16 July 2015

Anatoly Karpov Strikes Back

The second report from Karpov-Sveshnikov match by Vladimir Barsky.

"Based on my experience of blitz matches against Karpov I can say that on the first day he would usually get hot, on the second day he would play strong chess, and on the third day he would play very strong chess!" Grandmaster Sergey Karjakin posted this Tweeter warning when the second game day in Riga was about to start. However, Evgeny Sveshnikov was unlikely to be in time to catch the message prior to the start of the third game. Of course, he was perfectly well aware of whom he was dealing with: he knew Anatoly Karpov even back in those years when he was unmistakably the strongest player in the world. Yet the first two games could not but influence the resident of Riga in a somewhat pacifying manner, let’s put it like this. After all, the way it worked out was almost perfect for Sveshnikov: an easy draw with black pieces and a convincing victory as White. In similar situations your mind prompts you, "Brace yourself!" while your subconscious mind reassures you that you can afford yourself to relax a little...

However, it's no coincidence that they note Karpov for his champion’s character as he does not put up with defeats in any sort of activity, let alone in chess. And it does not matter that he is no longer fighting for the world crown, but plays an exhibition rapid match against his longtime friend and rival. Friendship counts before and after the match! While tuning in to the return games, Anatoly Yevgenyevich drastically reduced the amount of informal communication with Evgeny Ellinovich. While on the first day Karpov and Sveshnikov were seen walking together out of the hotel into the "Tal Residence", talking amiably while walking, on the second the 12th World Champion made use of the rarity "Rolls-Royce", afforded him by the organizers. In the same manner he dashed away in it as soon as he won two games out of two. Well, he didn’t leave at once as he first took part in the ceremony of blitz tournament winners awarding, a tournament in which participated the players who were over 60- or under 15 years of age. Sveshnikov was also awarding the winners (it was on his initiative that the blitz tournament with cash prizes was organized during the match days), but did so apart from Karpov, when the latter had already left the premises. During his life Anatoly Yevgenyevich has participated in such a variety of matches that he is perfectly well aware that every nuance matters and that in this business there is no such thing as little nothings of life!

In the third game Anatoly Karpov repeated the same harmless line of the Queen's Gambit Declined that we saw at the start of the match. Although White does not rely on getting any advantage out of the opening, the nature of the subsequent struggle  - quiet maneuvering without any risk for White – was obviously something that fully suited the former World Champion. However, this time he handled the position differently and left his opponent with an isolated pawn in the center. Karpov has always enjoyed playing against an "isolani" as it is just enough to remember how he knocked the Tarrasch Defence out of Garry Kasparov’s arsenal of openings in their very first match, while back in 1986 it was Andrei Sokolov whom he subjected to torments. Well, much water has flowed under the bridges since then and the evaluation of many chess positions has changed beyond any possible recognition, but Anatoly Yevgenyevich seems to go on taking inspiration from the lone black pawn on d5 to a no lesser extent than he did in his younger years!

Karpov – Sveshnikov
Game Three

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3 c5 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Bb5+ Nc6 7.0–0 cxd4 8.Nxd4 Bd7 9.b3 Bd6 10.Bb2 0–0 11.Be2 Qe7 12.Nd2 

As children we were taught that the side with an isolated pawn should make every effort to steer away from exchanges and, theoretically, attempt to launch an attack against the king. Sveshnikov demonstrates a different approach: in order to make a draw he wants to exchange as many pieces as possible, thus securing his only weakness on d5.

12…Ba3 13.Bxa3 Qxa3 14.N2f3 Rac8 15.Qc1 Qxc1 16.Rfxc1 Nxd4 17.Nxd4 a6 18.f3 Rxc1+ 19.Rxc1 Rc8 20.Rd1 h5 21.h4 Kf8 22.Kf2 Ke7 23.Kg3 Ne8 24.Kf4 Nc7 25.Bd3 Ne6+ 26.Nxe6 Bxe6 27.Ke5 

What will a layperson person say looking at this position?  Something like, "White has an edge, no doubt, but Black’s position is probably defendable still." What about a computer? The computer’s evaluation is zero advantage for White and the explanation is: put the pawn on g6 and don’t move!

However, it is not to Sveshnikov’s liking to simply stand waiting and doing nothing - it is just not in his nature. He seeks counterplay, and his position only gets worse as a result. 

27…f6+ 28.Kd4 g5 29.Rh1 Bf7 30.Bf5 Rg8 


This is an excellent decision that poses serious problems for Black. Moreover, the problems are to be resolved with the clock flag hanging! For a long time Sveshnikov has succeeded in navigating around all pitfalls, but at the end he still lost control...

31…hxg4 32.fxg4 gxh4 33.Rxh4 b6 34.Rh7 a5 35.a3 Kf8 36.b4 axb4 37.axb4 Ke7 38.Kd3 Rf8 39.Kc3 Rg8 40.Kd4 Kf8 41.Rh2 Ke7 42.Ra2 Be6 43.Ra6 Bxf5 44.gxf5 Rg5 45.Rxb6 Rxf5 46.b5 Kd7 47.Rc6 Re5 48.Rxf6 Re4+ 49.Kd3 

Winning was 49.Kxd5 Rxe3 50.Rc6!, cutting the opponent’s king off the passed pawn. 

49…Rc4 50.b6 Black lost on time here, although after 50…Rb4 (Sveshnikov made this move on the board but was not on time to press the clock button) the position seems to be drawish. In general, Anatoly Karpov’s performance was superb in this game!

This defeat upset Evgeny Sveshnikov and put him on his mettle, and it looks like he was overwhelmed by emotions in game four.

Sveshnikov – Karpov
Game Four

1.e4 c5 

Well, how about that! Karpov demonstrates a remarkable degree of commitment to his opening selection principles. It looks like he has invested a lot of time to line himself up for this friendly match, because, unlike his opponent, the Sicilian Defence has never been the main weapon of choice for the 12th World Champion. When playing White, Sveshnikov resorted to a variety of moves in this position: 2.c3, 2.f4, 2.Nf3, and even 2.b3. However, he would not use any of it on the pure of the moment, but rather following a serious analytical preparation at home...

2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 e6 4.Bxc6

Just as in the second encounter, the game goes along the lines of the Rossolimo system, but Sveshnikov is the first one to sidestep as in that game he opted for a plan with short castling, followed by d2-d4.

4…bxc6 5.d3 Ne7 6.h4 h5 7.Qe2 Ng6 8.e5 f6 


White has definitely messed up something here as the correct plan is 9.Qe4 Kf7 10.Na3, driving the knight to с4 for the purpose of fortifying the most important pawn on е5, when Black’s position becomes rather unpleasant. Moreover, Sveshnikov himself is known to have played such games. 


By forcing White to trade on f6, Black not only successfully resolves all his opening problems, but also overtakes the initiative. From now on Black’s play is quite simple as he needs only to advance his central pawns and complete his development.

10.exf6 gxf6 11.Rh3

This is an extremely unsuccessful maneuver as White is far from featuring any sort of attacking potential, whereas the rook is now forced to sidestep and lose tempos in order not to falls victim to various enemy’s attacks. 

11…d5 12.Rg3 Kf7 13.d4 Bd6 


Fireworks against one’s will ... White sacrifices two pieces in an attempt to muddy the waters, but Karpov easily thwarts a premature attack.

14…fxe5 15.Qf3+ Kg7 16.Ne4 dxe4 17.Qxe4 Qf7 18.Rf3 Qe8 19.dxc5 Bxc5 20.Bg5 Rf8 21.0–0–0 Be7 22.Rxf8 Qxf8 23.Qxc6 Rb8 24.g3 Rb6 25.Qc7 Rb7 26.Qc6 Bxg5+ 27.hxg5 Rf7 28.Qh1 Rxf2 29.Qxh5 Qh8 30.Qg4 Rf7 31.b3 Qh2 32.Qc4 Bb7 33.Qxe6 Qxg3 34.Kb2 Qxg5 35.Rd6 Qf6 36.Qxf6+ Rxf6 37.Rd7+ Rf7 White resigns.
So, after game four it is already Anatoly Karpov who has overtaken the lead. It is clear that Evgeny Sveshnikov is not going to put up with the looming overall defeat in the match and, therefore, we are in for some furious struggle in the remaining two games!