25 January 2010

One Hundred Days for an Opening Repertoire

In Preparation and the Path of the Challenger, I presented arguments from both Kasparov and Karpov on who is better prepared for a World Championship match - the reigning champion or the challenger. Since the only person who is able to comment fully on match preparation is the player himself, we are fortunate to have the thoughts of both players.

Kasparov's insights from 'Kasparov v Karpov 1990' are particularly useful, because he covered many details related to preparation which are normally not available to the chess public. Here's an example (p.2); Karpov qualified as challenger in March 1990.

Back in January 1990 I began planning my preparation, considering how to allocate my efforts, and where and with whom to carry out my training sessions. But there are events over hich we have no control.

Q: You have in mind the January events in Baku, as a result of which you not only broke off your first training session, but were also forced, together with your relations, to flee from your native town?

A: Yes, of course.

Q: You were left without a home, and it is not hard to imagine all the problems which piled up on you. Did you nevertheless succeed in carrying out fully your intended preparations for the match?

A: To say that my preparation was not carried out fully would be an understatement. The sort of preparation which I am accustomed to seeing was altogether absent. Before each match for the World Championship I used to reckon that 100 days of work were necessary. On this occasion I barely managed to scrape together 60 training days, but these were by no means those unclouded days of preparation on the banks of the Caspian Sea, which we had earlier.

Here Kasparov described how he was affected by the events of Azerbaijan's Black January (1990), when Soviet troops occupied Baku.

The normal pattern of life was destroyed. And this before such a match. There was neither sufficient time, nor reserves of nervous energy, nor calmness. The only thing I succeeded in doing was to outline the strategic course of the coming encounter, although only very approximately.

The strategy was to fight 'for maximum complexity' with both White and Black, but the course of the match showed Kasparov that his preparation with Black was inadequate (p.3-4).

I did not imagine how well prepared my opponent would be.

Q: During the match this quickly became evident.

A: Yes, but during the match everything is much more difficult to do. And there is another important factor, which I have already mentioned. I did not succeed in carrying out in full my preparation program, which had to be reduced to 60 days, and that with many breaks and distractions due to other things. It is quite obvious that when the time for preparation is reduced, the program itself also begins to be reduced, it is cut short. And therefore another incorrect step was taken, one which almost proved fatal. I wanted not only to play for complications with Black, but I even began avoiding theoretical duels, planning various irregular set-ups, deliberately going in for inferior positions, merely in order to avoid theory and maintain the tension. Tactics which are completely atypical of me, and in the given instance I stifled my own style of play.

Imagine spending 100 days preparing an opening repertoire. And this on top of already being the best prepared chess player in the world.

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