31 July 2012

Counting Kasparov's Notes

Last week on my World Chess Championship blog, I posted a piece titled Kasparov's Thoughts, Emotions, and Perceptions, based on Kasparov's five-book series on Modern Chess, i.e. the phrase Kasparov assigns to cover the period of his career. The second, third, and fourth volumes in the series cover his five matches with Karpov, making this work the 13th World Champion's magnum opus on the most important rivalry in chess history.

The three volumes are not lightweight works. They are each more than 400 pages long, making a total together of almost 1300 pages. As you might expect, the bulk of the material is from Kasparov's notes to the 144 games played in the five matches. Curious about the division between match annotations and other material, I noted the start page of each game in order to calculate the number of pages covering individual games. My method doesn't give a completely accurate count of pages with annotations, as it includes the sometimes lengthy text background between certain games, but it's close enough for my purposes. I can also justify that inaccurate count by assuming that the text background applies to the preceding game, making it a valuable addition to the annotations.

Of the 1300 pages in the three volumes, somewhat less than 900 cover the notes to the games, for an average of a little more than six pages per game. Which games receive the most attention? There are 20 games with ten or more pages each. Here are the top four, identifed by year of the match, game, and page count:-

1986-16 : 27 pgs
1986-18 : 18
1990-16 : 16
1986-19 : 14

In other words, game 16 of the 1986 match receives an astounding 27 pages of notes. That might set some sort of a record in chess literature. Don't confuse this game with game 16 of the 1985 match, the Sicilian with Kasparov's Black Knight dominating the board on d3. That game gets only eight pages of notes. Game 16 of the 1986 match was a Ruy Lopez with Kasparov playing White, a game full of sacrifices and other assorted complications. A closer look at this game would be a worthy subject for a followup post.

It's also worth noting that three of the four games listed above are from the 1986 match: games 16, 18, and 19. After winning game 16 to go three games up in the match, Kasparov lost three consecutive games (17 through 19), allowing Karpov to level the score. The copious notes stem from Kasparov's attempts to understand exactly what went wrong, a subject also worthy of a closer look.

In contrast to the games receiving close scrutiny, five games receive a single page of notes and 19 get two pages. All but one of these 24 games were played in the aborted 1984-85 match. For the record, and in case anyone wants to check my work, here are the counts -- total pages and number of games -- for each of the five matches:-

1984 : 181 : 48
1985 : 139 : 24
1986 : 214 : 24
1987 : 150 : 24
1990 : 195 : 24

In other words, the 1984-85 match has 181 pages covering its 48 games. Before Kasparov's latest series, most of the games from that match had never been analyzed by either of the two players and have been largely ignored by the chess world. As Kasparov writes in the 'Foreword' to the second volume,

Alas, the scandalous conclusion of the match overshadowed its rich chess content, which was not in fact professionally studied by the experts. And yet, despite the obvious mistakes, in particular by me, it was from our unlimited marathon that modern chess proceeded in a new direction. This was my first major event where I did not annotate the games. Why? The tension was so great and prolonged, and the psychological background so dark, that I had no desire to tackle this work. Besides, there was also no time - a new match was due to begin within six months. Now I am finally able to fill this gap.

Given that 900 pages cover the games, what about the other 400 pages? These are filled with material relevant to chess history. The termination and aftermath of the first match receive 30 pages. How much of this is new and how much is a rehash of Kasparov's earlier writings? A detailed analysis might be revealing. The period between the third and fourth matches, covering the 'birth of the GMA', receives 40 pages. The fourth volume has the most substantial material outside of notes to the games of the matches. There are notes to 42 games in addition to the 24 match games.

During the last few years I've hesitated about tackling the Modern Chess series. Now I'm glad I finally have.

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