Kasparov and Karpov resume their battles, White King and Red Queen.

Chess masters Gary Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov shake hands before an earlier match.  The two masters are playing a 12-game exhibition series on the 25th anniversary of their first contest.

Chess masters Gary Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov shake hands before an earlier match. The two masters are playing a 12-game exhibition series on the 25th anniversary of their first contest.

They’re at it again.

A quarter century after they waged the first of their epic battles that spanned six years and saw the beginning of the downfall of the Soviet Union and its empire, Anatoly Karpov and Gary Kasparov are back at the chess board.

The stakes are lower than when they met to decide the identity of the world champion-Kasparov is now an outspoken governmental opponent, while Karpov recently was ranked among the world’s top 100 chess players, but has not been a major factor for close to 20 years-but that does not mean that they are taking the contest any less seriously than they did in 1984.

In all, Kasparov had a minor edge over Karpov in games won, 21 to 19, with more than 100 games ending in a draw.

This time, Kasparov has bolted out to a 2-0 lead in a timed format that appears to have worked to his advantage.

People wishing to learn more about these two warriors and the different parts of the Soviet Union would be well advised to read Daniel Johnson’s White King and Red Queen: How the Cold War Was Fought on the Chessboard

I wrote about this book, which friend and reader Evan Kaplan kindly gave to me, in March.   Johnson traces the rise of chess and the gradual emergence of a series of Soviet champions.  As the title suggests, the games on the board had heightened meaning in the post World War II period, when the Cold War raged between the world’s two superpowers.

While much of the book’s focus is on the famous 1972 contest between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky, each of whom represented their own countries, Johnson does have extensive material about Karpov, the ultimate product of the Soviet chess system, and Kasparov, a half-Jewish, half-Armenian and full outsider. 

In addition to this entertaining material, Johnson also writes about Vladimir Nabokov’s The Luzhin Defence, which I have not yet read, and Stefan Zweig’s collection of short stories, The Royal Game.

The exhibition between Kasparov and Karpov is slated to be a best of 12 game series.  Whether you read White King and Red Queen before or after their battle is over, it is definitely worth the time and energy.

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