The Value of Mental Toughness

Anatoly Yevgenyevich Karpov was the world chess champion for a decade, from 1975 to 1985.  He won the title when Bobby Fischer, the American grandmaster and reigning world champion, failed to show up at the chessboard.  Born in 1951 in Zlatoust, a Russian industrial city in the Urals, Karpov is widely considered to be one of the greatest players of all time.  He finished first in more than 160 tournaments and occupied the Number 1 spot on the world chess rating list for 90 months, a record surpassed only be the man who dethroned him as world champion, Garry Kasparov. Today, two and half decades after his reign as world champion, Karpov is still an active and strong grandmaster (rated Number 155 in the world, as of June 2010). Karpov is running for president of FIDE, the world chess federation. 
  • Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Question: How would you describe your playing style?

Anatoly Karpov: So, I was, and I am, how to say—a positional player, but active positional player.  So, we had purely positional player who was Tigran Petrosian, world champion for six years.  But I have active positional style and so I played quite strongly endings.  So this was my advantage also and then I could defend difficult positions, which is quite seldom in modern chess.  So, and I could resist in positions where other players probably would resign.  And I was finding interesting ideas how to defend difficult positions and I could save many games.  So, I never gave up.  I was... okay, I was stubborn as a chess player, and so I tried to defend even very bad positions, and in many cases succeeded.

Question:
So you played on in bad positions?
 

Anatoly Karpov: Yeah, so as a personality, I’m fighter, you know.  And I don’t give up and if I believe I’m correct, I’m right, then I work and I fight.  Okay, this could be over chess board, this could be in life and so I defend my principles.  And in chess, okay, this is a special, how to say, characteristic when you, when you try to find the best move whatever the position is, because many people they say, okay, this is bad and then they lose will to fight.  I never lost will to fight.

Question:
How do remain calm after you realize you’ve made a poor move?

Anatoly Karpov: No, this is a very important and this is good question because many people would call back the situation, they missed chances, and then of course it will spoil the rest of the game.  But it is concerning not only special situation during the game, but also the bad result of previous game for the next game you play.  So, in my life, I tried and I succeeded in many cases to forget everything that was in the past.  So, of course you need to make some analysis and not to repeat mistakes, but it’s extremely important to accept situation like it is, the real situation, not with thoughts of regrets of what you missed and okay, two moves ago you had winning position now, you have to defend a difficult position and probably you might lose the game.  So, this thought shouldn’t be when you play chess game.  And so later on maybe you analyze and then you will, how to say, make some conclusions.  But during the game... and this is also very important part for chess education because chess is getting ideas how to accept the real situation and how to be objective.  To be objective and to meet unexpected situations and to adapt to this immediately and to start to think and to solve the problems.

You have to develop this.  I don’t think it comes from your childhood or with birth. 

Recorded on May 17, 2010
Interviewed by Paul Hoffman


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