Posts Tagged ‘Karpov’

I suppose there are those who like to read chess books and those who don’t. I love reading chess books. I like to think I read them purely for pleasure but at the back of my mind there has always been the dim hope that one day I might benefit from all the reading I was doing and become a better player.

For years it didn’t happen and I’ve come across the same complaint from other people. For twenty years they had read chess books and followed master games but their chess skill remained largely unchanged.

Last year I found myself in the position of having no spare time. By January the situation had improved slightly but reading chess books was still out of the question. However, I was missing chess badly so I decided to buy some videos from Chessbase. I found I could spend between 10 and 20 minutes every night watching a video clip.

Something miraculous occurred. I got better at chess. I could measure this in two ways. First of all, I could play rapid games against Shredder at increasing levels of difficulty and occasionally win. And secondly I got pretty pleasing scores when I played against test positions or games of the sort provided by Igor Khmelnitsky, Daniel King and Jeroen Bosch.

I suspect my chess has also got stronger because I have stopped using Fritz. I used my own judgement instead of checking everything with the computer. I used to be always in the habit of using Fritz to check what I read in books. I have always been sceptical about experts in the past but the players who present these videos are chess legends: Nigel Short, Viktor Kortchnoi, Alexei Shirov, Garry Kasparov. I’ve learnt to trust them. I’ve also found that it is easier to find strong moves if you are trained in human chess thinking rather than trying to follow the correct but sometimes unfathomably complex advice of the computer.

But another measure of how much I’ve improved might be my growing taste for endgames. Endgames are difficult, in my view, because you need to calculate precisely. You can’t rely on instinct or strategic concepts.

There aren’t many good chessbase videos on endgames. Not that I’ve found so far anyway. The best endgame lessons I’ve come across have been in the collected games of Kortchnoi and Short. Short’s commentary is particularly clear.

But I’ve recently started to read a book that I bought because it was half price. It’s called Endgame Virtuoso Anatoly Karpov by Tibor Karolyi & Nick Aplin. It’s not as effortless as watching a video but neither is it as dry as I expected.

Here’s a position that arises from analysis of Karpov’s game against Vaganian in Leningrad, 1969.

Black to move

Karpov was Black. The correct moves, according to the book’s authors are

49…e4! opens the passage for invasion. In opposite-coloured bishop endings you often have to play aggressively. 50.fxe4 Ke5! (White must go one way with the king, then the Black king invades in the other direction. Just like taking a penalty in soccer).

Like soccer, yes. Pretty easy, really, isn’t it?

Some chess teachers say that if you want to improve, you should study end games. Yet many people are addicted to openings. Openings are full of life and activity. Opening books provide concrete solutions to a problem we face in every game. We learn what to do in a known position and we learn how to avoid getting off to a bad start.

There are plenty of publishers cashing in on this opening addiction. Some publishers seem to publish nothing else but books on the openings and they always give them really swashbuckling titles. A killer opening repertoire! Slay the Spanish! Seven ways to smash the Sicilian! The Sniper!

The end game is an acquired taste. It’s almost like a different game. It’s often explained badly in books. There are some end game experts out there who are the worst teachers in the world.

But what about the middle game? I often get bogged down in the middle game and end up exchanging off all my pieces and going into an end game simply because I don’t know what else to do.

But I have found that the best way to learn all aspects of the game, openings, middle games and end games is to play through the games of people who really know what they’re doing and pay close attention to their comments.

One common motif that I’ve noticed recently is penetration. When two players are well-matched, the key moment comes when one of them penetrates the other’s position. This is often done by a rook on an open file. Rooks and open files are old hat, of course. But I noticed that in a casual game I played just a few days ago, I failed to seize the opportunity to penetrate down an open file when doing so would have secured the win. Instead I played very lamely and let my opponent exchange rooks, going into an endgame that I won (thanks to my opponent’s carelessness) by the same technique – penetration.

Black to move

In this position with Black, I should have played 24…Re3! 25.c5 Rfe8 with decisive pressure on the e-file. Instead I was hesitant and played 24…c5 25.Rg6 Kh7 26.Rcg1, after which I was forced onto the defensive.

Black to move

Later, after all the rooks were off the board Black penetrated with king and bishop.

Black to move

39…Kg6 40.Kf2 Kh5 41.Kg3 Bb3

White to move

This position is easily winning for Black because the bishop will threaten White’s blockaded d-pawn while Black’s kingside pawns come crashing through.

Here’s a more complicated example from a game between Karpov and Hort in 1982.

White to move

After 24.Rc5 b4 25.Rb5 Qa8 26.Rc1 White has a firm grip on the queenside and his opponent is forced to defend.

Black to move

Some variations need to be calculated and there is still a game to be played but White’s superiority is clear.

Once you are aware of the power of penetration you see it in every game. In the following position against Vladimir Akopian, Nigel Short, playing White was worried about his opponent’s rook penetrating on the f-file.

White to move

Nigel played a crucial defensive move, 21. Nf5. It was more important to shut out the rook than to continue blockading Black’s advanced passed pawn. Short’s defensive play was effective and he went on to win, despite the insecure position of his king.

You should always be alert to your opponent’s opportunities for penetration. In the following game played against Jan Timman, Qi Jingxuan correctly saw that he couldn’t take Black’s c-pawn even though it was attacked twice and only defended once.

White to move

After 29. dxc5 dxc5 30. Bxc5 Re2+, Black’s advantage would have been crushing. Instead, White defended the e-file with 29. Re1.

Whenever penetration is threatened, there should be prophylaxis!

In this position, however, Qi Jingxuan’s defensive play wasn’t enough. Timman’s two bishops slowly squeezed the life out of him and the Dutch grandmaster won a fine game.