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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[…]

From the age of four, Anatoly Karpov saw great beauty in chess. He made the game his profession and was the world champion for a decade, from 1975 to 1985.

Question: What qualities does it take to play world-class chess?

Anatoly Karpov:  A lot of things.  Chess is a very tough game, and psychologically a tough game.  And of course chess needs a lot of qualities, human qualities.  And so you must have very strong nervous system and then you must be well prepared, you must be able to work a lot. Chess need good preparation and so you must work for hours if you play, let’s say, for world championship.

What’s the appeal of chess?

Anatoly Karpov: So, I like beauty in chess.  I like interesting ideas that could be fantastic combination, but it could be also very deep positional idea, or, or very high level technique in endings.  So, I can feel and I can see beauty in each of this; beauty of chess, but also chess is always competition and so I like to compete and so this is part of my life.

When did you learn to play chess?

Anatoly Karpov: I started to play chess at four years watching my father playing with his friends.

I showed interest quite early and then I started to have lessons in school. I visited chess club and I played my first tournament when I was seven, and then I can’t say that I wanted to be professional and I thought I would be professional until the moment I became strong grandmaster.  When I became the youngest grandmaster at the time, at 19, then I thought maybe it could be my profession. But still I graduated Moscow University and I got profession of economist and in the meantime I made progress in Chess and I became world champion in 1975, when I was 24 years old.

At what age do chess players usually peak?

Anatoly Karpov:  So, in my time, it was from let’s say 25 to 35, now it’s earlier because you have easier information then you have computers and then okay maybe young people changed and so now I think it should be from maybe 18 even, or at least 20 to 30. 

Are we reaching the time when computers might solve the game of chess?

Anatoly Karpov: Theoretically, yes.  Because the number of variations are limited, is limited.  But still even the most powerful computers cannot calculate all possibilities which you have over a chess board.

So you’re not worried about computers ending the game? 

Anatoly Karpov: Who knows. Who knows.  But I don’t think in my life we shall reach that level. 

Recorded on May 17, 2010
Interviewed by Paul Hoffman