Friday, 19 August 2011

Chess Reviews: 184

Karpov's Strategic Wins 2
The Prime Years
by IM Tibor Karolyi
576 pages

My review of volume 1 is scheduled to appear in a chess magazine, so I don't want to repeat it here.

The second part of this major new work on the 12th World Champion starts with a contentious point. Was Karpov really in his prime during the period 1986-2010? Certainly, he had some fantastic results but he was no longer the world's top player. I would be inclined to believe that 1975-1984 saw the very best from Karpov, when he dominated virtually event in which he played and individual losses were very few and far between.

Furthermore, there are numerous times in the book when we read that Karpov was not at the top of game. Here are three examples (there were plenty to choose from), starting with from just three years into his 'Prime Years'.

1989: ' seems that by this stage Karpov's age may have started to become a factor. At thirty eight he was far from ancient, but he would not have had the energy reserves of a young man, which may explain why he took more quick draws than he had doe previously. During some parts of 1989 Karpov was still the same almost invincible tournament player from previous years, but during some other periods he dropped to the level of a 'mere' top grandmaster.'

1991: '...his overall results did not match the tremendous level he had achieved during the eighties. It looks like he may have once again played in too many tournaments and lacked the energy to perform at his best in all of them.'

1993: (Regarding Karpov's World Championship victory over Timman) 'Overall Karpov's play was not on the level of a world champion.'

Whether he was in his prime or not, the period in question still saw Karpov involved in tough chess battles at the highest level. His third title bout with Kasparov was in 1986 and two more would follow, in 1987 and 1990. The title seemed to have slipped from Karpov's grasp for good when he lost a Candidates semi-final to Nigel Short in the next cycle, but the split in world chess still presented him with a gift-wrapped opportunity to become the official FIDE World Champion in 1993. Successful title defences against Kamsky and Anand kept his status intact until 1999, when he refused to take part in the next FIDE event. Having gained his original title by default when Fischer abdicated in 1975, it's interesting to see the whole thing come full circle.

Karpov was still active an active tournament player too and his performance at Linares 1994 is still regarded as one of the best of all time. Later on, his tournament results show a definite decline in his powers.

This book examines 67 games in great depth; 6-7 pages is quite typical, but there are exceptions, such as the 16 pages spent explaining the finer points of a game against Curt Hansen (Groningen 1995). Not all of the games are from the Karpov - Kasparov matches, so there should be plenty of fresh games for readers to enjoy. Indeed, there are only six main games between the titans and one of those is from Belfort 1988 rather than a title match.

Each chapter covers one year. There's a brief introduction, setting the scene for the year in question. It's worth noting that coverage of political machinations is kept to a minimum; this is not a chess biography - there is very little here about Karpov's character - and the emphasis is placed very firmly on Karpov's best games. A good summary - using pie charts - is given at the end of each chapter. Karpov's rating and ranking are given at start of each chapter too. He starts the book with a 2700 - number 2 in the world - and ends up at 2619, outside of the world's top 100.

The book is not without its editorial slips. Page 11 informs us that 'Karpov's next tournament was in Bugojno, the scene of his 1978 match versus Korchnoi.' Possibly, an over-enthusiastic spell checker is to blame and hopefully the error can be changed to 'Baguio' in future editions.

An on-form Karpov was ruthless at dealing with fixed weaknesses in the opponent's position (game 32 in the book, against Miguel Illescas Cordoba's Tarrasch Defence, is a good example of this) and his endgame skill stayed at a very high level throughout his latter years.

Karpov - Cordoba
Leon 1993

There is obviously a weakness on the c5 square. Black needs to strive to achieve ...c6-c5, but Karpov is hardly likely to allow that. With his next move, he typically brings even more pressure on to the key square. 22 Qc3 and Black didn't last very much longer. (1-0, 36)

This book will suit experienced players are looking to really dig deep into the games of a World Champion. It will require some hard work on the part of the reader to get the most out of the deep notes, but there's no doubt that a careful study of games such as the ones quoted above will definitely prove beneficial to one's positional play.

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