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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.

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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.

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  • Very nice answer! Do you know if the rumour is true? – firtydank Oct 19 '16 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 Oct 19 '16 at 9:28

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