Anatoly Karpov

There’s a renaissance going on in the world of chess right now, ever since the release of the Netflix miniseries; ‘The Queen’s Gambit’, which follows the life of an orphaned chess prodigy, Beth Harmon, on her way to the top of the chess game whilst she wrestles with a drink and drug problem. Perhaps it’s an exaggeration to claim chess is now in vogue as a consequence of this glamorous portrayal, but the chess playing stereotype of a socially awkward  geek, who’s perceived as a peculiar individual that can probably read your mind, has been positively altered by this edgy and provocative drama. It depicts the chess player in a fascinating and colourful light. Indeed, the cinematography sprinkles stardust upon an otherwise monochrome game. 

Now, it wouldn’t be talking out of turn to make a comparison here with our chess playing brothers and sisters and the stamp collector, also known as a philatelist, who is often cast as a fusty old introvert, overly intellectual, slightly boring, and certainly unfashionable; that is if we are over-generalising about a particular category of people. However, not wishing to jump on any bandwagons, but purley to illustrated the injustice of such discrimination, let me introduce ‘Philatelist’ Anatoly Karpov, a Russian Chess Grandmaster, who held the World Chess Champion title for a decade solid spanning 1975 to 1985, and then again for a further six years between 1993 and 1999.

In the world of chess Anatoly Karpov is quite simply a king of kings. In fact, it doesn’t get any more glamorous, and it is no exaggeration to state Karpov is a superstar of the chess world. So, you’re probably wondering who would win if our orphaned chess prodigy, and crowned ‘Queen’ of the chess screen Beth Harmon, sat down and played our chess king of kings Anatoly Karpov.  Well, before we answer that question, let’s get two important details out in the open. Firstly, Anatoly Karpov is one of the greatest philatelists of the twenty-first century, who has assembled world class collections of Belgium, Belgium and Congo, Imperial Russia and Olympic Games. The former sold in four David Feldman SA auctions during 2011 and 2012 for over Euro 6.5 million, and broke three world records for prices achieved in the proceedings. Second crucial detail, a ‘Gambit’ in chess is basically a move which is played to ‘trip-up’ the opponent. If you fail to spot and adequately deal with the ‘gambit’ it’s almost certain you’ll lose.

Belgium block stamps Karpov Collection
Anatoly Karpov

It won’t surprise anyone to hear there’s a lot more to chess than a ‘Gambit’, but the psychology behind such gamesmanship is actually part of the very fabric of chess. For example, our king Karpov started playing chess at four and by the age of twelve he was heralded as a prospective future chess master, and accepted into Mikhail Botvinnik’s (he’s a chess megastar) prestigious chess school. However, Karpov very nearly ‘tripped-up’ because no sooner had he taken his seat at the Botvinnik educational establishment than his tutor made the following observation; “The boy does not have a clue about chess, and there’s no future at all for him in this profession.” A damning assessment.


History informs us that Botvinnik got it wrong. Or did he? No. In actual fact, Botvinnik played a ‘Gambit’ and the wiley old chess professor knew ‘his’ chess prodigy Karpov would either spot the ‘trip-up’ and thus take evasive action, or he’d fall. Apparently Karpov’s understanding of chess theory back then was inadequate and Botvinnik thus prescribed the absorbing of chess knowledge via books. Karpov took these written stimulants and drank every drop of chess theory he could lay his hands upon. Overdosed on chess methodology and infused with chess theory Karpov, in 1966, became the youngest Soviet National Master in history at the age of fifteen.

Our chess and philatelic master today has a private chess library which consists of 9000 books, and a vast philatelic library of stamps and postal history as well. Karpov learnt early in his life that if you want to be the world’s greatest, then reading as much as you can about the subject will improve your game, as well as your gambit. 

If you do your own bit of reading up, then you’ll know the answer to our question. Karpov is unlikely to play the King’s Gambit and he’d probably say a Queen’s Gambit isn’t really a Gambit at all. If, however, Beth Harmon played it, it’s doubtful Karpov would accept it. You see, unlike the simple facts that Anatoly Karpov is one of the greatest chess players of the twentieth century and he’s one of the greatest philatelists of the twenty-first century, chess isn’t actually that black and white.

Belgium Stamps

Read about the three world records from the Karpov sales 2011/12.

 If you want to investigate a bit more about the Belgium collection, the auction catalogues are available upon the David Feldman International auctioneers website here:


The Anatoly Karpov Collection of Belgium part 1

The Anatoly Karpov Collection of Belgium part 2

The Anatoly Karpov Collection of Belgium part 3