Classic battles

Former world champions Anatoly Karpov (left) and Garry Kasparov during an exhibition match in 2009. In 1984-85, Kasparov dethroned Karpov to become the youngest World champion.-AP Former world champions Anatoly Karpov (left) and Garry Kasparov during an exhibition match in 2009. In 1984-85, Kasparov dethroned Karpov to become the youngest World champion.

P.K. Ajith Kumar looks back at some of the great matches fought for the World championship.

The World chess championship has produced some truly unforgettable matches. Chess was of the highest quality in those matches. There was compelling drama, too. Those battles are forever.

Let us rewind some of the classics:


It remains the most talked-about match in history. At the height of the Cold War, a brilliant but temperamental American challenging the defending World champion from Russia was something the media could not have overlooked.

All the hype was justified though. Chess became a global sport only after this match in Iceland. But for a while it had looked as though the match would never take place. Fischer had demanded more money and he hadn’t arrived when the inaugural ceremony was held. He didn’t make an appearance until 10 minutes after Spassky made his first move in the opening game.

Fischer, the hot favourite, in fact lost that game. Then he forfeited the second game, because the authorities did not allow his demand to remove cameras, and he trailed the match 0-2.

Chess became a global sport only after this match between Boris Spassky (above, left) and Bobby Fischer in Reykjavik, in 1972. Fischer won the title.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

Fischer did not take long to remind the world that he was a rare genius. He won the third game and then the fifth to level the scores at 2.5-2.5. He had to score 12.5 in the 24 games to wrest the crown from Spassky, who only needed to draw it 12-12 since he was the champion.

Fischer was in no mood to wait until the final game. He wrapped up the match by wining the 21st game, after the seven previous games were drawn. He won 12.5-8.5 and became the greatest star ever in chess.


It was the mother of all matches. Champion Anatoly Karpov and challenger Garry Kasparov began their battle for the World title on September 10, 1984. It ended on November 9, 1985. Yes, it took a year and two months to find a winner. It also took two matches.

A second match was required because the first one was stopped in controversial circumstances. By the time the match was called off, 48 games had already been played, making it the longest match in history. The condition of the match was that the player who wins six games would be the champion.

Karpov seemed well on course to meet that target when he posted his fourth win in the ninth game. But his younger rival fought back, drawing the next 17 games. Then, Karpov won again, in Game 27. He went 5-0 up and he required just one more victory to retain his crown.

Kasparov then staged the most heroic fightback in the history of world championships in any sport. He won Game 32 and then two more to make it 3-5. He may have been trailing, but the momentum was very much with him when the world chess governing body FIDE intervened and stopped the match saying the players were too weak to continue. Kasparov was furious. He knew Karpov was the establishment’s favourite player.

It was decided the title would be decided in a rematch which would have only 24 games, with the challenger needing to score 12.5. That too turned out to be a well-fought match, with Kasparov winning 13-11. Karpov needed a win in the final game to keep his crown, but he lost. And Kasparov became, at 22, the youngest World champion ever, after playing 72 games.


Mikhail Botvinnik had begun the great Russian revolution in chess when he won the World championship in 1948. He had retained his crown in 1951 and 1954 with victories against fellow Soviets David Bronstein and Vasily Smyslov, respectively. After losing it to Smyslov in 1957, he had regained it a year later.

It was with such a wealth of experience that he went into the match against Mikhail Tal, his young compatriot. The challenger had earned his right the hard way, by winning a tough Interzonal and a tougher Candidates tournament, which had featured the likes of Paul Keres, Vasily Smyslov, Tigran Petrosisan and a young Bobby Fischer.

Tal was known for his stunningly attacking chess. They called him the ‘Magician from Riga.’

The big question was whether the magic would work against the stable, allround skills of Botvinnik. It worked, as Tal won the match convincingly, winning the best-of-24-games affair 12.5-8.5. He had begun with a victory in the very first game and was 5-2 up after seven games. He didn’t disappoint his fans as he became, at the time, the youngest World champion, at the age of 23.


When Soviet Union’s Alexander Alekhine challenged Jose Raul Capablanca for the 1927 World title, not many gave him a chance. The general feeling was that he wasn’t the most eligible contender, but only he could raise the resources for a match (FIDE hadn’t begun conducting World championships yet).

When soviet union's Alexander Alekhine (above) challenged Jose Raul Capablanca for the 1927 world title, not many gave him a chance, but he caused one of the biggest upsets.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

Alekhine had never won a game against the charismatic Cuban, who was the winner of five of their seven previous meetings prior to the World championship. Some of the leading players of the day predicted Alekhine would not win even a single game. And the condition was that six wins were required to win the title.

But Alekhine had the last laugh, when he won the 34th game. He had begun on the right note, winning the first game with black pieces. He won the match 18.5-13.5. He won six games and Capablanca three. It was one of the biggest upsets in the history of the World chess championship.


In 2008, Viswanathan Anand won his third World title when he defeated Russia’s Vladimir Kramnik. Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria became the Indian’s challenger for the 2010 World championship after beating Gata Kamsky of the United States.

The match would be played in Topalov’s hometown. Anand could not have foreseen that it would take him so much trouble just to reach the place, let alone defend his title.

A volcanic eruption in Iceland ruined Anand’s travels plans and he was stranded in Frankfurt. There were no flights and he had to travel by road. He arrived five days after the date he was scheduled to reach. His request to postpone the match was refused by the organisers, who allowed him just one day.

It was in such trying circumstances that the champion began his campaign. And he lost in the opening game of the best-of-12 match. He came roaring back in the very next game though and went ahead after Game Four. At the half-way mark he was leading 3.5-2.5. But the local boy equalised by winning the eight game and the scores were level 5.5-5.5 going into the final game. A draw would have made it 6-6 and the match would have required the tie-breakers with rapid games. Anand ensured that there was no need for that, as he scored an unforgettable win with black pieces.