Karpov is back! (and a short discussion of chess style)

by Webmaster on October 30, 2013

12th World Champion Anatoly Karpov appears to be back in form, dominating the field in the Cap d’Agde rapid tournament. Karpov has a score of 7/8 in a field that includes French Grandmaster Etienne Bacrot (world number 22) and Ukrainian Grandmaster Vassily Ivanchuk (world number 19).

Of course, the now 62-year-old Karpov is nowhere near his peak back when he was World Champion in the late 20th Century. These days, he mainly plays at rapid time limits. This tournament has a “25 minutes per player plus 10 seconds increment per move” time control.

Karpov is one of my favourite players (here’s a picture I took with him many years ago!). I enjoyed his strategical/positional style in some of his best games (as opposed to an all-guns-blazing tactical style). For example, his performance in Linares 1994 is considered one of the greatest of all time.

Regarding the issue of style in chess, my old chess coach, FIDE Master Geoff Saw once commented that Karpov himself said, “Style? I have no style.” I think this was an important reminder that, in the vast majority of cases, objectivity takes precedence over the style of chess you prefer.

One’s style should ideally be universal, so that you can adapt to the situation on the chessboard. Be aggressive when the position calls for it, or slow and strategical (or even defensive) in situations where aggressive play is inappropriate. Modern top chess players might play a tactical melee followed by a slow grind in the very next game.

Sometimes there are many changes of character in a single game. The advantages gained in a slow positional build-up might be converted, at the appropriate moment, by utilising one’s superior piece placement in a devastating mating attack.

In other situations, a player with a non-decisive attack might choose to trade his attacking chances for material, such as winning a pawn. Since his attack fizzles out, the position changes character into more strategic waters. The player who is up material must now slowly wear his opponent down and use his extra material to convert into a win.

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