Lessons from Karpov

Karpov had a marked preference for positional play, although, in his own words, "if my opponent offers sharp play, I do not object." Karpov had no soft spots that anyone could discern -- an alleged weakness against 'romantic' openings was less of a handicap than the openings some chose against him.


Karpov has always embraced the need for deep preparation. Here he digs deep into a position that was all the rage at the time.

[Event "Montreal"]
[Site "Montreal CAN"]
[Date "1979.04.25"]
[Round "11"]
[White "Jan Timman"]
[Black "Anatoly Karpov"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "A28"]
[PlyCount "62"]
[EventDate "1979.04.11"]

1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 e5 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. e3 Be7 5. d4 exd4 6. Nxd4 O-O 7. Nxc6 bxc6 8.
Be2 d5 9. O-O Bd6 10. b3 Qe7 11. Bb2 dxc4 12. bxc4 Rb8 13. Qc1 {Black is
nicely active, and White's h2 point is vulnerable.} Ng4 $1 {Found previously
at home.} 14. g3 Re8 15. Nd1 Nxh2 $1 {White is poorly coordinated.} 16. c5 (16.
Kxh2 Qh4+) 16... Nxf1 17. cxd6 Nxg3 $1 {Insisting on a sacrifice.} 18. fxg3
Qxd6 19. Kf2 Qh6 20. Bd4 Qh2+ 21. Ke1 Qxg3+ 22. Kd2 Qg2 23. Nb2 Ba6 24. Nd3
Bxd3 25. Kxd3 Rbd8 {An old story: the King caught in the middle.} 26. Bf1 Qe4+
27. Kc3 c5 28. Bxc5 Qc6 29. Kb3 Rb8+ 30. Ka3 Re5 31. Bb4 Qb6 0-1

Something more typical of Karpov: an undogmatic treatment of a sharp attacking line. Karpov often played to retain a small initiative with control, even when playing attacking lines.

[Event "Interpolis 4th"]
[Site "Tilburg NED"]
[Date "1980.09.29"]
[Round "9"]
[White "Anatoly Karpov"]
[Black "Boris Spassky"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B81"]
[PlyCount "69"]
[EventDate "1980.??.??"]

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 e6 6. g4 {A sharp variation
which Karpov long favoured against the Scheveningen.} h6 7. h4 (7. g5 {was his
earlier preference.}) 7... Nc6 8. Rg1 d5 {A good equalising try} 9. Bb5 Bd7 10.
exd5 Nxd5 11. Nxd5 exd5 12. Be3 Be7 13. Qd2 {Development before pawns.} Bxh4
14. O-O-O Bf6 15. Nf5 Bxf5 16. gxf5 a6 17. Bxc6+ bxc6 18. Bc5 {Trapping the
King in the centre. This may turn out to be a more typical Sicilian than we
thought.} Rb8 19. b4 Rb5 20. Rge1+ Kd7 21. c4 Rxc5 22. bxc5 Bg5 23. f4 Qf6 24.
cxd5 Qa1+ 25. Kc2 Qxa2+ 26. Kd3 Qxd2+ 27. Rxd2 Bxf4 {Black escapes mate at
cost of the exchange.} 28. Ra2 cxd5 29. Rxa6 h5 30. Kd4 h4 31. Kxd5 Rb8 32. f6
gxf6 33. Rxf6 Bg3 34. Rxf7+ Kd8 35. Rf8+ 1-0


Karpov's best games often have that air of inevitability about them that we associate with Capablanca. Spassky handles IQP positions as well as anybody, but Karpov takes his position apart here without allowing a whisper of counterplay.

[Event "Montreal"]
[Site "Montreal CAN"]
[Date "1979.04.14"]
[Round "4"]
[White "Anatoly Karpov"]
[Black "Boris Spassky"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "D37"]
[PlyCount "81"]
[EventDate "1979.04.11"]

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. Nc3 Be7 5. Bf4 O-O 6. e3 c5 7. dxc5 Nc6 8. Qc2
Qa5 9. a3 Bxc5 10. Rd1 Be7 11. Nd2 Bd7 12. Be2 Rfc8 13. O-O Qd8 14. cxd5 exd5 {
Inflicting an IQP in a position where Black is not well-placed to make use of
the extra space.} 15. Nf3 h6 16. Ne5 Be6 17. Nxc6 Rxc6 18. Bf3 Qb6 19. Be5 Ne4
20. Qe2 Nxc3 21. Bxc3 Rd8 22. Rd3 Rcd6 23. Rfd1 R6d7 24. R1d2 {White is
ganging up on the single weakness.} Qb5 25. Qd1 b6 26. g3 Bf8 27. Bg2 Be7 28.
Qh5 a6 {The usual way of cashing in in these positions is to exploit a pin on
the d-file, but there is no pin here, thanks to the 'bad' Bishop on e6.} 29. h3
Qc6 30. Kh2 a5 31. f4 f6 32. Qd1 Qb5 33. g4 g5 34. Kh1 Qc6 35. f5 $1 {This is
what White has been angling for: d7 becomes insufficiently defended.} Bf7 36.
e4 $1 Kg7 37. exd5 Qc7 38. Re2 b5 39. Rxe7 $1 Rxe7 40. d6 Qc4 41. b3 1-0

I've always liked Karpov's willingness to sacrifice the exchange; he had a keen feel for when the Rooks were more clumsy than capable.

Kasparov rather unwisely announced that the winner of Linares 1994 would be considered 'World Tournament Champion'. Challenge accepted... Karpov's victory there, twenty years after becoming world champion, was one of the greatest of all time.


A whole book has been written about Karpov's endgame technique. Here is one immaculate example from among many.

[Event "Grand Prix d'Echecs"]
[Site "GP"]
[Date "2004.12.09"]
[Round "1.2"]
[White "Glenn Flear"]
[Black "Anatoly Karpov"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "E32"]
[WhiteElo "2457"]
[BlackElo "2682"]
[PlyCount "84"]
[EventDate "2004.12.08"]

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. Qc2 O-O 5. e4 d6 6. a3 Bxc3+ 7. bxc3 Nc6 8.
Bd3 h6 9. Ne2 b6 10. f4 {White races forwards with his pawns, hoping to
establish a bind or an attack. Black must find a way of hobbling the advance.}
Na5 11. e5 Ne8 12. Ng3 Ba6 13. Qe2 d5 14. cxd5 Bxd3 15. Qxd3 Qxd5 {Black has a
bind on the light squares. White can still hope to attack, but the immediate
threat has gone.} 16. O-O f5 17. exf6 Nxf6 18. Bd2 Nc4 19. Rae1 c5 20. Bc1 cxd4
21. cxd4 Rad8 22. Rd1 b5 23. Qg6 Qd7 24. f5 Qe8 25. Qxe8 Rfxe8 {With the Queen
exchange, the attack evaporates, but the holes remain.} 26. fxe6 Rxe6 {White's
d-pawn is now passed but is no more able to move than before.} 27. Nf5 Nd5 28.
Rf3 Kh7 29. h3 Rd7 30. g4 a5 31. Kf2 b4 32. axb4 axb4 33. Bd2 Rf7 34. Bc1 Ra7
35. g5 $2 {White sets up a fork for Black on e4.} hxg5 36. Bxg5 Nc3 37. Rc1
Ne4+ 38. Kg1 Nxg5 39. Rg3 Nd2 40. d5 Re5 41. Ne3 Ngf3+ 42. Kh1 Rxe3 0-1

His greatest achievement in the endgame was likely this victory against Kasparov. He deftly avoided a blockade of the position and showed the agility of his Knight.

[Event "Karpov - Kasparov World Championship Ma"]
[Site "Moscow URS"]
[Date "1984.10.05"]
[Round "9"]
[White "Anatoly Karpov"]
[Black "Garry Kasparov"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "D34"]
[PlyCount "139"]
[EventDate "1984.??.??"]

1. d4 {Perhaps Karpov's finest endgame win, and on a memorable occasion.} d5 2.
c4 e6 3. Nf3 c5 {This match was to be Kasparov's last flirtation with the
Tarrasch.} 4. cxd5 exd5 5. g3 Nf6 6. Bg2 Be7 7. O-O O-O 8. Nc3 Nc6 9. Bg5 cxd4
10. Nxd4 {Black has an Isolated Queen's Pawn} h6 11. Be3 Re8 12. Qb3 Na5 13.
Qc2 Bg4 14. Nf5 Rc8 15. Bd4 Bc5 16. Bxc5 {Exchanging the better Bishop.} Rxc5
17. Ne3 Be6 18. Rad1 Qc8 19. Qa4 Rd8 20. Rd3 a6 21. Rfd1 Nc4 22. Nxc4 Rxc4 23.
Qa5 Rc5 24. Qb6 Rd7 25. Rd4 Qc7 26. Qxc7 Rdxc7 27. h3 h5 28. a3 g6 29. e3 Kg7
30. Kh2 Rc4 {So, Black has one weakness in the endgame. That's not usually
enough, even if the black Bishop is quite bad.} 31. Bf3 b5 32. Kg2 R7c5 33.
Rxc4 Rxc4 34. Rd4 Kf8 35. Be2 Rxd4 36. exd4 {Transforming advantages: both
sides have an IQP, but the badness of the black Bishop is a little more
ingrained.} Ke7 37. Na2 Bc8 38. Nb4 Kd6 39. f3 Ng8 40. h4 Nh6 41. Kf2 Nf5 42.
Nc2 f6 43. Bd3 g5 44. Bxf5 Bxf5 {Good Knight vs Bad Bishop.} 45. Ne3 Bb1 46. b4
gxh4 {If White's Pawns become split and the King's-side blocked, there is not
much more to be done.} 47. Ng2 $3 hxg3+ 48. Kxg3 Ke6 49. Nf4+ Kf5 50. Nxh5 {
White regains the pawn with some routes through for the King.} Ke6 51. Nf4+ Kd6
52. Kg4 Bc2 53. Kh5 Bd1 54. Kg6 {Black is over-stretched.} Ke7 55. Nxd5+ Ke6
56. Nc7+ Kd7 57. Nxa6 Bxf3 58. Kxf6 Kd6 59. Kf5 Kd5 60. Kf4 Bh1 61. Ke3 Kc4 62.
Nc5 Bc6 63. Nd3 Bg2 64. Ne5+ Kc3 65. Ng6 Kc4 66. Ne7 Bb7 67. Nf5 Bg2 68. Nd6+
Kb3 69. Nxb5 Ka4 70. Nd6 1-0