“We have made one of the best chess films in history”

A Russian film recreates the 1978 Chess World Cup,
“The dirtiest in history”
, according to the BBC. Gambit fans, not just ladies, know that the opponents were Anatoly Karpov and Viktor Korchnoi. The Soviet hero and the stateless traitor, according to some, or the Politburo puppet against the martyr, for the other half of the planet. In any case, what was seen in Baguio (Philippines) was a succession of hits under the board in which there were parapsychologists, sects and supposed messages in code camouflaged in flavored yogurts, all under the supervision of the KGB and in one country that it was not the paradise of democracy either.

is a great film project that bears the seal of Nikita Mijalkov, Oscar winner for ‘Burned by the sun’ (1994). He is accompanied by other top-level producers, which only experts in the Cyrillic alphabet would know how to recognize. The best for the screenwriter and director, Aleksey Sidorov, is that he did not have to invent anything to enrich the script. On the contrary: Karpov assures from his role as official consultant that “it would have taken two films to tell everything.” If the box office responds, in fact, plan a series of at least ten or twelve chapters to include “all the stories that were left out.”

The twelfth world chess champion (1975-1985) has spoken to ABC about the film and his Filipino memories. The interview was carried out by phone, during the last visit to Spain of the great master, when a week ago he attended the tournament
Travesía Vigo Master Chess 2021
and played an exhibition game with the mayor of the Galician city, Abel knight. It should be added that the councilor suffered to tear off some boards, despite the help of a chop since the tie was agreed. Far from improvising, both reproduced the movements of one of the 1978 World Cup games. Luckily for ‘World Champion’, Konstantin Jabenski he is a best actor, as well as one of the most popular stars in Russia.

Abel Caballero, against Anatoly Karpov, during the celebration of Travesía Vigo Master Chess 2021
Abel Caballero, against Anatoly Karpov, during the celebration of Travesía Vigo Master Chess 2021 – Vigo City Council

Karpov also praises the rest of the cast of ‘World Champion’ and highlights how all the technical and artistic aspects of the film have been taken care of. The former champion, who turned 70 in May, claims he spent a lot of time with the actor who brings him to life on screen, Ivan Yankovsky. “I have not seen the complete result, but I expect a great performance from him,” confirms Anatoly, who ignores the limited physical resemblance that he bears with the interpreter.

A series, dream project

The film will be released in Russia on December 30 And just because of the trailer and the names involved in the production, great things are expected from her. Karpov believes it will be “one of the best chess movies ever.” There is only one detail that he did not like in his foray into the world of cinema: «How short the time is in a movie. The team was only able to use a part of the true stories that we live. I will not say that it was a bad discovery for me, but it was a very big surprise. I wanted to tell more stories and show other interesting aspects of the World Cup, but we only had an hour and a half at the most and we had to choose the most interesting if we were to make a commercially successful film. The truth is that, in addition to its ingredients, the Baguio championship lasted three months, July 18 to October 18, 1978.

Karpov adds that after this experience he spoke with “very important producers” to see the possibility of recounting his career in the 20th century. «It would take 16 chapters of an hour. Maybe there are too many, but ten or twelve seem viable to me. It depends on the commercial success of ‘World Champion’. ” Karpov also does not rule out shooting another film about his duels against Garry Kasparov, but in this case you see a drawback: since they are more recent, they are better covered with real images.

In the purely sports aspect, or perhaps not so much, the tension that was lived in Baguio and the evolution of the scoreboard seemed the work of a handful of placed scriptwriters. Karpov downplays the parapsychological componentOn the other hand: “I don’t believe in these things too much and I think they didn’t have a prominent role, but they are mentioned in the film, although not as a central idea.” The old champion also recognizes some “light” superstition, such as “trying not to repeat anything that happened” on the day of a loss.

However, in the Philippines (para) psychological warfare was seen to be essential, if only as a placebo effect. The image of the tweet above corresponds to the moment when Korchnoi theatrically puts on sunglasses in the first game of the World Championship, it is supposed to avoid possible negative influences from his rival, who heads upset.

In Karpov’s team, on the other hand, the presence of Dr. Zukhar stood out, a parapsychologist who caused great discomfort on the Korchnoi side, who counterattacked with the signing of two members of a sect, Didi and Chest, who sat meditating during games in the lotus position, as far away from the stage as they were allowed, in their striking saffron-colored garments. Despite the visual impact, few would remember them today if their emergence had not coincided with a spectacular comeback by the now Swiss citizen.

Does Karpov have any regrets about what he or his team did? “At some point,” he admits, “I just followed the team to the psychological crisis in three or four games. What could I do? I had to overcome that problem.

Real image of the duel between Karpov and Korchnoi in 1978
Real image of the duel between Karpov and Korchnoi in 1978 – ABC

Did you learn to appreciate your great enemies on the board over time? “You know that we players have different ways of approaching chess and mine was very different from what Kasparov and Korchnoi represented. Only Mijail Botvinnik he was on the same side. Botvinnik he needed to hate his rivals to show his best chess and Korchnoi was a Botvinnik follower, even though they got along very badly afterwards. Then appeared, Kasparov, who was the third. Okay, it was his way of being, but I’m very different.

Did you manage to have a normal relationship with Korchnoi over the years, as you did with Kasparov? «Of course, time passes and problems become simpler. He had different political ideas, but we were actually friends when he was still living in the Soviet Union. Later, he became my political enemy, but in the end I think he got to play for three years in my team and during that time he was very correct.

Outraged by ‘The Fischer Affair’

With Korchnoi dead since 2016 and Karpov as an advisor, one wonders if the challenger is portrayed as the movie’s villain. No, I don’t think they wanted to present it that way. I think the story is told in a correct way. It’s very different from what happened with a movie that I can’t see anymore, ‘The Fischer Affair’ (‘Pawn sacrifice’), it was terrible. I insisted that if you make a movie about historical figures, you cannot get away from the real characters. You can always make up some stories, but not quite as surreal as those seen in ‘The Fischer Affair.’

Liev Schreiber (Spassky) y Tobey Maguire (Fischer) en 'El caso Fischer'
Liev Schreiber (Spassky) y Tobey Maguire (Fischer) en ‘El caso Fischer’

“I treated Spassky a lot,” he continues angrily. «The first time we met I was 15 years old. And he knew Fischer well too. On the screen I could not recognize them, it was an absolutely different and crazy portrait. I didn’t like the Spassky in the movie from the beginning. Of course, you have the right to make a chess fantasy, but then don’t name real grandmasters, don’t go too far.

What are your favorite chess movies? «Before I would like to quote the ‘Novel of chess’, by Stefan Zweig. In the cinema, although Fischer’s name was used as a decoy and then he did not appear, I was attracted to ‘In Search of Bobby Fischer’, a very psychological film. Then there is the French film ‘La diagonal del loco’ –in which Michel Piccoli plays a character inspired by Korchnoi, by the way – and ‘The Luzhin Defense’, based on the novel by Nabokov. There are quite a few interesting chess films, some more about Fischer and Spassky whose title I can’t remember, but ‘The Fischer Affair’, which was terrible.

Upon ‘Lady’s gambit’, Karpov emphasizes that the fever that the whole planet lived through also occurred in Russia. «I have not had time to see the complete series, but the reactions have been very positive. I think it is well done and that it has been good for promoting chess ».

Why did Bobby Fischer retire?

Here Anatoly Karpov gives his theory about the ‘escape’ of the American, who did not defend his title in 1975, which made the Russian world champion. Of course, I would have wanted to play. I had prepared very well and had a good chance of winning. It was a shame, not only for the history of chess, but for the history of the sport that Fischer not be measured against me. But I understood his reasons, because in his life he had always faced older opponents and suddenly, when he was still young, at 32 years old, he had to play against me in Manila. He was not psychologically prepared to fight someone less. I don’t think he could understand how much chess had advanced in a very short time. He could see the rapid progress I was making, from one month to the next. I think that was his problem.

The former world champion also remembers his visits to our territory: «I know Spain very well. The first time I came was to play the Madrid tournament in 1973, at the time of Franco, when our countries did not have diplomatic relations. I don’t even know how it could have happened. It was the first time I had won a big solo tournament. Before, he had only shared the top spot multiple times. I have very good memories of Madrid at that time. The lifestyle was so much easier. You could walk at night through the streets of Madrid and Barcelona. Some restaurants were open until four or five in the morning. Life has completely changed these days. Since then, I have visited Spain sixty or seventy times. I know a lot of big cities and I visit them often. Also the three Balearic islands and the seven Canaries ». Here life has changed even more. «The volcano is a very big problem. I have seen similar things in Indonesia, the Philippines, Iceland … Sometimes nature is wild.

Karpov gets carried away at the last minute by another kind of nostalgia: “Of course, I remember the time when the Soviet Union ruled the world of chess, when I was playing. I became captain when I was 23 years old, in a team full of champions: Petrosian, Spassky, Smyslov… that they let me take the reins. I miss those times. It is clear that chess lovers in Russia dream of regaining the crown.

Norwegian Magnus Carlsen will defend his title against the Russian Ian Nepomniachtchi in less than two months Do you have ‘Nepo’ options? “People in Russia think so, but objectively I think Carlsen is stronger.”


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