18 January 2010

Preparation and the Path of the Challenger

My previous post in this series on World Championship Opening Preparation (see The Key to Kasparov's Success Against Karpov) was based on comments by Kasparov in his book on the match (KK3-1986). In each of his three books on the Kasparov - Karpov matches (KK2-1985, KK3-1986, & KK5-1990), Kasparov commented specifically on his opening preparation for that match. He has covered the other two matches (KK1-1984 & KK4-1987) in his Predecessors series, but any insights will have to wait until I procure the books.

Kasparov's comments on preparation for the fifth match (KK5-1990, 'Kasparov v Karpov 1990' by Kasparov et al, Pergamon 1991) were more detailed than in the other two match books and he covered a wider variety of topics relating to preparation. Here's an excerpt (p.1).

Q: It is well known that the basis of your successes is deep and thorough preparation for each important event. For this new encounter with your 'perpetual' opponent you must have begun preparing long before the match.

A: Since this was already our fifth match, it could have been expected that the preparatory work done by both players would be of the highest quality. In addition, this match differed from the previous ones by there being a normal three-year interval. We finally had sufficient time to rest after the race which accompanied the four previous matches. Nevertheless, previous experience was taken into account and, multiplied by such an interval, it should have brought good results. I should straight away say that Karpov prepared for this match much better than ever before. This fact is important to note, since for the first time in my experience I had to contend with a better prepared opponent.

Why was Karpov able to prepare better? Because before the match itself he had to pass through a severe selection process. Playing three Candidate matches is a good form of training. This gives an undoubted advantage, as I know from my own experience. One acquires form and self-confidence. Victories over strong opponents provide inspiration. One has an established team, working together for a year and a half in the same rhythm, with practiced set-ups, well-considered plans and well-organised work.

That last paragraph contrasts with Karpov's own observations on the qualification cycle ('Karpov on Karpov', Atheneum 1991, p.206; for an overview of the matches, see my page World Chess Championship : 1988-90 Candidates Matches).

Any game, especially a game played by one of the grandmasters, is subjected to simultaneous massive analysis by a hundred pairs of eyes in all corners of the globe. If therein lies an original idea, then literally the next day everyone knows it, and immediately sets to studying it, searching for an antidote, or its development, or something similar in other positions where this idea can be injected.

The world champion does not have this problem. He is not obliged to lay out his cards until the time to defend his title arrives. He can even allow himself a loss, just to keep from revealing himself.

But the challenger often has to lay out all of his baggage. In order to get the match, he has to overcome opponents who are often not weaker than he is. These opponents are not stiffs you can outclass with technique and character. New methods are needed. You have to employ as many new methods as are needed, because if you are stingy now you may not make it to the championship. Occasionally you throw down your trump cards only to find that you are holding nothing special. [...]

A bullet, once spent, cannot be used again. How I lacked for these bullets half a year later in the match against Kasparov. I had to play three matches to get to Kasparov. Three dozen games. I was forced to bare myself almost completely.

Kasparov, of course, had entirely different worries: While I was prepared for Johann Hjartarson and fought against him, Kasparov was getting ready for Karpov. While I prepared for Yusupov and fought against him, Kasparov readied himself for Karpov. While I prepared for Timman and fought against him, Kasparov braced himself for Karpov. His entire entourage was focused on me. They studied me, sought breaches in my favorite formations, and looked for antidotes to my plans of attack -- my plans and mine only. Of course, they followed the progress of the other challengers as well, since each one was a possible source of new ideas, too. But I am convinced that Kasparov did not see any of them as a possible opponent.

Who is right? I suspect that there is an element of truth in both accounts, and that the advantages / disadvantages in each account cancel each other.

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