Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Isolated instances

It was a particular surprise to see this position on the board after White's move nine in game four.

Not because the opening was such a surprise (what would be, nowadays?) but because you don't see so many isolated queen's pawns on d5 nowadays. You see them enough on d4 for White (there was one in the very next game) but I don't recall seeing that kind of structure on the other side of the board very often recently. In world championship games, even less.

Now I don't have the sort of memory that can pluck games and structures from the matches of recent decades - if I had, I'd be more than blogging about them - nor do I have the sort of computer program that will do the job for me. (Nor would I understand it if I did*.) But the the last time I remember Black deliberately heading for these structures in world championship matches was as long ago as 1984, when Garry Kasparov thought it was a good idea to play the Tarrasch against Anatoly Karpov. It was such a good idea he tried it twice.

If he'd tried a third time he might never have become world champion.

This position occurred in the seventh and ninth games of the 1984 match. By the time he lost the second of these, Kasparov was 4-0 down.

In the seventh, the pawn fell off on move 18

whereas in game nine it actually lasted until move 55 in a game of which White's 47th is the best-known move.

Very famous move coming up

The result was the same though and that was the last we saw of the Tarrasch rather than the last we saw of Kasparov.

Karpov had had an extended work-out against an isolated queen's pawn in the de facto world championship match of 1974, the Candidates' Final against Viktor Korchnoi. In that match, Karpov played Tarrasch's other variation seven times - a rather longer run than Kasparov's later effort and one, from Black's point of view, much more successful. All of those seven games were drawn.

The first outing, Korchnoi's Sicilian Dragon having been marmalised in game two, was in game four.

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 c5 4. exd5 exd5 5. Ngf3 Nc6 6. Bb5 Bd6 7. dxc5 Bxc5 8. O-O Nge7 9. Nb3 Bd6 10. c3 Bg4 11. Nbd4 O-O 12. Be2 Re8

Korchnoi had no particular difficulty drawing that one but he changed to the Petroff for game six nevertheless - only to go two down. So it was back to the French for game eight, where Karpov varied on move twelve and we saw instead 12. Qa4 Bh5

and then 13. Re1 Qc7

and Korchnoi got his draw again.

Game ten went down the same line, albeit with a couple of little transpositional shimmies on the way (the players going 7. O-O Nge7 8. dxc5 Bxc5 and 10. Nbd4 O-O 11. c3 Bg4, reversing the previous move-order in each instance). This time Karpov tried 13. Bd3 and Korchnoi put his pawn on h6

and another long struggle finished in a draw. But it was Korchnoi who varied in game twelve - firstly by switching to 7...cxd4 which after 8. Nb3 Nge7 9. Nbxd4 O-O brought the players, after nine moves, to the same position that the previous encounter had reached in ten.

He then followed game eight as far as 12. Re1 Qc7 (albeit in game eight that was 13. Re1 Qc7) but where the earlier game had gone 14. h3 Bg6

Korchnoi preferred 13...Na5

and had a draw by perpetual check by move 23. This induced Karpov in game fourteen to return to the 12. Bd3 of game ten (13.Bd3 in that game) but this time Korchnoi went for 12...Bc5

and the draw was agreed at move thirty.

Game sixteen, in which Korchnoi tried a different theme with 11...Qd7

was a much harder struggle - drawn in sixty-seven moves - while game eighteen was drawn in forty-two. In that instance Karpov went back to the game ten move-order with 7. O-O Nge7 8. dxc5 Bxc5 9. Nb3 Bd6 and then tried 10. Bg5.

That was the last of Korchnoi's seven games with the French. Possibly he felt he'd pushed his luck enough, as indeed has this blog with the patience of its readers for any more near-identical chess diagrams. So let's have a nice colourful movie poster instead.

You grasp the tenuous connection

Seven games and seven draws. In his other five games with Black he managed three draws and two losses.

So had he stuck to the French, it'd have been him, rather than Karpov, waiting on Fischer's inevitable default? Maybe, but maybe not, since while Korchnoi wasn't losing any games with Black, he wasn't winning any with White either. In fact he lost his White game between those last two efforts with the French.

So Karpov, two up through almost the entirety of the French sequence, wasn't in too much of a hurry to knock Korchnoi over. A long sequence of draws was in his interests too, especially in a match where time was running out - as it was not, in otherwise similar circumstances, ten years later. Still, it was an impressive demonstration nonetheless. Seven draws with Black in precisely the kind of formation where one might have expected Karpov to excel.

Nowadays you'd never get that kind of repeated investigation of the same variation at that level. The computers would have found the flaws straightaway.

But I rather miss it.

[* UPDATE: I'm told that ChessBase would do this for me. I'm sure this is true, but I've never even got round to working out how ChessBase works..]


Jonathan Rogers said...

Carlsen v Anand game four has more in common with the Karpov v Korchnoi battles, because here White has a "c pawn". Carlsen v anand may be a slightly favourable version because of the fianchettoed bishop, but it is still not much. In the Tarrasch examples, White has an "e" pawn rather than a "c" pawn. I can't explain it, but I suspect that favours him.

It is really Black who changes openings in the big matches these days - especially in this last one where carlsen played 1 e4 and anand played 1 d4 throughout. But if one is able to stick to a Black line - eg Berlin in Kasparov v Kramnik 2000, or arguably the Meran with ...Bb7 in Kramnik v Anand - then it is potentially decisive.

Jonathan B said...

In the Tarrasch examples, White has an "e" pawn rather than a "c" pawn. I can't explain it, but I suspect that favours him.

I thought it favoured Black than White’s pawn was on c2 not e2. In a QGD Tarrasch a common plan is to play Nd4xc6 and then pressure the backward pawn after ... bxc6 in reply. Obvs you can’t do that here.

In contrast to the French Tarrasch positions, White has a bishop on g2 rather than going to b5. Again I thought that favoured Black as White finds it harder to exchange minor pieces - which to my understanding is something you want to do in these positions.

That said, I would trust your judgement on this before my own.

Jonathan Rogers said...

Hi Jonathan

I think we are agreeing that White is better off with the pawn on e2 and the open c-file - and you have done better in providing one explanation!

I have never been convinced by White's bishop going to b5; often it exchanges the piece Black most wants to exchange (his own light squared bishop).

On g2 however, the bishop can be a pain, especially if he can play h3 to stop Black developing his light squared bishop (it is important that Anand prevented this in game four). For an example of a game where Black might otherwise suffer, see Howell v Sands, round one of the recent Olympiad.