The Butterfly Effect, Part 2

The Butterfly Effect, Part 2

| 28 | Strategy

Some time ago we discussed the chess version of the well known phenomenon called the butterfly effect. We could see how a piece or a pawn sitting at one part of the board could affect the outcome of the whole battle on the opposite part of the board. You can find the article here.

If you are interested in the traditional meaning of the butterfly effect, then you might want to check out Wikipedia which gives a scientific answer to the question: "Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?"

Today I'll try to answer a chess related question: "Can a game played by a schoolboy in a simul affect the final outcome of the World Championship match which was supposed to be played one year later, thousands of miles away? Can it change the whole chess history?" As unlikely as it sounds, I think the answer is yes, it can!

The story starts in the beginning of the 1980s in Tashkent (which is the capital of Uzbekistan, which was a part of the mighty Soviet Union). The energetic chess federation of Uzbekistan was holding annual tournaments inviting top Soviet masters and even grandmasters! It was a real paradise for chess enthusiasts there: besides watching strong chess players live playing the tournament, they could play them in countless simuls! These days the Internet makes it easy to watch Carlsen playing Aronian live regardless in what part of the world they are playing, but some 30 years ago, watching a real grandmaster playing his tournament game was almost like magic!

A local thirteen-year-old kid noticed that in one of those tournaments, Ukranian GM Gennady Kuzmin (who was well known in the chess circle for his creative ideas), introduced a strong novelty in a popular variation of the Sicilian Defense and couldn't wait to use this strong move himself. Surprisingly, he didn't have to wait too long for such an opportunity:

I was very proud to beat a very experienced grandmaster, who had been the Soviet Champion just a few years earlier, even if it was just a clock simul game. And I was especially happy to hear that GM Dorfman was very gracious to tell my coach that "this kid will be a GM for sure". 

Fast-forward one year and we move to Moscow where a young challenger named Garry Kasparov stubbornly holds a hopeless match against Anatoly Karpov. The score is 1-5 and since they play till one opponent scores 6 wins, it means that one single win by Karpov will end the match. Now let's see what happens the game 37:

When I saw the game, I couldn't believe my eyes! Instead of Kuzmin's brilliant 11.Bb5!, Karpov played the luckluster move 11.exd5?!. You can say that even though both opponents had the world's best theoreticians in their teams, the information travelled around the world very slowly before the age of the Internet and databases. Therefore they probably simply didn't know about Kuzmin's discovery.

Unfortunately, there was a tiny, itty bitty detail that completely eliminates this possibility. GM Dorfman was one of Kasparov's main seconds during the match!! Indeed, in his book about the match, Kasparov mentions that they suspected that 11.Bb5! was the best move in this position and they prepared to play 11...Nb4. Still, according to Kasparov, Black's position is difficult after 12.Rhe1.

One year later, Tal won two beautiful games and the variation disappeared from the GM games:

Tal acknowledged that the idea of 11.Bb5! belonged to his second, IM Vitolins, and since that time this move is called "Vitolins' idea" everywhere. I have no doubt that these two great chess thinkers Kuzmin and Vitolins came up with the 11.Bb5! move independently, and GM Kuzmin just played it before anyone else. But for me, the most interesting aspect of this story is different.

Shortly after the aforementioned simul game vs. GM Dorfman, I played another clock simul game against IM (and later GM) Andrei Kharitonov. After the initial moves 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nxf6 5.Nc3 he played 5...e6 instead of 5...Nc6. Therefore, we got the Scheveningen variation of the Sicilian instead of the Richter-Rauzer attack, and I wasn't able to catch another big fish with Kuzmin's novelty.

"Who cares?", you might ask. Well, Kharitonov was one of the Karpov's seconds and if I had played 11.Bb5! against him and not Dorfman, I have a strong feeling that Karpov wouldn't have missed the opportunity to make this move in the 37th game of his match vs. Kasparov! Since the position after 11.Bb5! is pretty grim for Black, and considering Karpov's technique, I think the match could have ended right there and the whole chess history would have been completely different. 

The conclusion is simple and straightforward: Kasparov owes his World Champion title to IM Kharitonov who played 5...e6 instead of 5...Nc6 in a simul against a schoolboy from Tashkent. Laughing


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