<Flashback (20 years of chess coverage) -
My first encounter with Anatoly Karpov, world champion of 1975-'85, came 15 years ago at the Capital Hilton in Washington.
Mr. Karpov was playing 25 boards in a $20-a-board simultaneous exhibition arranged by his friend, Lubosh Kavalek of Reston, Va. Fifteen of Mr. Karpov's opponents were among the highest-ranked players in the area.
(I have a photo here. Mr. Karpov is contemplating a move. John Meyer of Northern Virginia is in the foreground. The venerable Oscar Shapiro of Washington is three boards down the table.)
Notes on the occasion, with some revisions: Mr. Karpov won 19, drew 5 and lost 1. He looked at each face in turn, then the position. In five seconds or less he moved a piece or captured with a decisive, graceful sweep of the hand and moved on.
He wore a blue suit, by no means drably cut. (Looking back, I must have meant that as a knock at Soviet tailoring. By then, however, Mr. Karpov was a world traveler and could purchase suits wherever he went.) Straight dark blond hair. Expression clear-eyed, sober. Slight stature (a definite understatement). No nervous tics.
More than 160 people were crowded around four tables forming a square, some standing on chairs, all watching with a concentration comparable with that of the players.
Soviet security personnel permeated the room. I had a briefcase, and it attracted glares. Mr. Kavalek shushed the audience, not realizing that one of the offenders was Anatoly Dobrynin, Soviet ambassador to the United States.
The opposition folded rapidly. Mr. Karpov shook hands, smiled graciously and in some instances signed score sheets. But he did not speak, although his English was said to be adequate (more than adequate I would acknowledge later). He had declined interview requests.
The explanation was that he had not been on an official visit to the United States and that he wanted time to sightsee.
Sam Greenlaw, a likable Floridian who had launched a computer-systems firm near Washington, was the only one to topple the champion in four hours. (Brothers John and Gene Meyer, Ken Clayton, Harvey Bernard and Robert Joynt came away with draws.)
"I played an old, old opening," Mr. Greenlaw said, "the Meran variation of the Slav Defense. If you play really wild stuff, the person giving the simul is going to have a problem because he lacks time."
Mr. Karpov seemed reluctant to sign Mr. Greenlaw's score sheet but he finally did and looked unfatigued in earning $250 an hour.
The day after the simul a reader called and said he had seen someone in the hotel lobby who looked remarkably like Bobby Fischer, the American world champion who had refused to defend his title in 1975, which gave the crown to Mr. Karpov. Mr. Fischer had been incommunicado for some time; my initial reaction was doubt. Why would he come all the way from California to meet a person whom he must have regarded as a pretender to the throne?
But in his autobiography, "Karpov on Karpov," Anatoly confirms he met Mr. Fischer in Washington in 1977 (almost certainly at the time of the exhibition) to negotiate conditions for a match. An agreement seemed set, but, Mr. Karpov said, Bobby ultimately backed out.
I met Mr. Karpov on a number of occasions, later, in Europe and on the West Coast. My opinion of him, critical at the outset, changed. But then so have the circumstances. No one needs to look at the world any longer through Cold War-colored glasses.>