Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Chess Reviews: 219

Vassily Ivanchuck
100 Selected Games
By Nikolay Kalinichenko
317 pages
A good collection of Ivanchuk's has been long overdue. The brilliant but highly eccentric Grandmaster continues to enjoy brilliant successes in tournaments but consistently underachieves on the road to the World Championship. He is clearly capable of more in that department. When I received this book I hoped to be able to gain a greater understanding of this enigmatic chess character and perhaps find out why he constantly stalls in his quest to become a title challenger.

According to this book, the problem is down all down to the mood swings suffered by Ivanchuk, which see him periodically lose interest in chess, usually before - or even during - particularly big events.

''We can conclude that the most difficult time for him is the period before an important competition, or even an important game. When a certain result is expected from him, he starts to expect it of himself. Consequently, the tension grows and his ability to generate ideas and prepare goes down, as his organism begins to protest at the pressure from all sides!''

It's a pity the book was completed before the 2013 London Candidates tournament because Ivanchuk's play and overall performance in that event provided a textbook example of the most frustrating aspects of his of his character. He lost game after game early on in the tournament (often, quite unprofessionally, on time) but then enjoyed a sudden burst of new interest in events over the board, going on to beat tournament leaders Carlsen and Kramnik in consecutive rounds at the very end.

Despite the analysis of Ivanchuk's character, I didn't feel I really got to know him better from this book. That's possibly down to the sheer complexity of the man himself. The book would have benefited from some input from its subject; perhaps an in-depth interview with Ivanchuk by the author would have been a good addition to the work. Or maybe the only person who will ever be able to write about Ivanchuk in a deep and meaningful way is...Ivanchuk.

Anyway, the author promises 100 selected games, not a psychobiography, so perhaps I am being a shade on the harsh side.

The games are split into four chapters, arranged chronologically:


The games are fascinating and very well analysed. Indeed, the annotations are so heavy with variations they border on being inaccessible to the average reader. I would prefer to see a lot more by way of prose explanations to me to appreciate the games a little more, as they are as complex as the man who played them.

Two things are immediately apparent when going through the games: Ivanchuk is capable of beating anyone and he is capable of playing virtually any opening with either colour. Does he prepare everything or does he play some openings on the spur of the moment, powered by his Super-GM talent and intuition?  That's the sort of thing I'd like to know and that's why the subject needs a deeper study, marrying a study of his personality with a survey of his best games.

His victims in the 100 games include Kasparov, Kramnik, Anand, Aronian, Topalov and Gelfand. Ivanchuk has the ability to tie up the greatest players in knots. Here's a brief snippet to demonstrate his creativity (the full game is one of the 100 analysed in the book).

Kasparov - Ivanchuk
Horgen, 1995
Kasparov seems more or less OK here. He has been limbering up for a kingside attack, but Ivanchuk refused to play ball by castling. A closer examination reveals White is in serious trouble, as after 28 ...Qa7! he cannot successfully defend his d-pawn. Play continued: 29 Ne3 Qxd4 30 Nxc4 dxc4 31 Qf1 and now, with precisely the sort of move only Ivanchuk could find, there came 31 ...0-0! and Kasparov resigned. Ivanchuk is probably the only player in history to induce a resignation by castling as late as move 31.

Production-wise, everything is in order: a sturdy spine, a clear layout and good use of photographs of some of the players.

Summing up, the games will definitely provide plenty of entertainment, the detailed notes will require lots of hard work from the reader to produce maximum benefit and the real story of Ivanchuk the person is a book still to be written.

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