Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Return of the king

Anatoly Karpov's recent appearance in the Valjevo grandmaster tournament was a welcome event for those who remember the crystal-clear playing style that characterised his world championship years. He has not competed in many events lately but if there is anyone entitled to rest on his laurels it is surely Karpov.

As it turned out he came close – very close – to winning the Valjevo tournament. A late defeat by the Israeli grandmaster Michael Roiz dropped him out of the running but he regrouped and managed to take third prize.

Karpov's win over the Serbian grandmaster Mihajlo Stojanovic was especially powerful and will no doubt receive wide coverage in the chess media. Today I will offer my impressions of this game.

A.Karpov – M.Stojanovic
Valjevo 2007
This was always Karpov's first move but in the early 1980s he made the big switch to 1.d4 in anticipation of his lengthy rivalry with Garry Kasparov.
1...e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3
Of course in the 1970s Karpov made his living with 3.Nd2.
3...dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bd7
A popular but rather simplistic attempt to equalise the chances through exchanging Black's problem bishop. According to my database this system (if one may call it that) scores an unspectactular 38% above the master level. On the other hand I can imagine some grandmasters dedicating time to Black's cause and finding ways to keep White's initial advantage within manageable limits.
5.Nf3 Bc6 6.Bd3 Nd7 7.0–0 Ngf6 8.Ng3!
I like this move, which avoids exchanges for the time being. Black could have played 7...Bxe4 8.Bxe4 c6 but after 9.c4!? Ngf6 10.Bc2 White has taken control of key central squares and retained the bishop pair.
8...Be7 9.Re1 0–0 10.Qe2 b6!? (first diagram)
Preparing to drop the bishop back to b7 and follow up with the space-gaining move ...c7-c5.
A remarkable concept, playing to exchange light-squared bishops. This idea surprised me at first since the bishop on d3 seems to be gazing expectantly toward Black's kingside. But as soon as Black plays ...g7-g6 the bishop's range will be blunted and therefore White should keep an open mind.
11...Rb8 12.c4 Bb7
The game continuation suggests that 12...Ba8 was more circumspect. After the exchange of bishops two defects appear in Black's position: the hole on c6 and the awkward position of his rook.
13.Bxb7 Rxb7 14.Ne5 Qc8
If 14...Nxe5 15.dxe5 Nd7 16.Rd1 and Black has a very passive position with few opportunities for counterplay.
15.Nc6! Re8 16.Bg5 Bf8
Black seems to have avoided further concessions but Karpov is ready with another surprising idea.
17.Bxf6! Nxf6 18.Nh5!
Black's queenside pieces are awkwardly placed for defensive purposes so it makes sense to exchange the kingside defenders.
18...Nxh5 19.Qxh5 certainly looked dangerous but Karpov soon demonstrates that Black's move is worse... much worse...
19.Qg4 Kh8 20.Re3 Nb8 (second diagram)
In offering the exchange of knights Black was no doubt expecting the variation 21.Ne5 c5! when he is clearly back in the game.
It is said that in his heyday Karpov used to solve ten combination puzzles every morning before breakfast. If that is true the regime has certainly done him no harm!
There were three other defensive tries:
A. 21...e5 22.Qxc8 Rxc8 23.Nxe5 and White is simply a pawn up;
B. 21...g6 22.Nf6 Nxc6 23.Rh3 h6 24.Qg5! and White wins;
C. 21...Nxc6 22.Nxg7 Ne7 23.Nxe8 Qxe8 24.Qf3! and Black has nothing better than 24...Nf5 leaving White the exchange ahead with an easy win.
22.Qh4 Nxc6
Capitulation, but if 22...Qd7 23.Ne5 Qe7 then 24.Ng6+! hxg6 25.Nf6 mate.
23.Nf6! h6 24.Qxh6+! gxh6 25.Rg8 mate 1–0

The final combination is of course nice and thematic but far more impressive was the play leading up to it.

I sincerely hope that Karpov's participation in the Valjevo tournament signals his return to active play because I suspect he has many more beautiful games to give to the chess world!


James Chan said...

Hi Dan,

I was wondering if 11..Qe8 is a possible defense to 11.Ba6

I want to eventually play for a similar idea in Ba8 later

12..Rd8 next and then eventually engineer a Ba8 retreat for example

11. Ba6 Qe8 12. Bg5 Rd8 13. Bc4 (trying to take on e6) Kh8

Although there are no immediate threats black's still really cramped and I feel white still has the edge. He can just improve his position if black never has the chance to play c5.

James Chan said...

Actually trash that idea. After 11..Qe8 12.Ne5 looks really really good for white as it forces 12..Nxe5 13. dxe5 with Qg4 next

11.Ba6! Just wow! Maybe setting up the pieces with 11.Nb8?! Can't be a good sign :-)

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Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada
National master (Canada) since 1984. B.C. Champion 1977 and 1984. Runner-up 1991 and 2002. B.C. Open Champion 1972 and 1982. B.C. U/14 Champion 1964-65-66. Mikhail Botvinnik once wrote that publishing your analytical work forces you to be accurate because it exposes you to criticism. Hence this blog.