A blog post dedicated to four key games by Anatoly Karpov played at the 41st USSR Championship – one of the strongest championships of them all – plus some brief background to the event.
The 41st USSR Championship final, an 18-player all-play-all, took place in Moscow from 2nd-26th October 1973. The line-up featured five world champions – four past (Vasily Smyslov, Mikhail Tal, Tigran Petrosian and Boris Spassky) and one future (Anatoly Karpov) – as well as such greats as Paul Keres, Efim Geller, Mark Taimanov, Lev Polugaevsky and Viktor Korchnoi.
The event, which was preceded by semi-finals held in Frunze (today’s Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan), Kirovabad (today known as Ganja, in Azerbaijan), Lvov (Lviv) and Voronezh, took place in the Central House of Railwayworkers, on the Soviet capital’s Komsomolskaya square. This was a common venue for championship finals, going as far back as the 16th (1948).
In his memoir Chess is My Life, Korchnoi later recalled:
I remember my game with Spassky from one of the last rounds. Interest in the tournament was enormous, the hall was full to capacity, and we were playing, incidentally, in the very same hall where I played my first championship in 1952. There was no longer that enormous portrait of Stalin in the hall, but technology had advanced, and first-class buildings had appeared in Moscow, built according to the latest achievements in science and technology. But the country is proud of its traditions, and we played in this old hall, sometimes even to the accompaniment of the thumping of a steam hammer, reminding us that it was no longer 1952…
The event proved to be a triumph for Spassky, who achieved one of the greatest successes in his career by taking undivided 1st place with 11½/17 (+7, -1, =9), a full point clear of of Karpov, Petrosian, Polugaevsky, Korchnoi and Gennady Kuzmin in 2nd-6th.
Karpov’s placing in this event provided further confirmation of his status as the man most likely to regain the World Championship title for the Soviet Union. Indeed, following his sensational success in the Alekhine Memorial tournament at the end of 1971 (where he shared 1st-2nd place with Leonid Stein, ahead of Smyslov, Petrosian, Spassky, Tal and others), he had finished either in 1st or 2nd place in every event in which he had participated (his other ‘failure’ being the runner-up spot behind Geller at Budapest, 1973). A few months prior to the 41st USSR Championship, he had shared 1st-2nd place with Korchnoi in the Interzonal tournament in Leningrad, and the way to a potential match with Fischer was open. Immediately after the event in Moscow, he continued his run of success with 1st place in the international tournament in Madrid.
Karpov later annotated three of his encounters from the 41st USSR Championship – his wins v. Korchnoi and Kuzmin, and his draw v. Tukmakov – in his book Izbrannye partii (‘Selected Games’) 1969-77. In addition, he annotated his draw v. Spassky for the weekly ‘64‘. Translations of these annotations can be downloaded at the links below. The Games of Anatoly Karpov (compiled by O’Connell and Adams, and published by Batsford in 1974) – which was, incidentally, one of my first chess books – contains a time record of Karpov’s games in this event. The times taken over each move has been appended to the game annotations.
Karpov’s annotations are from Ibrannyi partii 1969-77 (1st edition, Fizkultura i Sport, 1978) and ’64’ (No. 40, 1973). Tukmakov’s annotations to his game v. Karpov are from ‘64‘ (No. 43, 1973).
Korchnoi’s recollections are from Chess is My Life (Batsford, 1977, translated from the Russian by Ken Neat.)