"A Non-Inside Look" by Mikhail Tal, continued

Jan 20, 2011, 7:08 AM |

At first I thought that the tradition veni, vidi, vici would be upheld. In the first three rounds, the world champion led the way. Two of his victories were very spectacular and instructive. One of them, over Ivanchuk, had a very interesting psychological subtext. Before the tournament, I was under the impression that this very talented kid from Lvov was a typical chess nihilist who doubts everything. His game against the world championship proved that. Everyone had the same question: if Kasparov plays a variant (2nd and 4th game in Sevilla) disapproved by the opening theory, then there's something in it! There were many theories, but they were all vague and unclear. Perhaps some hot heads thought that Ivanchuk is already preparing for a World Championship match?! And so he very confidently, without any doubt (the chess clock also suggested that) plays this variant. But still, Ivanchuk's boldness amazed me. It was clear that "Kasparov's firm" prepared something. But still, the elegance of Kasparov's attack impressed me. My tastes are different from the prize jury. Kasparov's combination against Smirin was very good, but the game against Ivanchuk... Roughtly speaking, I could do the same against Smirin.

(I could argue more about prizes. Considering the number of our creative organizations, I wouldn't wonder if we had 16 prizes. I understand that Karpov deserves a prize. But giving award for a win with White and not giving anything for a win with Black is ridiculous, in my opinion.) Then Kasparov came through a bad period. The first sign was in the game against Sokolov, where the world champion made a tactical mistake, overlooking a smart move in a position where he had an extra pawn for quite a problematic compensation. After that game, Kasparov couldn't find his best play for several rounds. A difficult defence against Gavrikov, two White games without any advantage against Smyslov and Malanyuk. While Smyslov's opening choice could have surprized the Baku player, but Kasparov should have been ready to the Leningrad system in the Dutch. And so, there was a series of six draws. I can't remember anything like that in his tournament play! The series was interrupted by a tactical and strategical flash: g4 against Kharitonov. Yes, Black didn't have to lose that game, but this tempest, even though in a teapot, had a psychological effect. A sharp turn in game's plot profoundly affected an unexperienced opponent. At the finish, Kasparov played with great confidence. His victory against Salov deserves a special mention. It had a colossal sporting meaning. The game was very interesting, tense and very smooth...

Karpov played the championship in his style. I played him this year in two tournaments (Wijk Aan Zee and Brussels). I think he won only two games with Black in both tournaments (while scoring almost 100% with White). Karpov plays very strictly with Black. If an opponent plays normally, then, unless it was absolutely necessary (and it very rarely was, because Karpov won both tournaments with a good margin), he didn't try to play sharply. Well, the ex-champion doesn't try to play sharply with White either, but he doesn't weaken his grip on the partner until the very end.

And these tactics were crystal clear in Moscow. Karpov played nine games with White and eight with Black. With white pieces, he scored +6=3, and he drew all his games with Black. And the only game where Black didn't suffer was against Salov.

The ex-champion could probably achieve more if he played a bit more aggressively with black pieces. Though it's hard to give any advice to the supreme commander. Of his wins with White, I was profoundly impressed with his game against Yussupov. He got his opponent in a hopeless position in the opening, and he did it so elegantly! The most impressive move was h4!. Don't seek any brilliancies in Karpov's games - he doesn't seek them either. But it's the ability to find the most economic decision in a very complicated position, like in the game against Smirin (Qe2!) that characterizes Karpov's game. I know this feature in Anatoly's playing for a long time. Such moves already amazed everyone in 1974, in his match against B. Spassky. With all due respect to Karpov's chess legacy, I think that this match was his pinnacle!

And Kasparov is always trying to finish the game before the 40th move with White. Is that harder? He makes very ambitious moves, his opponents are constantly having to solve some problems. And Karpov is more like a python. He doesn't rush his games. And he had much less "miniatures" (winning ones!) in his practice than Kasparov (for instance, the Kasparov - Ivanchuk game is completely non-typical for Karpov). The position of ex-champion's opponent seems all right until due time. And suddenly it becomes so bad that it's impossible to recover! It's probably more evident with the 6-hour control, when the game ends in late evening.

Many people say, "How badly Kasparov played!" Karpov knew that "+6" will be enough. At most, he could have planned for "+9" (win everything with White!) By the way, this result was a rating norm for the ex-champion. So, "just +6" for a world champion is a great advertisement for our championship! Kasparov didn't play worse than at Amsterdam or at Balfour. He just had wrong partners there. And here, everyone fought for their "lives" until last breath. The fact that Kasparov had to score "+8" to keep his rating tells us that the rating of most of our chess players is underestimated. Especially Smirin's, Yudasin's... They achieved good results. And the fact that the winners were 1.5 points ahead from everyone else shows their obvious advantage over them. And also I want to say something about the so-called confidence. Gurevich offered Kasparov draw before the game. He had the right to do that, playing White. And Kasparov answered him: "If you play good, you'll make that draw!" And this confidence was channeled to his partner. If one is so sure, then the other should be less sure in himself! I can't understand what Yudasin did against Kasparov! And what Yudasin did against Karpov (with white pieces)?! I think Karpov should have won well before the 40th move...