Last week we looked at a book dedicated to chess endgames virtuoso Ulf Andersson. Today we will look at a book dedicated to an endgame master known to all – Karpov. The book “Endgame Virtuoso Anatoly Karpov” by Tibor Karolyi and Nick Aplin is also published by New in Chess and features his 105 best endgames. 105! – if we do 10 endgames per day it would take us 10.5 days-- that doesn’t sound too bad. But I imagine that one endgame can take up to a few hours so it is unrealistic to study all of them unless you dedicate your life to this task. My goal is to extract the maximum out of the book having limited time for studying endgames and chess in general.
The goal is to use the learned information during my games – be it a specific position or general plan. The book is already showing a lot of promise as there is an Endgame Classification at the end where endgames are sorted by their type: pawns, stalemate, space advantage, exchanging, etc. There are a lot of diagrams which usually means that they show critical positions and can be used as exercises. Of course it is easy to peek at the moves beneath the diagrams so you better cover the moves well to avoid the temptation.
It is nice to have a plan of how one will study endgames and how much time one has on hand to study them. Recently, I started to write down how much time per day I study chess. This is because I lived under the illusion that I study chess too much/too little and clarifying the exact amount of hours will help plan the days better. It will also help with setting chess goals. For example, if it turns out that I study at least 2 hours per day then according to many strong players I am on a good track. You realize that many chess professionals don’t get to study more than that as they have to teach chess, which is not quite the same as studying.
If you have half an hour per day for studying endgames you will improve greatly in this part of the game. Then if you come up with some plan of how to cover all the relevant topics, the time will be even more productively spent. I am a big fan of spontaneity and free style and not adhering to a plan, which has a lot of drawbacks – big holes in knowledge for example. The bright side is that you can go through the lessons without much effort as you study what you are in a mood to study. Going in such free style through the book the following position caught my attention.
Black has three ways of recapturing on c5, but which one is the correct one? D:c is a natural choice as it preserves sound pawn structure, while getting rid of the d6- pawn. The only downside is that after Nd5 black has to take allowing the d-pawn to become a passed pawn. Taking with the knight is also more or less a natural choice as you place the piece on an active square. The downside is that the d6-pawn is backward. Let us see what Karpov did.
As the game proved to be interesting we will explore it further! The d6- pawn is under attack, what to do? Rf6 is a natural defense but it blocks the bishop on g7 and looks rather awkward. The d5- push does not achieve much. There are two interesting options for black here that are not obvious at all.
So, we have reached the next diagram in the book which means it is another critical position. But what is really happening here? Black will lose the d6-pawn while white will lose the c3 – pawn. Then when it comes to the weaknesses on c4, a3 vs. c5, a6 I think that the white weaknesses are more significant as at least for now the bishop and the knight defend a6 and c5. What about the kings? Black's king can enter the game via f7-e6 immediately, while white's king is stuck on h2. It seems like black has the upper hand here.
I will be consistent with the book and provide the diagrams where the book does. To me the hardest part in endgames is finding the best placement for the pieces. The rook on c1 is gorgeous, although if you ask me where the rook is best located, I wouldn’t think of the c1-square-- it seems too far from black’s camp. Although from c1 the rook limits the bishop and the king, ties the rook to the defense and attacks the pawn. What else might one ask of a single piece? Try to come up with the solution for this diagram.
I have heard from a computer scientist who analyzes chess games and compares the moves played to the suggestions of computers that the percentage of Karpov’s agreement with computers is rather low compared to other World Champions (such as Fischer or Kasparov). This is probably because Karpov’s play is conceptual – he follows plans especially in endgames. When it comes to slowly improving the position no computer would be as good as Karpov is. Don’t be surprised that some of the solutions that Karpov found do not match the computer’s solutions. I would like to look more into Karpov’s endgames as today’s example proved to be interesting! Maybe, next week.