To Err is Human, Part 2

| 15 | Tactics

In the first part of this article we saw examples where chess players didn't learn from their mistakes and therefore they were falling for the same traps again and again.  Here is one of the most amazing stories. It started in 1971 in the traditional tournament in Hastings. Famous GM Victor Korchnoi was playing his main competitor in this tournament, the rising star of Soviet chess, GM Anatoly Karpov. Here is what he says about the opening of this game (I tried to translate his words from Russian as close to the original as possible): "When I made a difficult decision to play this opening line against Karpov, I couldn't imagine how good was my choice... For decades Karpov had failures in this opening line..."

Here is the game:


Three years later the same opponents played the Candidates Final for the World Crown. As it turned out later, it was the match that determined the World Champion since Fischer refused to defend his title.  You would think that the first thing Karpov did during the preparation for the match was finding the way to neutralize the opening his opponent already used to beat him.  Then look at game 19 of their match:
There is no point to analyze this incredibly complicated game.  What really matters for our topic is that Karpov again suffered in the opening.  Of course you can notice that even though the opening set-up was very close to what the opponents played in the previous game, still strictly speaking it was not exactly the same opening. Fair enough.  But then look at the game played in the  Candidates Semi- Final 15 years later:
Reportedly, when Korchnoi saw how his old rival lost this game, he chuckled: "In almost twenty years Karpov didn't manage to learn this opening".
What amazes me the most is not even the fact that Karpov indeed wasn't well prepared for the same opening after two decades of having problems there.  How could he forget about the next classical game of Petrosian which fits the common cliche "Every Russian schoolboy knows it".
So if the legendary Karpov had the same problem over and over again, what should we, mere mortals, do to prevent such situations? A very simple advice that you can find in most of the books or which would be given by any coach is you need to analyze your lost games in order to avoid making the same mistakes again.  I bet you heard this advice dozens of times and believe me, Karpov knew it as well.  But if we talk about opening problems, I want to mention the advice given me by Kasparov when I had the privilege of attending the legendary Botvinnik-Kasparov school. I never heard it before and there is a chance that you never heard it either.
Kasparov said: "Your tournament results are the ultimate judge of the opening. Sometimes you really like an opening, you obtain good positions there, but your results are awful.  Drop the opening! But sometimes you hate the opening and yet somehow you have good results there.  Keep playing the opening as long as it gives you good results." As an example Kasparov talked about the Tarrasch defense in the Queen's Gambit declined. He said he never really liked this opening, but somehow it gave him good results until Karpov just thrashed him in a number of games in their World Championship match after which Kasparov stopped playing the Tarrasch Defense for good.  Kasparov's advice makes perfect sense in my opinion.  If your tournament results are not very good in some particular opening, then probably the positions you get out of the opening just don't fit your style even if objectively they are good for you. As Kasparov's example with the Tarrasch Defense shows, the reverse is also true.  So, if only Karpov followed this very logical advice and avoided the variation that gave him so much headache...
to be continued...
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