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A Cool Young Russian Named Karpov Is the New King of Chess

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Every bit as conservative as his opponent is flamboyant, Soviet chess master Anatoly Karpov has been waging the war of nerves much as he would a chess match. While world champion Bobby Fischer, 32, outraged much of the chess world with a demand that the rules be changed before their $5 million match ($3,125,000 to the winner) in Manila in June, the Leningrad economics student played the waiting game.

Karpov’s strategy paid off. The International Chess Federation, unable to resolve Fischer’s demand that he remain champion in the event of a nine-to-nine game tie, stripped Fischer of his title. The next step was to proclaim Karpov the new king of world chess—at 23, the second-youngest ever. (The champion in 1960 was four months younger.)

Once he had triumphed by default, Karpov bravely announced that he was eager to take on Fischer, but doubted if the American “was mentally capable of playing chess.” The challenge has evoked no response from Fischer, still holed up in a phoneless Pasadena apartment. But U.S. Chess Federation Executive Director Edmund B. Edmondson was indignant: “Why didn’t this little mouse roar like a lion when it might have taunted Bobby Fischer into playing? Next to the genius of Fischer, Karpov’s talent is that of a dull, plodding student.”

Beyond a certain physical resemblance, Fischer and Karpov have little in common. While Fischer has had almost no time for anything but chess, Karpov has continued his economics studies and enjoys jazz, movies, the Bolshoi and stamp collecting. The Russian even admits to becoming bored with the game now and then. “Two weeks rest is enough,” claims Karpov, “so I can again think of chess.” During a match Karpov’s concentration is legendary. In their 1974 battle for the Soviet championship, Viktor Korchnoi wore sunglasses to avoid Karpov’s laser gaze and formally protested his opponent’s habit of staring at him.

King Karpov will face his first challenge in 1978. There is no way of telling who will be the challenger, but few believe that Fischer has been checkmated—least of all Karpov. On the new champion’s current reading list: Bobby Fischer’s Chess Games.