23 December 2012

Soviet Chess Politics

Karpov Korchnoi Candidates Final 1974

While testing the CBase Chess iPad app, I went through the second match game from the 1974 Candidates Final. This match selected the challenger to Bobby Fischer, effectively becoming the World Championship match. Anatoly Karpov won the second match game, and it was judged as the best game of Chess Informant 18. It was the first of Karpov's fourteen Golden Games.* To test the CBase app, I copied the PGN file containing these games from the Best of Chess Informant: Anatoly Karpov CD.

To my pleasant surprise, I found that I was able to memorize the game after less than fifteen minutes of study (see "Memorizing Chess Games"). Memorizing was not my intent, but came naturally as a consequence of efforts to understand the struggle. After learning the moves that were played, and exploring Mikhail Botvinnik's annotations for Informant 18/433, I pored through other texts in my library looking for further commentary. This commentary reawakened my interest in the internal chess politics of the Soviet Union.

Most of the Candidates for the 1973-1975 series were Soviet players, and the non-Soviets--Henrique Mecking, Lajos Portisch, and Robert Byrne--were eliminated in the first round. Fischer's challenger would represent the Soviet Union. In Chess is My Life (1977), Victor Korchnoi explains why Karpov was preferred by the Soviet ideological state apparatus.
Karpov had been chosen as the favourite, and it was clear why. He was born in Zlatoust, in the Urals, in the center of Russia. One hundred percent Russian, he compared favourably with me, Russian by passport, but Jewish in appearance. He was a typical representative of the working class, the rulers of the country according to the Soviet Constitution, whereas I had spent my life in the cultural centre of Leningrad, and was contrasted to him as a representative of the Intelligentsia.
Chess is My Life, 104.
The first critical position in the game came after Korchnoi's eighteenth move.

White to move

Karpov's team had prepared a novelty because, as he explains, "It was established that the 'theoretical' continuation [19. Rd5] does not gain White any real advantage" (Anatoly Karpov and Aleksandr Roshal, Anatoly Karpov: Chess is My Life [1980], 173). Karpov sets the scene.
Up till this point both players had been moving almost instantly. And here I played a move prepared beforehand, which caused Korchnoi to spend a long time deep in thought. ... The innovation [19. Rd3!], overprotecting the knight at [c3], at the same time in a number of variations frees the knight at [e2] for the attack. (173-174)
Korchnoi's response after the long think was an error, 19...R4c5. Karpov mentions the alternatives. Korchnoi's move had not been analyzed deeply, he claims, and so he found the refutation over the board.
When during our preparations for the match we analysed [19. Rd3], we came to the conclusion that the best reply to it was [19...R8c5]. It is highly probable that, after 36 minutes' thought during the game, Korchnoi also came to the conclusion that it was essential to secure himself against the constantly threatening pawn thrusts--[e5 and g5]. I nevertheless consider that Black's best practical chance was the retreat [19...Qd8], as suggested by Botvinnik. Now, after thinking for 18 minutes in search of a refutation of [19...R4c5], I found a fine forcing combination. (174)
Korchnoi acknowledges the quality of Karpov's play in the game, but asserts the champion's success is a bit overrated.
I ran up against a painstakingly analysed, prepared variation from which, by a direct attack, Karpov won. It was clear that the whole game, from beginning to end, was analysis. This was Karpov's best achievement in the match, but I found it strange that the Informator jury should judge it to be the best game of the year. After all, there was no fight, no creativity. (108)
Korchnoi's Chess is My Life explains how difficult it was for him to find strong players who were able to assist him in preparation and as seconds in the match. There were political consequences, he asserts, for those who might consent to work with him. Their travel could be restricted. They might suffer a reduction in their allowance from the State. The whole Soviet chess apparatus worked together to choose the appropriate challenger to Bobby Fischer. According to Korchnoi, they also orchestrated Karpov's first Informant Golden Game.

*I mentioned this game in "Best of the Best: Chess Informant Reader's Contest." In the contest to select the ten best Golden Games from the first one hundred volumes of Chess Infomant, I put this game seventh. It was eighth in the average of all readers. Marginalia in my copy of David Levy, Karpov's Collected Games: All 530 Available Encounters (1975) reveals my study of this game in the mid-1990s when I was returning to active chess study following more than a decade of occasional play. In addition, as I spent a fair amount of time studying the 1978 World Championship Match games after buying Raymond Keene's controversial book of the match in 1979, the chances are good that I also looked at the prior notable encounters of the adversaries as well.

1 comment:

  1. Karpov's account about this match from "My sister Kaissa" is also worth a look.