09 November 2009

Opening Preparation - Between the Lines

Continuing with World Championship Opening Preparation, in The Choice of Seconds I gave Korchnoi's account of how in the 1974 match against Karpov he was outmaneuvered in building a team to assist him in match preparations. Let's continue with his account of the effect this had on the early stages of the match.

In the first eight games the advantage was clearly on Karpov's side. As Black against me, he made a very subtle choice of opening. It should not be forgotten that his chief adviser was Furman, a man with whom I had worked for years and who knew all my weaknesses. This greatly hampered me in the match. On account of the nature of my chess style, I found it difficult to refute one unexpected scheme chosen against me. We played three games with this opening [Korchnoi as White: games 1, 3, & 7], and despite my prepared analysis, I was forced to give way. For my play as Black I had several prepared schemes, and I did not know which of these would prove the most effective. It occurred to me that I should try out the most dubious of them, the Sicilian Dragon, at the start of the match. And that is what I did in the second game.

Korchnoi blamed the loss in game two on Karpov's superior opening preparation. For those remarks, see my first post titled World Championship Opening Preparation.

The third, fourth, and fifth games were, after strong pressure from Karpov, all drawn. In the sixth game I again adopted an experimental opening which I prepared all by myself just before the game. Already I did not particularly trust my seconds (Osnos and Dzhindzhikhashvili [Dzindzichashvili]). [...] Though few remember this game in the Petroff and practically no one pays it serious attention, I can testify that Karpov really earned his victory at the board.

It was good that I finally settled on the French, a defense which Karpov and I could have analysed together without him ever gaining an advantage. In view of Karpov's lead, it was already dangerous to experiment by choosing another opening, especially at a time when I had no confidence in my seconds. [...]

Beginning with the ninth game, I sensed that Karpov was finding it difficult to stand the strain. In this game, for the first time in the match, he offered a draw in the middle game. From the tenth game until the end of the match, I held the initiative in my hands. [...]

It was the seventeenth game that proved fatal. I remember that for the first time I played the Catalan Opening. I untypically offered my opponent a Pawn sacrifice. Karpov did not bother to hold the Pawn, and without thinking made another move. Equally untypical of Karpov, especially without thinking! I recall at the board I sank deep into thought: who could have betrayed me?

From Korchnoi's 'Chess Is My Life' (p.107). His remarks reveal several important points that help to understand the match strategies of the top players.

  • paragraph 1: 'We played three games with this opening' [Korchnoi as White: games 1, 3, & 7]; 'For my play as Black' • A useful way of looking at the openings in a match is to consider the games a weave of two separate matches: one match with player A as White in the even numbered games, the other with player B as White in the odd numbered games.

  • para.2: 'I did not particularly trust my seconds'; para.3: 'I had no confidence in my seconds'; para 5: 'who could have betrayed me?' • Although Korchnoi's writings consistently show him to be a deeply suspicious person, we'll see in other World Championship matches that the problem of betrayal occurs frequently in match preparations.

  • para.2: 'Karpov really earned his victory at the board' • This is in contrast to game two, where Korchnoi attributed his opponent's victory to pre-game preparation.

Other commentators, including Karpov, offer different explanations for the match's twists and turns.

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