Do You Like Annotated Games?

Do You Like Annotated Games?

| 75 | Fun & Trivia

 The question in the title of this article might look stupid to many readers. Indeed, who wouldn't like to study a game annotated by a strong player? Well, I am not sure that I have an answer to this question anymore. When I was a kid, an annotated game was an opportunity to take a peek into the grandmaster's mind. Famous players shared the thoughts, fears, and concerns that they had during their games. You could read such a book without a chessboard, the way you would read a novel. Even Mikhail Tal, who calculated zillion of moves during his games, didn't overload his readers with variations, and that's why his book about the world championship match against Mikhail Botvinnik is one of the best books ever written.

Tal vs. Botvinnik, 1960

Today's elite chess players were raised by computers, so they try to play like computers and even think like computers. It is not a big surprise that sometimes you have a feeling that the annotations for their games were written by computers as well. They dump an ocean of variations on you, and you start to drown.

In an old book, a grandmaster would write something like, "I was afraid to win the b2-pawn since my queen would be too far away from the kingside so my opponent could start an attack there." You would then understand some basic concepts from chess strategy. Today's annotated game would probably say something like, "22...Qxb2 was possible since after [two pages of variations] Black holds," Sometimes I am wondering if such annotators realize that these days, when every single chess player has a chess engine, he can check himself what a computer says about the move 22...Qxb2. To me, such annotations overloaded by variations are simply boring. The human element of chess annotations is slowly disappearing. Of course, I am not talking about all chess annotators, some of them are quite entertaining, but the general trend of generic computer-like annotations is quite alarming. 

Today, I would like to take a look at a game annotated by Anatoly Karpov. It features old-school annotations since the world champion provided only five short variations for a game that lasted 41 moves! While I might disagree with some of Karpov's statements, I really enjoy annotations like this. Let's start!

Here Karpov explains that this game was played shortly before the coming candidates' matches, so he didn't want to show his real openings. Besides, it was a good idea to surprise his opponent. This innocent-looking comment makes me think. What surprise was Karpov talking about since he had already played this move a year before this game?

My only guess is that at that time, before computer databases, some of the games were never published in magazines, and therefore they were hidden from the chess community. Did Karpov hope that Korchnoi hadn't seen his game against Saidy? It is funny that many years later Korchnoi himself played this move against Anand.

Let's get back to Korchnoi vs. Karpov, especially since variation number-one is coming! Can you figure out why White shouldn't win the b5 pawn?

Karpov severely criticizes White's move 14.e5? which gives Black full control over the central d5-square. Karpov thinks that this move was based on miscalculations. Can you find a little trick missed by Korchnoi?

Let's talk about a very instructive comment after Black's move 29... Qc6.

Anatoly Karpov, 1979. Photo: Dutch National Archive.

Karpov says that he allowed this pawn sacrifice because he thought that he could still play for a win in this endgame thanks to a lousy Ba1. Also, he took into account that Korchnoi was well known for keeping extra material even if it was extremely dangerous. We have two lessons in one comment. Never forget about the human element in chess! The game is played by humans, so you can use their natural weaknesses to your advantage: greed, fear, etc.

But what about the chess part of the comment? How realistic were Black's winning chances? Look at this recent game played by two young grandmasters. Notice that compared to Karpov's game White had an extra passed pawn on a3. Nevertheless the same bad dark-squared bishop eventually ruined White's game.

Here is a funny comment by Karpov.

Karpov says that when Korchnoi played 35.Rc1, he grinned, and his body language was saying that he was going to punish Karpov for turning down his draw offer a couple of moves ago. In my opinion, Karpov didn't read Korchnoi's body language correctly. First of all, even if White plays Rc8 he is still cannot do much since his pieces are very passive, for example:

Also, take a look at Korchnoi's score sheet.

He was in such terrible time trouble that he even stopped writing down the moves of his opponent as well as his own 40th move! So, with a lousy position and almost no time on his clock, how could Korchnoi realistically hope to punish his opponent at that point? Also, I am curious at what point Korchnoi offered a draw earlier in the game. I guess we'll never get an answer to these questions...

Here is how the game ended:

I wish Korchnoi hadn't resigned and had played on for the sake of aspiring chess players who would like to see how to convert a huge positional advantage into a win. I have my own theory that Korchnoi was so disgusted by his dark-squared bishop that he simply didn't show up for the resumption of the game. How did I come to this conclusion? Look at the score sheet:

The result of the game is written with different handwriting. Also, only Karpov's signature is there; Korchnoi's own signature is missing. It all suggests that the envelope with the sealed move was opened in Korchnoi's absence!

Now you can see why to me analyzing annotated games like this one is similar to reading a novel. If you enjoyed this little "novel" as much as I did, you can find many more of them in Karpov's book of selected games. I mentioned this book already in one of my old articles.

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