Review: Find the Right Plan with Anatoly Karpov

ArnieChipmunk
CM ArnieChipmunk
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According to conventional wisdow, there's no such thing as chance. So was it a coincidence that in the same week in which ChessVibes published two articles on Anatoly Karpov, I suddenly found a copy of Find the Right Plan with Anatoly Karpov, by Karpov and Anatoly Matsukevich, on my doormat? In any case, I decided not to tempt fate and started reading immediately.

Anatoly Karpov has written many books in various flavours, including a series on chess openings. In this new co-production with Russian author Matsukevich (translated from the Russian original by Sarah Hurst), Karpov explores the already densely-populated genre of chess improvement books. Find the Right Plan with Anatoly Karpov is published by Batsford Chess, and I guess this is a good moment to make a small digression on publishers of chess books in general. Don't worry, there will be game fragments and diagrams later on as well! When I started to become interested in chess books, which was in the mid-80s, Batsford was one of the most active and popular publishers of chess books in English. About ten years later (around the time I worked as a chess book seller in Amsterdam), Batsford got serious competition from publishers like Gambit and Everyman (previously known as Cadogan). Still a few years later, New in Chess started to dominate the market and the lists of popular quality chess books. I think it's fair to say that Batsford has lagged behind a bit in recent years, perhaps still shocked by all the competitors they're having to deal with now. So it may surprise you that they're actually still very actively involved in the chess book business. In fact, they're covering a much bigger range of chess book styles than most publishers, for an impressively differing range of audiences. For instance, I recently read the hilarious chess tutorial for beginners Learn Chess Quick by Brian Byfield (who "first picked up and Alan Orpin the game when he knocked over his father's board at the age of two") and Alan Orpin ("hangs out in obscure Hamburg coffee shops playing chess with strangers for money") and illustrated by Gray Jolliffe, who (despite knowing "diddly-squat about chess when he started the drawings for this book") did an excellent job in capturing the lighter side of chess in cartoon-style. A bigger contrast with the highly serious new book by the twelfth world champion is hardly possible! Actually, I kind of understand why other publishers have become so popular in recent years. Find the Right Plan with Anatoly Karpov is a good-looking, neatly published work, no doubt about it, but the layout of the text, the font style and diagrams somehow remind me of an older generation of chess books. Take a look at some of New in Chess's recent books, with their beautiful shiny covers, photographs and outstanding general editorial quality, and see for yourself. We're really becoming a bit spoiled in this respect.And then there's that title... it's not exactly catchy, is it? More importantly, what about the authorship of the book? Didn't Karpov just lend his name to another project by Russian chess author Matsukevich, who has published several co-authored books? Well, it's true the introduction doesn't say anything about the division of labour between the two Anatoly's, but the quality of the book is so high and does have a distinct 'Karpov flavour', as we will see, so we shouldn't worry about it too much. The fact is that Karpov and Matsukevich's book is a true gem which is very hard to put down once opened.In the introduction, the authors describe the following questions every improving chess player struggles with:

How can you find your way in every situation, even those that are completely unfamiliar, and how can you choose the correct order of actions to accomplish the main task? How can you learn to distinguish important features from secondary ones, and if you've managed to do this, what do you do next? Our book is about all of this.

These are good questions. After all, it's one thing to create a system which hands you all the separate elements of what you need to know in chess on a silver platter, but it's quite a different thing to balance them against each other, to compare apples with what, unfortunately, often turn out to be oranges, and to make a sound decision based on the concrete position on the board instead of general concepts. With their book, Karpov and Matsukevich have done an important step in the right direction. Moreover, they show great chess and place emphasis on players and subjects that are often overlooked in other chess improvement books. The book starts with a chapter on the history and evolution of chess thought. I was pleasantly struck by the emphasis and importance the authors put on the ideas of the great Philidor. All too often, histories on positional chess thought start with Steinitz or Nimzowitsch, but it was, of course, Philidor who was the first to consciously express the thought that chess is not only about attacking in brilliant style. Philidor's influence is also acknowledged by Karpov's eternal rival Garry Kasparov's in My Great Predecessors 1, but Kasparov devotes a mere one and a half page to the great Frenchman in a chapter ominously called 'Chess before Steinitz'. Karpov and Matsukevich stress that Philidor was the first to look at chess objectively, and this is something we'll see time and again in their book. Here's what they say about Steinitz:

Steinitz went down in chess history as the creator of a new doctrine of positional play, the essence of which was the following: any plan in a chess game must have a justification; it should be sought not in the personality or desires of the player who is able to find the correct move or direction of attack in some kind of flash of inspiration, but in the actual position on the board, in its evaluation.

How do the authors see this evaluation concretely? They suggest comparing the following seven basic principles:

1. Material relationship between the forces. 2. Presence of direct threats. 3. Position of the kings, their safety. 4. Possession of open lines. 5. Pawn structures, weak and strong squares. 6. The centre and space. 7. Development and the position of pieces. As a result of comparing these elements the chess player makes a statistical evaluation of the position, selects a plan of action and begins searching for specific moves and calculating variations.

This is all nothing very new, of course, but somehow the lucid simpliticity with which Karpov and Matsukevich show that it's possible and realistic to do this in an actual position (without requiring seas of time) is quite convincing. Next, as a result of your objective evaluation, a plan of action can be chosen. Again, the explanation sounds deceptively simple and easy to achieve: "in better positions - with an advantage in development - you should try to prevent your opponent from completing the mobilization of his forces. To achieve this you should choose, as the opportunity arises, moves that present concrete threats, forcing your opponent to waste time and energy deflecting them."

Kramnik-Leko Brissago, 2004 (14)

Comparative analysis1. There is material equality on the board. 2. At first glance it appears that all White's threats have been successfully rendered harmless. 3. The white king is ideally placed, the black king should preferrably be on e7 or move away to the flank after it has castled. 4. White is exerting pressure along the c- and g-files, but without additional efforts this doesn't promise anything. 5. Neither side's pawn chain has obvious defects. However, White has an opportunity for a pawn attack on the queenside that isn't immediatelt obvious. 6. The centre is firmly blocked. 7. White's pieces are excellently placed, but the position of Black's pieces requires improvement. General conclusionWhite has a clear advantage, but additional efforts are needed in order to exploit it. 22.a4! This pawn sacrifice throws Black's incomplete defensive line into confusion. 22...Kd8 If he takes the pawn then the rook penetrates to the seventh rank. (...)

What I very much like about this fragment is that it sounds completely realistic in the sense that I feel I could have produced this train of thought myself as well. There's apparently nothing mysterious or 'grandmasterly' about it, which makes it a very good example - even if, obviously, a clearly expressed thought always sounds as if anyone could have thought of that, though that's rarely the case. Likewise, the authors describe how to play inferior positions and equal positions. Realistically, they note that "in equal positions the battle, as a rule, goes peacefully: unnecessary aggressive actions might only ruin everything." Again, we see an emphasis on objectivity and this is also clear from the examples, which make it clear that sometimes, there's nothing wrong with making a draw.

Tal-Botvinnik Moscow 1960 (3)

Black is a pawn up, for which White has virtually no compensation. The correct plan for Black is to develop the initiative in the centre and on the queenside with the help of Bc5, then Bb6 and a pawn advance. White constructs a defensive plan based on kingside counterplay so as to distract his opponent from carrying out his plan. 27.Rh7 Rf8 Better is 27...Bc5 and 28...Rd7.28. Bf4 Qd8 29.Bd3 Rh8 30.Rxh8 Impossible, of course, is 30.Rxf7 because of 30...Qe8.30...Qxh8 31.Qa5! Black's queen has gone off to the kingside and so White urgently organises counterplay on the queenside. Now on 31...Kb8 follows 32.Bxb5! cxb5 33.Qxb5+ Kc7 34.Qa5+ Kc8 35.Qxa7 with real counter-chances. 31...Qh1+ 32.Ka2 Qxf3 33.Qa6+ Kb8 34.Qxc6! Qxf4 35.Bxb5 Qxe5 36.Qe8+ Kb7 37.Qc6+ Half a point saved: White has secured a perpetual check.

While these are great examples, making every step in the thinking process explicit and clear, I didn't find all examples equally convincing. Karpov and Matsukevich's prose suffers from extreme brevity from time to time, reducing the power of their theories to a certain degree. Also, they sometimes tend to drift away from their initial subject a bit too much in my opinion, such as when they suddenly start explaining about Troitsky's analysis of the infamous KNN vs. K+pawn endgame in a chapter on 'unique situations on the chessboard'. It's a funny digression, but I didn't really see what it had to do with the other examples in the chapter. In subsequent chapters, the authors elaborate on the above-mentioned elements in extensive fashion, before coming to the 'most important law of chess', which according to them is "restricting the mobility of your opponent's pieces and in association with this: domination by your own." It's the basis of an equally thorough explanation of the seven "bases for restriction" which they again cover with clear and sometimes a bit less-clear examples, often explaining very important aspects and inside-knowledge of various opening variations as well. One curious thing about the book is that them authors included little sections at the end of each chapter with miniature games of at most 12 moves to illustrate the themes discussed in the chapter. 'Club-12', they call it. Quite an original idea, but I somehow felt the frivolous nature of most of these games was a little bit out of place in such an otherwise highly serious and important book. (Admittedly, they make up for this with by showing some great endgame studies!) Everything considered, Finding the Right Plan with Anatoly Karpov, despite its somewhat cheesy title, is a great read and deserves to be mentioned together with the other great chess improvement books that have been published in recent years. And of course, with Karpov involved in the project, that's definitely no coincidence.Update 11 May 2010: In the comments, some questions were raised about the originality of the current edition. I received the following reply from Nicola Newman from Anova Books:

The book was originally published in Russian in a much shorter form by Matsukevich on his own, in 1982, under the title 'The Principle of Restriction'. Later on, Karpov came in to help to expand the book, and a new (Russian) edition was published in the mid-80s called 'Evaluation of Position and Planning' (this was translated into German by Sport Verlag Berlin in 1987, and then a second German edition was published in Switzerland in the 1990s). The book was then completely revised and updated and issued as a new edition, in Russian, by Russian Chess House in 1999. This edition has been updated twice since then, in 2007 and 2010. Our book is a translation of this new edition, and this is the first time the book has been available in English.In future, we will insert information on copyright pages to state the dates of the original foreign-language publication, to avoid confusion.

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