An unexamined life is not worth living.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Kasparov vs. Karpov 1988-2009 – Book review

This book wraps up the series about all the games between two perennial opponents – Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov. The last volume is probably as exciting as the previous ones, if not the most exciting one. It has more tournament games than the previous ones, and includes the 1990 Match in New York/Lyons, about which I already have read/reviewed another book – Five Crowns.


Each book in the series has several brilliant games that have become classic, those to remember the struggle between the big K’s by.
1984 – the 27 game was Karpov’s endgame masterpiece, but the fact that the match lasted 48 games is most remarkable.
1985 match – the 16th game in Kasparov Gambit, and the 24th game – arguably the most “decisive” game in history.
1986 match had the 16th game with the crazy Spanish Attack as well as the “study like” 22 game.
The match in 1987 in Seville is probably most remembered by the last two games where Karpov and Kasparov exchanged wins and Kasparov got to keep the crown.

What games stand out in this 1988-2009 volume? In the 1990 match Karpov was playing aggressively as Black, but in this entire match, Black did not win a single game, so this strategy somewhat backfired. Among the better games are two wins by Kasparov in the Spanish Zaitsev Variation – games 2 and 20, and Karpov’s nice positional suffocation of Kasparov’s Grunfeld Defence in Game 17.
Among their tournament games, there were a couple of gems as well:

Kasparov – Karpov, Amsterdam 1988 was a mad clash where Kasparov sacrificed a couple of pieces and managed to outplay Karpov in time trouble
image Black to move. In severe time trouble Karpov overlooked the most decisive way to end the game.

Karpov – Kasparov, Linares 1993 was the famous “Fischer chess” game, where all of Karpov’s pieces ended up on the first rank!image Black to move. White had just attacked the rook with 22. Nc1. Does the rook have to retreat?

While in matches the record between K and K was very close, in tournaments Kasparov has scored 7-1 in decisive games. I can think of a couple of reasons for this:
- the tournament games were played later in their careers when Kasparov was in his prime, and Karpov rather on a decline, relative to his prime years
- Kasparov was more of a tournament player, so by the time K and K met, Karpov would often need to win to catch up with Kasparov, so he’d play more sharply than he would in matches.

What can a chess player learn from the series? I paid special attention to the following:

  • The differences in style between Kasparov and Karpov are striking. In more than half of the games you can see Kasparov sacrificing something (usually a pawn) to activate his pieces, and Karpov – accepting the offered material. This is simply amazing! Both players achieved great results with their styles.
  • Insights into opening preparation for each game show the development of opening theory – Kasparov shows what he prepared for each game, and how theory developed since then
  • Time spent on each move. This adds to the reader’s understanding of what players saw, why they made blunders, what moments they considered critical in the development of each game.

The book also covers a few aspects of “chess politics”, the scandal during 1988 USSR championship, GMA, negotiations between FIDE and PCA during 1990’s and overall development of chess history during the covered years.

On a personal note, I read this volume in Russian, and to me this made for a much more pleasant experience, as while the translation in the English editions (which is all I have for the previous two volumes) is usually good, small imperfections still make me wish for seeing Kasparov’s original Russian text.


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