Exactly 42 years ago today (August 20) the following magnificent game was played at the World Junior Championship in Stockholm.
In my opinion, this game is one of the very best games played in the 20th century. Black’s defence is excellent at every stage, and one has to give great credit to Karpov for slowly wearing down Andersson’s position to the point where mate becomes inevitable.
But especially, this game trumpeted the arrival of Anatoli Karpov on the world scene. The skill that we get a glimpse of would mark several generations of chess players to come. Karpov would become World Champion in just 6 more years and win more top level tournaments than any other player in history.
Karpov’s long successful career has been largely based on his skill in playing the Spanish Opening, from either side. In my opinion, now that Bobby Fischer has just recently passed away, Karpov must be considered the world’s leading expert in this ancient opening.
This well known position has occurred tens of thousands of time in master games, but is still rich in ideas. More than a century of praxis has done little more than scratch the surface…
It is curious that the Swedish master would adopt such an opening against the Soviet star. In his career Andersson has not played this way very often. However, the line is very solid from Black’s perspective and undoubtedly Andersson must have felt confident. Furthermore, in the preliminaries of the World Junior Karpov’s play was nervous and shaky.
Not the most popular line today, but certainly sound and very reasonable. Black invites White to close the centre, not fearing the loss in time. Praxis has shown that play can become very complex, replete with slow-moving manoeuvres. Results have tended to favour white , slightly, but Black has his chances.
It is worth while to pause here to understand how grandmasters have dealt with this position over the years. Black will seek play on the Queenside, where he has more space and mobility. White will do the same thing on the Kingside, where his pieces have easy access to sensitive squares like f5 and g5.
I should point out that while Black has no weaknesses and has a space advantage, he has one nagging problem: none of his minor pieces have good posts! Black will often have to retreat his pieces inorder to rearrange and strengthen his defence. This will cost time.
Long ago the standard plan for White was to play something along the lines of g4, a Knight to g3 and then f5; King to h2, Rook to g1. At first this plan did quite well, but then the Black side discovered that he could take some of the wind out of this plan by hitting back with …h5 as soon as White plays g4. In that case the play becomes very sharp and tactical, and Black is not without chances. It seems that only Spassky of the top grandmasters was willing to play like this.
Then it became fashionable for White to play b3 and c4, gaining space on the Queen side and making it more difficult for Black to get any initiative on that side of the board. Then , once he has stabilized the Queenside, White can turn his eyes to his Kingside play. (This is the plan used here by Karpov). But adequate defences were found for Black.
This plan was later (around 1970) modified by Geller (the greatest Soviet theoretician of the 20th century) so that while White plays b3, he does not play c4, but instead immediately seeks play on the Kingside. At first this plan did very well, and indeed became the mainline for a long time! But gradually here too, the Black defenders found adequate resources.
I have spent many dozens of hours studying the pros and cons of each of the above plans, and today I am of the opinion that White’s best practical chances lie in the way that Spassky has played; namely, playing a very fast g4 and letting Black play h5 if he wants. But ofcourse, I have to admit that Black’s position is quite reasonable. But in chess one must make decisions, and even in relatively balanced positions , providing things are complicated, an enterprising player can find winning chances.
Note that if immediately 14… c4 then White has the interesting 15. g4!?
White’s Kingside is a bit exposed, but he can continue with Kh1 and Rg1; and often Qf3. Black on the otherhand, can try …g6 and/or …Nh7 and …Bg5. The position is very sharp.
Back in 1969 this was probably considered normal, but we now know today that it is imprecise. The best defence is first 17…Na5 18. Bd3 and now 18…g6! discouraging the White Knight from coming to f5. The present day theoreticians are still out on the verdict of this line, but practical tournament results indicate that Black has a sound and resilient position.
18. Nf5 Ofcourse! You don’t need to invite Karpov twice…
As explained in some earlier games that I analyzed on this blog, once the Knight sinks in on f5 the defender must exercise great caution and remain calm. Taking the Knight off is usually a poor idea since White will then easily get a steam roller going with g4 and g5. Playing …g6 (once the Knight is already on f5) seems very weakening and likely creates more problems for the defence than it solves.
In this game Andersson defends very rationally and Karpov finds it difficult to exploit his advanced Knight. It is the high level of defence in this game (and how Karpov overcomes it!) that makes this game so outstanding.
A good defensive move that not only clears the way for the Black pawns to get moving over on the Queenside,
but brings up reinforcements for the Kingside. Weak, ofcourse, is 18… Bxf5?! 19. exf5 Na5 20. Nd2 h6 21. g4 with attack.
19. Nh2 !
As we shall see, in this game Karpov refuses to make the very natural attacking move g4, and instead bases his entire Kingside play on piece play alone. The reader should pay especial attention to how Karpov plays with his Knights in this game. They are the real heroes in this struggle! This game did a lot to persuade future generations of chess masters to attack with their pieces instead of (as in old) with the pawns.
With this last move, Karpov allows for his Rook to enter into play (Re3-g3), and sometimes to play Ng4. Note that in some lines he might also want to open the f-file with f4. In essence, Karpov’s last move is very flexible and not very committing. However, I see nothing wrong with the old plan starting with 19. g4!?
19… Ne8 Andersson does not need to be forced to rearrange his defence.
As explained earlier, Black often has to retreat his minor pieces to strengthen his defence. It is not uncommon in this line for Black to use his first rank for the shuffling back and forth.
20. h4!? In the absence of any direct counterplay from his opponent, Karpov decides to provoke weaknesses in Black’s Kingside structure. For the moment Black has to deal with the threatened advance of this pawn.
20… f6 !?
(a reasonable move, envisioning …Nf7; Rubinstein first played like this! ) 21. h5
21… Nf7 (now h6 will achieve nothing after …g6) 22. Re3!?
All part of Karpov’s probing manoevres. The Rook heads over to g3, where it will try to create further weakening of the Black Kingside.
22… Ng5!? Andersson makes an important decision: he will use this Knight to block the g-file and render the anticipated Rook maneouvre to g3 ineffective. Notice that Black takes some time to bolster his Kingside defence before proceeding to attack on the Queenside.
23. Nh4 !? Not an obvious move.
Typical of Karpov’s subtlety, (as later years would show),he anticipates that at some future point Black will be willing to concede a Kingside weakening with h6 (to bolster the Knight) , and therefore this Knight will be ready to go to g6.
A multipurpose move: the Knight can now go to c7 if necessary, and the Queen will be ready to defend g5.
24. Rg3 Nc7 Both sides continue with their respective plans.
White tries to force Black to exchange the Knight on g5, which is blocking his attempts at building an initiative against the King.
Probably necessary. Exchanging on f3 makes little sense and the natural 25… Be7 runs into problems after 26. h6 g6 27. Nxg5 fxg5 28. Nf3 g4 29. Nxe5 dxe5 30. d6 etc . Black’s move bolsters the Knight but does create a weakness on g6. Master chess is like that: give and take!
So Karpov has managed to infiltrate a piece close to the Black King. However, this Knight poses little immediate danger to Black , and White will need to bring in more troops before threats can build. Now Black intends to focus on the his Queenside.
While White’s play is more dangerous (the Black King is on the Kingside), you should never underestimate Black’s Queenside play. It can be very annoying!
27. a4! A critical decision.
Karpov had to weigh the consequences of this far from obvious ,and certainly not forced, move very carefully. The idea of Karpov’s move is to prevent Black from opening up two files on the Queenside. The problem with the move is that now the b4 square becomes available for the Black pieces.
But Karpov must have reasoned that the pros out weigh the cons. The next phase of the game sees Andersson trying to exploit the b4 square and opening of the b-file; Karpov discovers some nice moves to stabilize the threats, while at the same time preparing his Kingside play.
27… bxc4 28. bxc4 Na6 heading into b4 to annoy White!
29. Qe2 !
An important move
A necessary part of the regrouping that White must go thru to stablilize the Queenside. This last move allows the Bishop to drop back to d1 once the Black Knight hops into b4. Karpov envisions playing his other Bishop to c3 and his Knight to d2, covering all of the entry points of the Black Rooks along the b-file.
29… Ra7 Black doubles on the open file 30. Bd2 Rab7
White has to prevent the Black Rooks from infiltrating on the b-file, otherwise it will be difficult to proceed on the Kingside with any real expectations of success. The next few cat and mouse moves by both sides revolve around this them.
Logical, but as we shall later see, it does not annoy White enough!
It was later suggested that Black might consider instead playing his Rook to b4 (!), so that if White captures it then Black will have the c5-square for his Knight. Ofcourse, it is not forced to take the Rook!
Karpov’s next move backs up the Bishop. It would be a mistake to allow Black to take it since the King Bishop has both defensive and aggressive possibilities in the Spanish Opening.
32. Bd1 Ugly, but necessary.
Someone should write a best-seller about the magical properties of the King Bishop!
32… Na6 threatening …Rb1 33. Nd2 preventing the threat
It is instructive to see how all of Karpov’s pieces have concrete purpose. This would become a hall mark of the Soviet genius in many of his games. For the moment, Black’s efforts to get the initiative on the Queenside have stalled (White has stablilized the Queenside). Black’s Kingside position seems stable enough for the time being, and now we enter the phase of the game where Karpov tries to push Black back and gain the initiative .
33… Nb4 34. Re3 !?
Karpov realizes that his Rook has no future on g3. He keeps open the possibility to later play g3 and f4, but before doing that (as a last resort) he has in mind a clever idea of trying to put a Knight on f5. First, however, he prepares to exchange the Black Queen Bishop.34… Be8 35. Nf1!
35… Qc8 [Not very good is 35… Na6 36. Ng3 (36. Qd2 is stronger Rb1 37. Bxa5) 36… Rb1 37. Rxb1 Rxb1 38. Qc2 Rb7 39. Bg4] 36. Ng3
Eyeing the f5-square again. Much in the Spanish Opening has to do with White trying to infiltrate with his Knights.
36… Bd7 preventing White’s threat 37. Qd2!
Karpov needs to reverse the position of his Queen and King Bishop before he can play Bg4. Notice that in the meantime Back can not create any real threats. If he were to move his Knight on b4 (to threaten …Rb1), White can simply take the a-pawn.
37… Nh7 a pass move 38. Be2
All of Black’s pieces are well placed, so to maintain his readiness Andersson makes a pass move. It does not harm to put his King on f7
proceeding with his plan. Andersson can only sit and wait. His position is quite solid and sound, however. The question is whether it can resist a long seige….
39… Be7 ditto the last comment
40. Nf1! Yet more manoeuvring! Karpov plans Nh2 and Bg4.
In Karpov’s long career we find many examples of his use of slow, patient manoeuvring to wear down his opponents’ positions. This is something that we do not see much of in the youngest generation today. Perhaps the new and faster time controls have something to do with this. This would be too bad, however, since in my opinion one of the most beautiful aspects of the game has to do with the art of manoeuvring.
40… Bd8 pass 41. Nh2 Karpov is now ready for Bg4
Karpov is hoping that the exchange of the Black Queen Bishop will lead to a deterioration of the Black position’s defences. Perhaps this Bishop is the best defensive piece at Black’s disposal. Certainly , as we shall see from the course of the game, Karpov’s reasoning has a lot of merit in it!
41… Kg8 pass 42. Bg4 mission accomplished
Note that poor is
42… Bxg4 43. Nxg4 Nc2? 44. Nxh6! winning a pawn
43. Bxd7 Qxd7
Now a new phase is about to begin. White will want to place his Knight on f5, to increase the pressure and annoy Black. Once this manoeuvre is achieved, White might want to play g3 and f4, burning out the Black Knight on g5. Or White might simply play for opening the f-file. In all of these cases, Black seems to be suffering.
For this reason, Andersson decides to get a bit of breathing room by playing f5 before the White puts his Knight on that square. It is not clear, however, whether this natural reaction improves the Black defence.
44. Nf1! Karpov’s plan is clear
Unfortunately for Andersson, there is no way to break in on the Queenside (Karpov’s pieces have all the important entry squares covered!). So rather than wait for the pressure on the King side to increase, he puts his hope of this move.
45. exf5 Qxf5 46. Ng3 Simple and strong
46… Qf7?! A surprising move from Andersson. He had to try 46…Qc2, whether it was good or bad. Perhaps he was afraid of 47.f4….which is strong it is true. But by retreating Andersson faces the prospect of being mated in the middlegame!
47. Qe2! Simple but powerful. Karpov prepares Rf1 and f4.
Once the f-file is opened, White’s heavy pieces will control the two central files. You can already smell the fire building around the Black King’s palace!
47… Bf6 48. Rf1!
48… Qd7 49. f4 !
Karpov’s play in every aspect of this game is impressive and merciless in the execution of his plans. When in his element, Karpov plays perfectly.
49… exf4 50. Rxf4
Now the other Rook joins the fight, and the long dormant spy on g6 comes to life , creating real mating threats.
Impressive! White is attacking with every single one of his pieces (Queen, two Rooks, two Knights and his Bishop) The Black army seems to be dormant on the other side of the board…Black’s strategy has failed miserably.
50… Bxc3 51. Rxc3
The exchange of Bishops hurts Black’s defence51… Re8
The only way to put up resistance. It would be foolish to take the a-pawn.
If instead 51… Qxa4 then White builds up decisive threats with the simple 52. Kh2! Qa2!? 53. Qe1! and there is no defence.52. Re3
increasing the pressure. Clearly Black can not exchange Rooks since White will mate on h8 (remember the Knight on g6?)
forced 53. Qf2
[ perhaps 53. Nf5!? is even stronger!]
White is threatening some mating themes via exchanging one Rook and then playing Rf8, so Black’s next move is more or less forced.
53… Nh7 54. Nf5! What a beautiful position to look at !
Just look at those White Knights!
54… Rxe3 55. Qxe3
Threatening Nfe7 mating in a few moves!
55… Nf6 forced. The game now collapses… 56. Nge7! Kh8
[ or if 56… Kh7 then 57. Qg3 would follow]
57. Nxh6 ! cashing in
The Black Kingside collapses like a house of cards. Andersson could resign here with a clear conscience, but struggles on for a few more moves.
57… Re8 58. Nf7 Kh7 59. Re4 [ even faster is 59. Ng5! Kh8 60. Rxf6 gxf6 61. Nf7 Kg7 62. Qh6 Kxf7 63. Qh7 Kf8 64. Ng6#] 59… Rxe7 60. Rxe7
Here is a picture of Ulf Andersson about to play with Anatoli Karpov at the Nice Olympiad in 1974.
Andersson resigns. He is down the exchange and his King is soon to be mated. A beautiful game, well played by both players.
Andersson , who at his peak would rank third in the world, would do battle with Karpov over the next 3 decades. According to my database, they played 45 times, with Andersson winning twice (once with White and once with Black). Although Ulf never lost against Karpov with the White pieces, when Ulf was Black he lost a total of 14 times!
SPRAGGETT ON CHESS