Anatoly Karpov And The Caro-Kann

Anatoly Karpov And The Caro-Kann

| 48 | Opening Theory

After his famous 1972 victory over Boris Spassky in the so-called "Match of the Century," Bobby Fischer stopped playing chess. He did not compete in any tournaments as the world champion. When Anatoly Karpov emerged as his challenger in 1975, Fischer did not agree to the terms of the match and forfeited.

Thus Karpov became the 12th world champion. Despite basically "inheriting" the title without a match for the first time since Botvinnik, Karpov fully proved himself worth of the title by defeating Viktor Korchnoi in two matches and also amassing an enormous record of tournament wins.

Karpov initially did not play the Caro-Kann very much, usually preferring to meet 1.e4 with 1...e5, with either a Petroff or a Spanish (often the Zaitsev Variation). In particular, he mostly preferred to use those openings in his matches against Garry Kasparov. However, throughout his career -- especially later -- he used the Caro-Kann very often, and his name is closely associated with it. In particular, he infused it with his own particular personality.

Karpov is a very practical player, who has a mysterious ability to use his opponent's energy against him. He often does not mind getting a small theoretical disadvantage, as long as the opponent faced a difficult task.

Here is one typical Caro-Kann victory from him. In the 1974 semi-final to the world championship he faced Boris Spassky. Spassky opted for a less theoretical approach, avoiding the advance h2-h4. Karpov pragmatically achieved an entirely safe position with White having a slight space advantage but also a slightly overextended position. In an interesting struggle Karpov prevailed:

In the next game, we see Karpov entering a rather simplified and quite typical position which, however, hid a great deal of subtleties. In a tough positional battle Ljubojevic was lead astray:

Although in the above games we see Karpov using the current main line move, 4...Bf5, he is well-known for frequently using the move 4...Nd7. He had a weakness for the unusual idea of meeting 5.Ng5 with 5...Ndf6, packing the kingside with pieces. Here we see him absorbing his opponent's energy with apparent ease:

Nick de Firmian at Chess Olympiad 1986.

Karpov did not usually aim to win the game in the opening, and while he certainly worked hard on chess, he did not seek victory in a deep novelty in some sharp variation. Nevertheless, this 1993 victory against Gata Kamsky -- with the shocking novelty of stepping the king up and into a pin -- showed that he did not lack a sense of fantasy in chess, as long as the move was true to the reality of the position:


Former world championship contender Gata Kamsky.

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