On September 10, 1984, Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov appeared on the stage of the Hall of Columns in Moscow for the first game of their match for the World Chess Championship. The clash between the reigning champion and his brazen young challenger was highly anticipated, but no one could have foreseen what was in store. In the next six years they would play five matches for the highest title and create one of the fiercest rivalries in sports history. The matches lasted a staggering total of 14 months, and the ‘two K’s’ played 5540 moves in 144 games.
The first match became front page news worldwide when after five months FIDE President Florencio Campomanes stepped in to stop the match citing exhaustion of both participants. A new match was staged and having learned valuable lessons, 22-year-old Garry Kasparov became the youngest World Chess Champion in history.
His win was not only hailed as a triumph of imaginative attacking chess, but also as a political victory. The representative of ‘perestroika’ had beaten the old champion, a symbol of Soviet stagnation. Kasparov defended his title in three more matches, all of them full of drama. Karpov remained a formidable opponent and the overall score was only 73-71 in Kasparov’s favour.
In The Longest Game Jan Timman returns to the Kasparov-Karpov matches. He chronicles the many twists and turns of this fascinating saga, including his behind-the scenes impressions, and takes a fresh look at the games.
With the Carlsen vs. Caruana match still fresh in the memory, it would seem appropriate to delve into some of the new releases on their world title clash in London. However I have decided to save that for a later column so I can draw comparisons between the full range of these dedicated books. Instead here we leap back in time to when Karpov and Kasparov ruled the chess world. Former world title contender Jan Timman will surely be remembered by readers from both his playing days, when he was long established in the top 3–4–5 and considered the strongest player in the West, but also nowadays as a splendid chess writer, as in the case of the award winning Timman’s Titans which I reviewed last year
The present book examines the five world title matches in the 80s and 90s between Kasparov and Karpov, and includes both detailed narrative, over fifty deeply annotated games, and a considerable number of individual positions. In each case Timman takes a fresh look at the games, some of which will be familiar while others completely forgotten - at least for me. But the book also discusses behind the scenes drama of which casual observers will probably be unaware. And so this is where the book becomes especially interesting, because I had not previously seen such material in print. This makes the book a compelling read, and a friend of mine even compared it to the movie Zero Dark Thirty which concerned the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s hideaway. Here you know the outcome, yet you are still glued to the edge of your seat, turning the pages, going through the games, almost as if you are watching the players live in real time.
It can be a curious feeling when revisiting the games of matches that were played about 30 years ago, but Timman has managed to recapture the tension and excitement of those bitterly fought encounters. I certainly agree with the back cover blurb which states that the K–K matches were “One of the greatest rivalries in sports history”, and Timman has now given us the opportunity to savor it all over again. Highly recommended!