12 October 2009

The World Championship According to Bareev

Continuing with World Championship Opening Preparation,
one of the resources I mentioned was 'From London to Elista' by Evgeny Bareev and Ilya Levitov. The book is a combination of narrative and annotations to all Kramnik's World Championship games between 2000 and 2006.

The narrative, structured as a series of dialogs between Bareev (B) and Levitov (L), includes in the chapter on the 2000 Kasparov - Kramnik match a long historical discussion titled 'On World Championship Matches' (p.48-59). It covers many secondary topics, including the evolution of opening preparation. Here is a summary of material related to advances in opening preparation.

(L): 'Shall we discuss the Capablanca - Alekhine match of 1927?' (B): 'That was a long time ago. They both played the Queen's Gambit until they were blue in the face.' (L): 'We also don't need to discuss the Alekhine - Euwe matches.' (B): 'It's worth noting one fact -- the openings discussion went beyond the boundaries of the Queen's Gambit.' (p.49)

A common theme of ex-Soviet (especially Russian) players is that the modern era of chess started with Botvinnik's victory in the 1948 match tournament. Before that was some kind of chess pre-history that just isn't relevant today.

(B): 'It makes sense to start with the match of Botvinnik - Bronstein of 1951. Both Kasparov and Kramnik are proteges of the Botvinnik school. They very carefully studied [Botvinnik's] legacy to their own benefit. I'll point out first of all that neither Botvinnik nor Bronstein were prepared to play chess at a high level. Botvinnik hadn't played competitively for three years as he was doing his scientific work. Naturally, he was out of form. And Bronstein... Kramnik, for example, thinks that he never reached Botvinnik's level.' (p.50)

(B): '[The 1954 Botvinnik - Smyslov] match showed that opening preparation is of paramount significance in World Championship matches. Botvinnik himself, after winning game 2 in 30 moves, wrote: "This game is a clear example of the usefulness of home preparation." He constantly anticipated where he could put pressure on his opponent. From this match we can already draw the conclusion that Botvinnik was an absolute genius at preparation. As the match went on, Botvinnik searched for weaknesses in his opponent's repertoire.' (p.51)

(B): '[In 1957] Smyslov's superiority was obvious. He prepared superbly and was able to knock out all of Botvinnik's openings.' (p.52)

(B): 'In 1960 Tal played a match with Botvinnik. The Patriarch [Botvinnik] had absolutely overwhelming superiority in the opening, but this was of no significance -- he couldn't figure Tal out. In the second match a year, Botvinnik was in the right mood, he chose the appropriate openings and he was used to Tal's style. As in the previous match, Botvinnik came out of the opening with better positions, but this time he didn't give Tal the opportunity to create an upset and he carefully realized his advantage.' (p.53)

(L): 'It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that all the Soviet champions, starting with Smyslov and ending with Kramnik, "grew out of Botvinnik". He wasn't just the founder and ideologue of the Soviet chess school, he also simply taught them to play professional chess. He taught them about correct preparation, the psychological aspects of competition, opening strategies, etc. etc.' (p.55)

After the other Soviet players had assimilated and perfected Botvinnik's methods, the next advance was made by Fischer and accelerated by Karpov.

(B): '[In 1972] Fischer tested [Spassky] in all the openings, looking for his weak points. Fischer was already a little stronger than Spassky by then, he had taken universalism to a new level, he could do everything, and do it well.' (p.56)

(B): '[Re Karpov and Korchnoi], their final Candidates Match of 1974 is more interesting [than their other two matches]. The idea of totality was realised, in particular, in the huge team of analysts that worked for Karpov. It was from that time onwards that the struggle for the title of World Chess Champion became a team sport.' (p.57)

That last sentence is worth special emphasis: 'the title of World Chess Champion became a team sport'.

(B): '[After Karpov - Korchnoi] the modern era begins -- the clashes of the titans. Again the general call-up of the strongest players -- let's find novelties to aid the victory of the right candidate. Kasparov found himself completely unprepared to play Karpov and after nine games of the limitless 1984 match he was four points down. Then Kasparov's staff began waiting for Karpov to tire. [...] The players used the same variation with both colors, inviting the opposing side to discover some secrets of their opening preparation.' (p.57)

(B): 'In [the 1985 match] Kasparov was superbly prepared for openings as Black, and he actively attacked as White. In those matches his conceptual approach to the opening engagement showed itself more clearly -- not just preparing some decent variation, but finding the kind of positions that were unfavorable to his opponent, foisting his style of play upon him. [...] Within six months [for the 1986 rematch] Karpov had tightened up his White openings for the rematch, but despite two opening catastrophes in games 5 and 17, Kasparov showed more impressive and varied play overall and dominated. [...] The scandal with Kasparov's second Vladimirov reminded me (regardless of what actually happened) that we live in the information age and we have to be careful for leaks of this valuable material.' (p.58)

The 'scandal' was Kasparov's suspicion that his opening preparation had been leaked to the opponent. This was a new theme that has been repeated since.

(B): 'Let's sum up what's been said. Before a World Championship match it's essential to draw the correct conclusions from the available information, then sit down for specific preparation. If you draw conceptually incorrect conclusions, then all your preparation will amount to nothing. You have to lay strong, firm, foundations. So in the first match [vs. Kasparov] Kramnik guessed right, he correctly broke the situation down into its constituent parts, but in the second [vs. Leko] it didn't work out. [...] The Kramnik - Leko match showed once again that it's impossible to approach such a contest in an ideal condition. They both became hostages to the idea that they were playing against perfection, so their preparation had to be perfect. They spooked themselves.' (p.59)

Bareev's summary stopped with the Kramnik - Leko match. For subsequent matches, we have to find other sources. The book 'From London to Elista' is one of the most important accounts of the World Championship, in particular the championship in the third millenium. I'll be drawing from it for other posts in this series.

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