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Karpov - Spassky Candidates Semifinal 1974
Compiled by Tabanus

Karpov qualified for this match from the Karpov - Polugaevsky Candidates Quarterfinal (1974), whilst Spassky qualified from the Spassky - Byrne Candidates Quarterfinal (1974). The other match was the Korchnoi - Petrosian Candidates Semifinal (1974). In both matches victory would go to the player who first won 4 games, or who was in the lead 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 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 since he lost the WC title) and crushed Robert Eugene Byrne in the quarterfinal. Karpov was young (22, soon 23) and less experienced, but he 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 the FIDE president Max Euwe thought Spassky would win. But not Mikhail Botvinnik, who sensed Karpov's talent: "Just as inexplicably he will also beat Spassky". (4) The former world champion Tigran V 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 https://fbcdn-sphotos-f-a.akamaihd....

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 young 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 and 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 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 now 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 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.

Dzerzhinsky Palace, Leningrad URS, 12 April - 10 May 1974

Elo* 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 Pts 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 clever 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 too. "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 had suggested. It was more likely that psychological factors had affected Spassky. Indeed, there were still grandmasters who believed that Spassky had not yet recovered from his defeat by Fischer in 1972. (10) Paul Keres noted that Karpov was less burdened by the impetuosity 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 ambitions 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)

*FIDE Rating List May 1974.

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. (Belgrade 1974).

3) Saint Petersburg State Archive photo (

4) 'My Great Predecessors' by Garry Kasparov (Everyman, 2006), vol. 5 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.

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.

Game 1 April 12
Karpov vs Spassky, 1974 
(B83) Sicilian, 63 moves, 0-1

Game 2 April 15
Spassky vs Karpov, 1974 
(B18) Caro-Kann, Classical, 17 moves, 1/2-1/2

Game 3 April 17
Karpov vs Spassky, 1974 
(E91) King's Indian, 55 moves, 1-0

Game 4 April 19
Spassky vs Karpov, 1974 
(B18) Caro-Kann, Classical, 42 moves, 1/2-1/2

Game 5 April 22
Karpov vs Spassky, 1974 
(E59) Nimzo-Indian, 4.e3, Main line, 41 moves, 1/2-1/2

Game 6 April 24
Spassky vs Karpov, 1974 
(B18) Caro-Kann, Classical, 56 moves, 0-1

Game 7 April 26
Karpov vs Spassky, 1974 
(D31) Queen's Gambit Declined, 41 moves, 1/2-1/2

Game 8 May 1
Spassky vs Karpov, 1974 
(B18) Caro-Kann, Classical, 39 moves, 1/2-1/2

Game 9 May 3
Karpov vs Spassky, 1974 
(B83) Sicilian, 35 moves, 1-0

Game 10 May 8
Spassky vs Karpov, 1974 
(C95) Ruy Lopez, Closed, Breyer, 60 moves, 1/2-1/2

Game 11 May 10
Karpov vs Spassky, 1974 
(D58) Queen's Gambit Declined, Tartakower (Makagonov-Bondarevsky) Syst, 35 moves, 1-0

11 games

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