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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 helped 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 favoured 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 a new 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 was again fearing 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 and Spassky chose a Nimzo-Indian variation that had been popular 20 years earlier. (2) He tried to improve on 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! instead, threatening 31.Be5) and Karpov managed 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, and 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 timeout and postponed Game 10 for two days. (8) He was perhaps expecting a fifth Caro-Kann, but now Karpov used 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 ˝ 1 ˝ ˝ 1 ˝ ˝ 1 ˝ 1 7 2 GM Spassky 2650 1 ˝ 0 ˝ ˝ 0 ˝ ˝ 0 ˝ 0 4

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

David Neil Lawrence Levy concluded that Karpov's preparation had enabled him to sidestep any traps that Spassky had hoped to set. Spassky was ill-prepared for the switch of opening repertoires. (9) The 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. Indeed, 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 and played in a quiet way 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 ambition and spirit and too quickly lost his faith when the situation turned against him. In the openings he appeared to be worried about the preparation of the Karpov camp. Consequently, there were occasions where he chose timid continuations and allowed Karpov to equalize or seize the initiative. In Game 9, he avoided a line that had 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
  REFINE SEARCH:   White wins (1-0) | Black wins (0-1) | Draws (1/2-1/2)  

Kibitzer's Corner
Premium Chessgames Member
  offramp: I am not sure who is the main progenitor of the superb introduction. So <Hesam7, Tabanus, Paint My Dragon & OhioChessFan> I thank you all! Great writing!
Nov-22-16  maelith: Considering that Karpov has a fever and Spassky is the overwhelming favorite, this is an impressive match victory by Karpov.
Nov-22-16  John Abraham: This is one of the reasons that people say Karpov would have beaten Fischer in 1975. Not saying I agree but for what it's worth.
Nov-23-16  Howard: Spassky was probably just a bit out of form in this unfortunate (for him) match.
Mar-23-17  The Boomerang: " Spassky was probably just a bit out of form in this unfortunate (for him) match."

Wrong. Spassky played at a higher level in this match then 1972 with Fischer, from Garry Kasparov opinion.

Mar-23-17  Petrosianic: That's an extremely subjective view. Yes, in this match Spassky avoided the one-move howlers that plagued him against Fischer. But that doesn't tell us about the overall level of play.

My feeling on this match is that Spassky played better than he did in Games 1-10 against Fischer, but worse than he did in Games 11-21.

Dec-25-17  The Boomerang: You'de right Petrosianic, Spassky played much better 11-21. It's like Spassky calmed down and his real strength came out.

If you look at the score for the second half its 2-1 wins for Fischer.

I think Karpov would have been a handful for Bobby in the 1975 match.

Dec-25-17  ZonszeinP: Spassky played brilliantly in the first game of this match but indeed, in the overal, his thirst for a fight was a lot higher in the second half of his match against Fischer. At some point he realized he wouldn't beat Karpov and "droped" it. Yet, IMHO the quality of the games in this match was of the higher
Dec-25-17  ZonszeinP: His best match in his own opinion I believe, was the one against Keres in 1965
Dec-25-17  ZonszeinP: 1974, 1984, 1994
...were great years for Karpov

He beat Polugaevsky, Spassky and Korchnoi becoming the WC challenger in a cicle that was not "his" ....
He was destroying Kasparov by the end of the year (although, I said to one of my teachers: Kasparov will win in the end. He didn't believe me. I had the impression that all the eldest were rooting for Karpov......wonder why)

And....he brilliantly won Linares!

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