BAGUIO CITY—Russian chess legend Anatoly Karpov nonchalantly entered the Baguio Convention Center on February 1, where his historic match with the late Soviet defector Viktor Korchnoi some 45 years ago spark a global passion with their famous showdown.
Pausing briefly to sign a Baguio employee’s chessboard, Karpov, now 72, entered the hall, where he spoke to about 60 Baguio chess enthusiasts, many of them children and young adults. year.
This was the first official visit by a Russian grandmaster (GM) to the renovated convention center, which many believe was purposefully built for the 1978 World Chess Championship by the president himself. the authority of then-President Ferdinand Marcos Sr.
Karpov was the world champion at a time after the late American GM Bobby Fischer was stripped of his title due to a legal dispute with the International Chess Federation or the World Chess Federation (Fide, or Fédération Internationale des Échecs).
Korchnoi, a former GM of the Soviet Union (Federal Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or the USSR), was the challenger, and the much talked about tournament drew the largest number of sports journalists to the City. Baguio, Karpov, now a member of the State Duma, said. one of the chambers of the Russian parliament.
Books and many archives describe the Baguio tournament as a “surreal” event, marked by tension and bitter conflicts between Karpov, who is in his 20s, and Korchnoi, 47.
One of the more controversial stories about the match involved Korchnoi’s allegation that he was being hypnotized by a Soviet parapsychologist present in the audience.
Karpov said Florencio Campomanes, one of the tournament organizers in the Philippines, thought he could handle the opponents’ dispute and was surprised when one of the first grievances involved choosing a chess board for the game. matches.
He recalls: “Campomanes couldn’t believe he had to let us choose our own chess set and board.
Campomanes, who later served as Fide president from 1982 to 1985, finally found a set that was acceptable to both players from a private collector in Metro Manila.
Karpov described the Baguio tournament as one of his longest, lasting three months from July to October 1978. He said the Soviet delegation had to live in the city and endure extreme weather.
“During the game, we had a lot of storms and a lot of rain… we had water from [convention center] roof and we have water in the hall,” he said.
Philippine tournament organizers quickly fixed the leak and matches resumed, he said, noting the work of local officials and their team as “nearly perfect” “.
Karpov also remembers how an American military official, who was assigned to one of the US military bases in the country, helped him find a suitable tennis court because he did not like the courts in Baguio. at that time.
“I need to prepare physically for the matches,” the Russian chess legend said, adding that his feet are not comfortable with the local court.
This also angered Korchnoi. “Korchnoi believes the Americans should be on his side,” he said.
Karpov said late President Fidel V. Ramos invited him to visit the Philippines to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the chess match of Baguio in 1998.
The Russian GM went to Baguio City that year and was a guest at the opening of the Campomanes Chess Square of the University of Baguio. It is unclear whether Karpov made time to visit the convention center that year during a short trip to the summer capital.
Both Campomanes and Fischer were related to Baguio. Campomanes died in this city in 2010, after retiring here. Fischer was a frequent guest of Baguio, was a guest on midnight radio chats with the late broadcaster Pablo Mercado, and was with Filipino GM Eugene Torre from 2000 to 2002.
One of Karpov’s recollections is playing against Torre, then the top Philippine player.
A recent Inquirer report said that Torre, Asia’s first GM, beat Karpov twice in his prime. However, the Russian GM defeated Torre four times and drew the Filipino five times in the head-to-head.
According to Karpov, he has advocated playing chess in Russian schools, and many institutions there have heeded his advice. But he turned down a Baguio chess enthusiast’s request to extend that support to the Philippines, citing his duties as a member of Russia’s parliament.
Karpov also declined when asked to play an exhibition game, explaining that “it requires a lot of preparation”. But he agreed to take pictures with local chess players, most of whom were not born when he faced Korchnoi in Baguio.
One of them, 10-year-old Shiloh Paran, said he learned Karpov’s moves from a book. He was a 5th grader from Baguio Siloam Christian Academy who ran to the convention center after hearing about the grandmaster’s visit. Karpov signed the boy’s chessboard when it was given to him.
Karpov said he is in the country as a member of the Moscow delegation led by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Economic Affairs, which strengthened cooperative relations with the City of Manila on January 30. .
Russian Ambassador to the Philippines Marat Pavlov said Karpov’s return to the Baguio Convention Center was “a historic event,” which he and Mayor Benjamin Magalong first planned for 2021, which coincides with the 45th year. since the Philippines and the Soviet Union established diplomatic relations in 1976.
“The pandemic happened… but all dreams come true,” Pavlov said.
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