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Karpov - Spassky Candidates Semifinal Match

Anatoly Karpov7/11(+4 -1 =6)[games]
Boris Spassky4/11(+1 -4 =6)[games] Chess Event Description
Karpov - Spassky Candidates Semifinal (1974)

Karpov qualified for this match from the Karpov - Polugaevsky Candidates Quarterfinal (1974), and Spassky qualified from the Spassky - Byrne Candidates Quarterfinal (1974). The other match was the Korchnoi - Petrosian Candidates Semifinal (1974). Victory would go to the player who first won four games, or to the one with most points after 20 games. (1, 2) If tied at 10-10, the outcome would be decided by the drawing of lots. (2) The matches were held in order to select a challenger for the World Champion Robert James Fischer.

The match in Leningrad (Saint Petersburg since 1991) took place on the stage of the auditorium in the Dzerzhinsky Palace of Culture. (2) Chief arbiter was then-IM (later GM) Vladas Mikenas. (2) He was assisted by Andrey Mikhailovich Batuev. (3) Before the match, most chess experts did not dare to give Karpov the edge, for Spassky was too fearsome. (2) He was former world champion, had won the USSR Championship (1973) (after a frail period following the loss of the WC title) and crushed Robert Eugene Byrne in the quarterfinal. Karpov was young (22, soon 23) and less experienced, but had climbed steadily to the top, and even surpassed his opponent in the world ranking by winning the Leningrad Interzonal (1973) and the tournament in Madrid (1973). He had previously played four games with Spassky, and beaten him 1 to 0, with 3 draws. Karpov was seconded in Leningrad by his coach and mentor Semyon Abramovich Furman. (2) Karpov revealed in a conversation with the compiler of this report that he was also helped by Yuri Balashov. However, Garry Kasparov wrote that he was aided by "Furman and Yuri S Razuvaev (there was no Balashov: Spassky had turned to him for help, not knowing that he was in the opponent's team, and Yuri decided to observe neutrality)". (4) Spassky was seconded by his old trainer, the international arbiter and GM Igor Bondarevsky. (2)

Even FIDE president Max Euwe thought Spassky would win. An exception was Mikhail Botvinnik, who sensed Karpov's talent: "Just as inexplicably he will also beat Spassky". (4) The former world champion Tigran Vartanovich Petrosian predicted an "interesting struggle". (4) Paul Keres had favored the former world champions’ chances in both semifinals. (5) But Karpov did not try to anticipate how it would turn out to be. He spent two months to polish his opening systems and prepared two major surprises for Spassky: a partial switch to 1.d4 (leaving him guessing), and the Caro-Kann defense. (4) Scheduled date was 10 April, but then Karpov was sick, and told officials about one hour before the deadline for postponement requests that he was running a temperature of 100.4 degrees. The day before, he had complained that he was catching the grippe. (6) The first game was postponed till 12 April. The day arrived and they sat down at the board: "a self-confident, sun-tanned, athletic-looking man, and a pale, thin youth, not yet recovered from his cold". (4)

Photos: and

Game 1 was won by Spassky. Karpov still had a cold after the game, and had to take timeout and seek treatment. (2) Game 2 started three days later. A Caro-Kann, Karpov's first ever in serious tournament play, Spassky decided to defer the opening debate by offering the draw after 17 moves. (4) In Game 3, Spassky was given another surprise: 1.d4! Realising that his opponent was prepared for the main lines of his opening repertoire, "the ex-world champion had to choose at the board between those that he had already employed, and something that was new, but familiar only in general terms". (4) Spassky again feared Karpov's opening preparation and decided on a 'half-forgotten' set-up (6...c5) in the King's Indian. (4) Karpov outplayed him positionally (2) and evened the score. The game was considered important for the further course of the match. (4) In Game 4, Spassky again did not get any advantage against the Caro-Kann. He accepted a slightly worse ending - draw. (4) Game 5 opened 1.d4 again. Spassky chose a Nimzo-Indian variation that was popular 20 years earlier. (2) He tried to improve upon Petrosian vs Spassky, 1966 (with 12...Re8), and achieved a position so good that Karpov sacrificed a pawn for more freedom of his pieces:

click for larger view

The key moment of Game 5, and possibly of the match, according to Garry Kasparov. Spassky did not find 29...h5! (play went 29...Bc6 30.Qd6!, threatening 31.Be5), and Karpov was able to hold the draw. (4) For Spassky this was demoralizing, and it boosted Karpov's self-confidence. (2) However, what really unsettled Spassky was probably 23...e5! in Game 6. (4) Karpov equalized with his Caro-Kann, and exploited every inaccuracy that Spassky made later in the game: 2-1. Spassky was "seriously wounded, flustered, not understanding what was happening". (4) In Game 7, Spassky tried a Stonewall set-up (Dutch defence), but Karpov was able to handle it - a draw! Game 8 was postponed by Spassky because of illness. (7) But that did not help him either to break through Karpov's Caro-Kann, and draw again after a "genuine battle of titans!" (4) Game 9 won the special prize for brilliancy. (2) Former world champion Mikhail Tal commented that the ending of the game made a great impression on him. (4) The score was 3-1 and Karpov only needed one more win. Spassky took a timeout and postponed Game 10 for two days. (8) He was perhaps expecting a fifth Caro-Kann, but now Karpov switched to the Breyer defence in Ruy Lopez. Very challenging, as this was Spassky's favorite defence. (4) Spassky had the advantage, but felt that he no longer had the strength to fight for a win. (4) In Game 11, he used a variation in the Queen's Gambit Declined which was named after his second Bondarevsky, but Karpov held an opening advantage until Spassky blundered with 25...f5.

Leningrad, Soviet Union (Russia), 12 April - 10 May 1974

Elo* 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 1 GM Karpov 2700 0 ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 7 2 GM Spassky 2650 1 ½ 0 ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ 0 ½ 0 4

Karpov advanced to the Karpov - Korchnoi Candidates Final (1974).

David Neil Lawrence Levy concluded that Karpov's preparation enabled him to sidestep any traps that Spassky had hoped to set. Spassky was ill-prepared for the switch of opening repertoires. (9) Komsomolskaya Pravda (Newspaper) wrote that there were shortcomings in Spassky's preparation caused by an underestimation of his opponent. Karpov’s play evoked general admiration. He displayed an ability to solve strategic problems in a well-considered way, to manoeuvre with precision and to be precise in endgames. "His defensive skills have long been known, but now we have seen Karpov as a master of attack". (9) Burt Hochberg was not convinced that Karpov at 23 could be so superior as the score suggested. It was more likely that psychological factors had affected Spassky. There were still grandmasters who thought that Spassky had not yet recovered from his defeat by Fischer in 1972. (10) Paul Keres noted that Karpov was less burdened by the eagerness so typical of young men seeking complications and tactics at every turn. He adjusted his play to the needs of the position, playing quietly when required. This showed a level of maturity beyond his years and there were even touches reminiscent of Jose Raul Capablanca. (11) Spassky played without his usual spirit and ambition and too quickly lost his faith when the situation turned against him. In the openings he appeared worry about the preparation of the Karpov camp. Consequently, there were occasions where he chose timid continuations, allowing Karpov to equalize or seize the initiative. In Game 9, he avoided a line that looked good for him earlier in the match, presumably because Karpov might have found an improvement. (12) Mikhail Botvinnik adduced that Spassky was not keyed up for intense exertion: "A hard fight is no longer to his liking!" (13)

1) Harry Golombek in The Times, 16 April 1974, p. 14, with no mention of what would happen in case of 10-10.
2) Candidates' Matches 1974, by Mikhail Botvinnik, Aleksandar Matanovic, Bozidar Kazic and Mikhail M Yudovich Sr. Centar za unapredivanje saha/US Chess Federation, Belgrade 1974.
3) Saint Petersburg State Archive photo (text to photo at
4) My Great Predecessors, Vol. 5, by Garry Kasparov. Everyman 2006, pp. 248-281.
5) Chess Life & Review, August 1974.
6) AP report in State Times Advocate, 10 April 1974, p. 56.
7) Trenton Evening Times, 29 April 1974, p. 6.
8) Augusta Chronicle, 7 May 1974, p. 2.
9) Karpov’s Collected Games, by David Neil Lawrence Levy. Hale, London 1975, p. 28.
10) Chess Life & Review, June 1974.
11) Chess Life & Review, August 1974.
12) Chess Life & Review, August & September 1974.
13) Anatoly Karpov. His Road to the World Championship, by Mikhail Botvinnik. Pergamon Press, Oxford 1978, p. xiii.

*FIDE Rating List May 1974.

Original game collections: Game Collection: WCC Index (Karpov-Spassky 1974) by User: Hesam7 and Game Collection: Karpov - Spassky Candidates Semifinal 1974 by User: Tabanus. Game dates are from American newspapers and The Times. The last paragraph of this report was written by User: Paint My Dragon. Thanks to User: OhioChessFan for improving the English.

 page 1 of 1; 11 games  PGN Download 
Game  ResultMoves YearEvent/LocaleOpening
1. Karpov vs Spassky 0-1631974Karpov - Spassky Candidates SemifinalB83 Sicilian
2. Spassky vs Karpov ½-½171974Karpov - Spassky Candidates SemifinalB18 Caro-Kann, Classical
3. Karpov vs Spassky 1-0551974Karpov - Spassky Candidates SemifinalE91 King's Indian
4. Spassky vs Karpov ½-½421974Karpov - Spassky Candidates SemifinalB18 Caro-Kann, Classical
5. Karpov vs Spassky ½-½411974Karpov - Spassky Candidates SemifinalE59 Nimzo-Indian, 4.e3, Main line
6. Spassky vs Karpov 0-1561974Karpov - Spassky Candidates SemifinalB18 Caro-Kann, Classical
7. Karpov vs Spassky ½-½411974Karpov - Spassky Candidates SemifinalD31 Queen's Gambit Declined
8. Spassky vs Karpov ½-½391974Karpov - Spassky Candidates SemifinalB18 Caro-Kann, Classical
9. Karpov vs Spassky 1-0351974Karpov - Spassky Candidates SemifinalB83 Sicilian
10. Spassky vs Karpov ½-½601974Karpov - Spassky Candidates SemifinalC95 Ruy Lopez, Closed, Breyer
11. Karpov vs Spassky 1-0351974Karpov - Spassky Candidates SemifinalD58 Queen's Gambit Declined, Tartakower (Makagonov-Bondarevsky) Syst
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Kibitzer's Corner
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Apr-22-20  ZonszeinP: Each player in his time:

1968: Boris
1973: Leonid
1974: Anatoly

Case closed


Premium Chessgames Member
  perfidious: <Everett....Yet (Spassky) did not win every tournament he entered in those years. Why? They were not important. Sure he won some, because he was a beast and one of the best ever. But he wasn't a maniac about it. Meanwhile, Petrosian also didn't rack up a stellar tournament record during those years either....>

After Alekhine's purple patch of 1930-34, the next reigning titleholder to turn out a strong record would be Karpov, followed by his fiercest foe Kasparov, who, impossibly, set an even higher standard.

<....Yet, after he became WC, it was likely natural for Spassky to slip back into his habitual, well-known, and documented laziness. Nobody knows just how much, but Spassky's inability to adapt to Karpov, with our without Geller, is a clue....>

Long and short of it is that Spassky reverted to type, plus there was the turmoil of his private life.

<....What <keypusher> is taking his time to explain to you is that the Geller switch had a lot less to do with Spassky's loss to Karpov than Spassky's nature and Karpov's drive and talent....>

Karpov was unprepossessing in appearance, but had tremendous ferocity and determination.

Apr-22-20  Allanur: @Everett, I also mentioned that: Spassky was not winning tournaments even in his best years + he had match experience.

But no, tournaments were [considered] an indicator even in 1850s (far longer before elo ratings conpared to Spassky). Remember Adolf Anderssen being considered the best, that was due to a tournament. But I still agree that against Spassky, who was not playing to win tournaments even in his best years, tournament victories would not weigh that much when assessing who is the favourite to win.

However, as I mentioned in my previous comments, Karpov was already being seen as the next challenger even in late 1972. Anyway, the article writes likes of Keres and Euwe (who were both contemporary and more knowledgeable) did consider Spassky favourite. I am gonna check contemporary reports on what the odds were by the bookmakers and experts, what was being speculated and I will share them here with references.

As for Spassky losing due to his nature more than due to Geller's switch, I can agree that maybe the heavier factor (or vice versa). What I was saying was not "due to Geller he lost." Rather, I was saying Spassky abandoned his usual openings in this match and had to play something different. That was the thing I connected to Geller's switch. Even if Spassky won this match with the same openings I would still say it and would not think "Geller is the cause of Spassky's triumph."

Premium Chessgames Member
  harrylime: Boris was and is better than Karpov.
Premium Chessgames Member
  saffuna: <Boris was and is better than Karpov.>

At what? Backgammon?

Premium Chessgames Member
  harrylime: <<saffuna: <Boris was and is better than Karpov.> At what? Backgammon?>>

Wattt is this soite ?? lol lol lol

Premium Chessgames Member
  harrylime: karpov was red carpeted by the SOVIET STATE

Boris was a genuine World Champion.

Premium Chessgames Member
  Everett: <After Alekhine's purple patch of 1930-34, the next reigning titleholder to turn out a strong record would be Karpov, followed by his fiercest foe Kasparov, who, impossibly, set an even higher standard.>


That's right, and then Carlsen after him!

Lasker, Alekhine, Karpov, Kasparov, and now Carlsen are all great players, yet what links them together is that they still worked on their game and got better after becoming champions. Top five for me, easy.

Love all the other guys tho ;-)

Apr-22-20  wharfrat: The following quotation comes from an article by Robert Byrne that appeared in the New York Times on October 14, 1975. Only subscribers to the NYT can access it, so I have not included a link. After pointing out that Karpov had dominated Spassky in recent events, including their match, Byrne criticized Spassky’s play in the match with Karpov and then continued with the following: “Betraying an extreme loss of confidence in his standard opening repertoire, Spassky tried defenses foreign to his style of play such as the King’s Indian and the Dutch, handled them abominably, and was unrecognizable throughout the match. Spassky did have something of an excuse then, since Efim Geller, his chief analyst and second for his championship match with Bobby Fischer in Reykjavik, had joined Karpov’s camp, taking with him all of Boris’s opening secrets. Still, as bad a blow as that was, didn’t Spassky have time to prepare surprises that even Geller couldn’t anticipate?”

I have to admit that I was skeptical of the post by <Allanur> on April 2nd when I first read it. I was following WC events pretty closely then and didn’t remember it and couldn’t find any reference of it in the books I have that covered the match, most notably Kasparov’s lengthy treatment in Great Predecessors Part V. But presumably Byrne was in a position to know, particularly as he had lost a Candidates match to Spassky in the same cycle. But Byrne’s rhetorical question at the end at least implies that Spassky had more time to react than suggested by <Allanur’s> initial post.

Obviously the decision wasn’t made by any of the players involved but by the Soviet federation, probably with input from above. If Geller was viewed as one of the top openings specialists in the USSR at the time, it makes sense the more you think about it. Spassky was almost 38 and had a reputation for being lazy. In addition, his relationship with the French woman he would marry in 1975 may have played a part; Wikipedia reports that she was the granddaughter of a former leader of the White Movement during the Russian Civil War. Not the kind of thing that would make members of the Communist Party help you out. Whether Spassky was the favorite was of less importance than the fact that Karpov was clearly the future of Soviet chess.

Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: <wharfrat>. What I have specifically asked for evidence of is whether Geller and Spassky ever worked together after Reykjavik. I don’t think they did.
May-25-20  Allanur: @whatfrat, @keypusher, the best way to assess this question seems to be to look at the chronologies of the events preeceding this match. Geller was not among Karpov's seconds in his quarter final match against's current page about that match, Geller is not mentioned there. I looked at a book about Spassky's biography written by his longtime friend since youth, Yakov Damsky. I did not find any info about Geller's *switch*. I am failing to find the source I read it. Then I looked at Korchnoi's book, he talks about the unfair advantages Karpov had been enjoying but the switch is not mentioned there either.

But he is not mentioned as one of the seconds in Spassky's match against Byrne, either. So:

* Geller *swithing* from Spassky to Karpov when there was remaining 48 hours was probably wrong (unless we think Geller joined Spassky after Byrne match and then switched to Karpov just before the match or unless we think such a seemingly important event could have been ignored by Korchnoi and Damsky).

* Geller joined Karpov probably after the quarter final matches.

If I recall correctly, the quarter finals were finished on February and this match started on mid-April. There were 2 months gap in this period, Geller must have joined Karpov during these two months.

Exactly when did Geller join Karpov maybe too huge of a determining factor. If he joined Karpov, say, 1 month remaining to the match Spassky might have had time to develop new repertoire. But he, seemingly, did not. On the other hand, if Geller did not join Karpov in such a long time, 22 years old Karpov probably could not learn Spassky's preperations and develop nemesis against him in such a short time.

Evaluating all, Geller probably joined earlier than 48 hours.

May-25-20  ewan14: The Soviet chess federation saw Karpov as the (chosen)one to play Spassky
May-26-20  An Indianman: Good evening: Anatoly Karpov is obviously the better player hands down. Just look at the evidence.
May-26-20  ewan14: This match was when Spassky was past his best so it is not obvious
Premium Chessgames Member
  harrylime: Bozza more interested in defecting from Commie Russia than playin chess at this time loike ..
Apr-29-21  jabinjikanza: Great games it was btw two legends
Apr-29-21  RookFile: Actually Spassky played many bad moves, as pointed out by Edmar Mednis in his notes on the match. Spassky thought he could just wing it against a well prepared Karpov. Needless to say, it didn't work out very well.
Apr-29-21  savagerules: Karpov who was part of Spassky's team in 1972 had obviously got an insight to Spassky's play and psyche and so Karpov merely repeated Fischer's game plan of not playing his usual openings. That and Spassky's winning of game one, the same as he did against Fischer, probably added to Spassky's overconfidence at the beginning of the match.
Premium Chessgames Member
  OhioChessFan: Facing a Caro-Kann with White and d4 with Black was too much of a surprise for a former WCC? Meh.
Apr-29-21  W Westerlund: Karpov was not part of Spassky's team in 1972. There was no plan. Spassky played too much tennis and read too many novels, it was laziness and it was induced by fear - he couldn't face the idea of losing to Fischer, so he didn't even try to properly prepare, just as Fischer couldn't face the idea of losing and never tried again (great WC). Both of these guys were mentally off. Then Karpov appeared. Karpov was not mentally off. He got stronger by the day. Karpov would play chess, it was almost a paradigmatic shift. Spassky had no chance against Karpov, he was simply a) mentally not up to it and b) the lesser player. I thought that all of this is pretty obvious by now, not to Harry, but to those with normal intelligence.
Apr-29-21  savagerules: <Westerlund> Karpov himself tells about the training (or lack of training) that was going on before the Fischer match and he was there for part of it (two weeks) along with Geller and a couple others. http://www.anatolykarpovchessschool...
Apr-29-21  W Westerlund: Savage: as I said, Karpov was not a part of Spassky's team - look it up. While still in Moscow, I believe they only played one game - Spassky had other things to do. Instead of giving in to the tantrums, the Russians should have said no before the 3rd game: 'now you are going to sit down here (in the main hall) and shut up and play or otherwise it is over'. But then Euwe didn't want this, many chess fans didn't want it and there was of course the money. But this is exactly what should have happened. Instead Spassky gave in and they played the 3rd game in a table tennis room. What does that tell you about motivation and the will to fight? If the Russians would not have given in, Fischer would have been confronted with a slight bit of reality - it would probably would have done him good (nothing else ever helped) and Spassky would have lost his title in 74 or 75 to Karpov. Both Karpov and Kasparov (MGPIV) comment on the debacle before the 3rd game: giving in to Fischer was nothing less than an act of obedience, of submission. Can you imagine Carlsen applauding when Nepo will win a game this November? It was sick. The Fischer church wants to portray Spassky as the greatest ever - then Fischer beat him. And against Karpov, Spassky was a bit ill and not motivated and not prepared and more excuses, otherwise he would have won, because after all Karpov was not that strong. All of which is complete nonsense.
Apr-29-21  savagerules: If you don't mind, I'll believe Karpov and not some unknown poster - in the article I pasted the link to and in other articles he says he worked for two weeks with Spassky and played a training game with him before that. So Karpov was lying and an unknown chessgames poster knows it all? Okay.
Apr-29-21  W Westerlund: I said that they played one game. Karpov said they played one game. Karpov did not go to Iceland. He had no contact with Spassky. He had no impact on what was going on there. He was not part of the team. If you do not agree, use the link you provided and read the interview.
Nov-29-21  Helios727: For whomever asked why Spassky played the same Sicilian Defense against Karpov in 1974 as he did against Fischer in 1972, he did not. Fischer played the Sozin and Rauzer Attack against Spassky in 1972. Karpov varied with 6.Be2 in both 1974 games, so Spassky had no opportunity to copy what he used in 1972 against Fischer.
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