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Russian chess grandmaster Anatoly Karpov held the title of world champion from 1975 to 1985 before being unseated by rival Gary Kasparov.
“Chess is my life, but not all of my life is chess.”
Born in Zlatoust, Russia, on May 23, 1951, Anatoly Karpov showed an aptitude for chess at an early age and became a grandmaster at 19. He reaped monetary rewards and international acclaim while reigning as the world champion of chess from 1975 until 1985, when he ceded his title to Gary Kasparov. Karpov continues to support chess with schools and outreach programs across the globe.
Early Life and Entry Into Chess
Professional Chess player Anatoly Yevgenyevich Karpov was born in Zlatoust, Russia (then the Soviet Union), on May 23, 1951. He learned to play chess when he was 4 years old. His early skills were developed in the Soviet manner, with intensive coaching and long hours of practice. In 1969, Karpov won the world junior championship.
Anatoly Karpov continued to develop his chess game, becoming a grandmaster at the age of 19. After defeating Viktor Korchnoi, another Russian grandmaster, Karpov was set to play in the world championship of chess in 1975. However, Bobby Fischer chose not to defend his title, so Karpov automatically took his place as the world’s leading chess player.
In 1978 and 1981, Karpov succeeded in keeping his title while playing against Korchnoi once more. By then, Korchnoi had defected from the Soviet Union, so Karpov’s victories won him the approval of then-President Leonid Brezhnev. Being champion also made Karpov an acclaimed figure in the Soviet Union, as well as a millionaire.
In 1984, Karpov faced another of his countrymen, Gary Kasparov, to fight for the world championship. The event turned into an extensive, drawn out affair, with a series of games that continued for five months. The tournament only ended when the president of the World Chess Federation (FIDE) suspended play, citing concerns for the participants’ health. With no winner, Karpov kept the title. However, Kasparov defeated him in the next championship event, which was held later in 1985.
Karpov unsuccessfully faced Kasparov again in 1986, 1987 and 1990. In 1993, Karpov regained the FIDE world champion title, but only because Kasparov had left FIDE to form another chess organization. Karpov remained FIDE’s world champion until 1999.
In 2010, Karpov ran to become president of FIDE. He garnered the support of many national chess federations by vowing to do away with the corruption in chess and to raise the sport’s profile. As their rivalry had eased over the years, Karpov also received Kasparov’s endorsement. However, Karpov was defeated by the organization’s sitting president, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov.
Throughout his life, Karpov has extolled the benefits of chess. He has established chess schools in a number of countries, and has been involved in outreach programs that teach prison inmates chess. In addition to these activities, Karpov continues to play chess himself. In 2012, he won the Anatoly Karpov Trophy, which had been named in his honor. He has also met with Kasparov for exhibition games, including a competition held 25 years after their first championship showdown.
Karpov wrote in his autobiography that, “Chess is my life, but not all of my life is chess.” His other work has included being a UNICEF ambassador and serving as chair of the International Association of Peace Foundations. But he remains best known for his accomplishments and abilities in the game that has defined his life.