a serious handicap; you might recall Botvinnik experiencing serious difficulties in his match against Bronstein in 1951.

Before that match, Botvinnik also didn’t play for three years. Moreover, in the 1950s it was easier to get away with that - chess wasn’t changing that fast and opening theory wasn’t yet that important. It is safe to assume Fischer would have been slightly rusty, at least during the initial phase of the match (you may also recall he played very nervously during the initial phase of his match against Spassky as well).

Soviet System

It has to be remembered Karpov had the support of the whole Soviet System behind him. For instance, in an interview, he said his official seconds for the match were Semion Furman, Efim Geller and Yuri Balashov.  However, as his later match against Korchnoi would prove, almost every strong Soviet player was under “instructions” to send useful material to Karpov and his team.

One could argue Spassky had the same advantage and it didn’t help him. And this is partially true. Fischer single-handedly beat the whole Soviet System. But it is an advantage nevertheless. I think this time the Soviets would have prepared even more thoroughly since Fischer has proven he is capable of wrestling the title out of their hands.

Also, Spassky has always been considered as a somewhat lazy player. Which brings me to the final point.

Character

Quite simply - Karpov was much more uncompromising opponent than Spassky. He was interested only in the competitive side of the sport and concerned with collecting as many points as possible. It is highly probable he would have “laughed his heart” out at Fischer’s demands and psychological ploys.

On the other hand, Spassky always had the interest of the broader chess community in mind. His actions during the Match of the Century have allowed the match to continue whenever Fischer threatened to abort it.

For instance, after Fischer defaulted in the 2nd game, he refused to play unless the TV cameras were removed from the hall. Karpov would have surely dismissed such a demand and taken another free point (and possibly the entire match).

Spassky spent an agonizing night pondering his options. One of his seconds even suggested he resign the 3rd game and proceed with the remainder of the match. Spassky decided to play without the TV cameras; many people consider this to be a crucial psychological mistake of the match. Fischer won the 3rd game (the first time he beat Spassky) and started the steamroller.

I am pretty sure Fischer was aware Karpov would be quite a different opponent than the mild Spassky. I agree with Kasparov’s speculation that Fischer was afraid to play against Karpov. Once he had won the title of the World Champion, it proved to be too much of a burden - imagine the risk of losing it.

Thus, in 1975, the era of the 2 K's officially begun.

Sources:

Chessgames: Fischer – Karpov, 1975

Garry Kasparov on My Great Predecessors Part Four

Garry Kasparov on My Great Predecessors Part Five

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