At the recent Isle of Mann coverage, the topic of conversation was grandmaster superstitions, during which GM Simon Williams conveyed that Karpov would only wash his hair when he lost a game. Apparently he went over 40 games without a loss during a streak, leaving it up to our imagination on the consequences.

Now I know GM Simon Williams is quite the joker, so I'm inclined to believe that this is just one of his jibes, but is there perhaps any truth to this? I found some references to this with Google, but I'm not sure about how authoritative they are.

2 Answers 2


This story has a very long pedigree going back much further than the GingerGM.

The earliest reference I can find on the internet is from a November 1985 report on the Karpov v Kasparov match in People.com's archive - http://people.com/archive/anatoly-karpov-is-straining-in-vain-to-keep-his-world-chess-title-from-gary-kasparov-vol-24-no-20/

Unlike his extroverted rival, Karpov — who has all the appeal of a cold fish —ignores the crowd. When he intends to play aggressively, he emerges onstage clad in a black suit. In keeping with a chess superstition, he hasn’t cut his hair during the current match. Indeed he seldom seems to wash it, and he has been losing weight to boot.

Paul Hoffman (https://paulhoffman.wordpress.com/2007/11/19/superstition-in-chess/) says he mentions it in his book "King's Gambit"

In King’s Gambit, I write about superstitions at the board. Players who insist in wearing their lucky T-shirt or underwear or keeping score with the same special pen. World champion Anatoly Karpov was famous for not washing his hair when he was on a winning streak. Grandmaster Nigel Short said of Karpov: “Unfortunately, he had long tournaments where he never lost a game—the guy got greasy.”

The English Chess forum brought this up in a thread on "Poor Taste" - http://www.ecforum.org.uk/viewtopic.php?t=2045&start=30#p36136 - back in 2010.

  • Very nice answer! Do you know if the rumour is true?
    – firtydank
    Commented Oct 19, 2016 at 8:17
  • @firtydank The only way I could know for certain would be if I knew Karpov and I've never met him.
    – Brian Towers
    Commented Oct 19, 2016 at 9:28

This is just a joke. Since Karpov almost never lost, the joke is that he never washed his hair.

I met Karpov in person during his heydey and he did have very greasy hair. He also used to wear this one black and white checked sports jacket like it was the only clothing he owned. His personal grooming was somewhat indifferent.

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