Silver hair and sharp suits have replaced the fresh faces and Soviet tailoring of 1984 but there was no mistaking the aura surrounding two of the world's greatest chess players, Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov, as they prepared for an historic rematch today.
The two grand masters, who fought an epic psychological war when they battled for the world chess crown 25 years ago, will start their rematch in the Spanish city of Valencia tomorrow.
Both promised to do their best to match the intensity and drama of the gruelling 1984 encounter that was controversially called to a halt without a clear winner after five months of play.
While both men admit they are now past their playing prime, they have been preparing their encounter for weeks. "Their prestige it at stake," explained the organiser, Basilio López.
They travelled to Valencia with support teams of four or five people for a match that organisers said would have an internet audience of as many as 10 million.
The two players were holed up tonight in separate hotels in the Spanish city preparing for a series of blitz and semi-rapid games to be played over four days.
"We are both still capable of playing high-quality chess," said Kasparov, now aged 46, who stopped playing competitive matches nearly five years ago.
"If Kasparov still played competitively he would be the best or close to it," agreeed Karpov who, at 58, has continued to play despite dropping out of the top 100. Bookies were backing Kasparov, believing his opponent's age would slow him down.
If their previous encounters were portrayed as a battle between the old Soviet Union and thrusting young reformists their meeting has already been coloured by Kasparov's political battle with Vladimir Putin's Russia.
Kasparov lashed out today at a journalist from a Russian broadcaster, which he accused of not reporting the moment he was arrested and jailed in 2007 for leading an anti-Putin demonstration in Moscow.
"I'll answer in English first so that you can see how they twist my words later," Kasparov snapped in words reported by the Spanish press. More than two dozen Russian journalists were in Valencia.
Kasparov had praise, however, for his opponent – who was seen during their encounters in the early 1980s as the face of Soviet communism. "Many of my friends forget about me when I was jailed," said Kasparov. "Karpov tried to visit me."
Kasparov had alreadyturned up the heat with declarations to El Pais in which he accused modern Russia of being "a corrupt dictatorship disguised as a democracy".
Karpov admitted that the two men disagreed politically and remained different in many other ways. "As human beings we are totally opposite in every area of life," he told Valencia's Super newspaper.
Karpov has been in training with his coaching team for the past two weeks. Kasparov has turned to youth to invigorate him. He has been training with Magnus Carlsen, an 18-year-old chess phenomenon from Norway.
Kasparov said he had age on his side but admitted that the lack of match practice might work against him. "That makes me wonder whether I will be able to recover my instinct for the game," he said.
"Normally you start playing more slowly once you have passed the age of 50," Karpov said. "But I won when we last played in New York seven years ago."
Both were critical of modern chess, blaming the people who run the sport internationally for its decline. "In my day we were more concerned about the beauty of the game," said Karpov, who hoped computer chess and the internet would return the game to its glory days.
Valencia is where the modern rules of chess were born in the 15th century when the queen – reputedly modelled on Isabel of Castile – was introduced to the board.
Strategic Kremlin man and his younger, louder foe
Small and slightly built, hesitant in public, Anatoly Karpov always seemed an unlikely champion. He got off to a difficult start, in 1975, when he inherited the chess crown after Bobby Fischer refused to defend his title. Karpov's riposte to those who sneered that he was champion in name only was to play in almost every top-flight tournament over the next 10 years, thrashing his rivals and setting a new record for cons ecutive tournament victories.
In the west, Karpov was seen as the Kremlin's man, a colourless, loyal communist. Rivals accused him of enjoying an unfair advantage, and certainly he benefited from the Soviet chess machine. His style is quiet and positional. He is primarily a strategist.
In 1984, Karpov's challenger for the world title was the 21-year-old Garry Kasparov. For one so young his self-belief was astonishing, and he was possessed of a truly ferocious competitive spirit. Brash, opinionated and impatient, Kasparov did not come into this world to suffer fools, delay or defeat. Born in Baku, Azerbaijan, he portrayed himself as an outsider in the Soviet system. Cold war warriors claimed him as the west's fighter in the ring, even if their man was a Soviet citizen and member of the communist party.
In their epic first match – KK1, as it is called, ran to 48 games – Kasparov's attacks foundered on Karpov's fine positional understanding. When they sat down to play their 32nd game, Karpov was leading 5-0 (the winner was the first to win six). Kasparov scored his first win. At 5-3 FIDE, the chess world's governing body, stopped the match. Kasparov, scenting victory, was outraged. He won KK2 the following year.
Like Wenger and Ferguson, the two Ks have traded their fair share of insults over the years. But they have also acknowledged each other's greatness, and when Kasparov was imprisoned in 2007 for his anti-Putin campaigning, Karpov attempted to visit him in jail.
Kasparov is acknowledged to be the greatest player of all time. Karpov cannot be far behind. For six years after their first encounter, these two great gladiators played more than 140 games in their world championship battles: Karpov won a total of 19, Kasparov 21, with the remainder drawn.
The games in Valencia will not match the brilliance of their previous encounters. They are in any case a mix of "rapid" and "blitz" (great chess needs time), and chessplayers are past their best by 40. Kasparov (born 1963) retired from competitive play four years ago, while Karpov (born 1951) has fallen out of the top 100. Even so, fans will relish the prospect of seeing two great foes once more facing each other over the board.
Copyright Speakers Corner 2017