SPRAGGETT ON CHESS
I was scanning thru Nigel Davies’ great website The Chess Improver
earlier today when the entry entitled ”The King’s Gambit”
caught my interest.
Included at the end of this article was the original BBC video of a game between former world champion Boris Spassky
and the (then) world champion Anatoly Karpov
, which featured a King’s Gambit! The game was part of the 1982 FIDE World Cup, which was an elimination event where the games were 1 hour each for mate. In those days there were no 30 second increments.
Spassky had lost his first game against Karpov (with Black) and now (with White) he needed to win at all costs, and the King’s Gambit was , as Spassky said in the video, ”psychologically” the correct choice.
Spassky (left) lighting a cigarette just moments before the game was to begin. In those days, players were allowed to smoke at the board!
The entire video series of the 1982 FIDE World Cup was really a wonderfully produced effort by BBC, featuring audio of both players explaining their thought processes at critical junctions of the game. I , unfortunately, have only seen a couple of these videos, but it is hard for me to imagine a better video than this one!
I recommend the reader to take a look at this video and to carefully study the thought processes of both players. IN PARTICULAR, the practiced discipline , at each turn, of both players considering a handfull of candidate moves BEFORE actually making his move. And, even though the position is extremely unusual and complex, how neither player ever showed confusion or doubt or panic.
Both Spassky and Karpov marked several generations of up and coming players and have had an incredible influence on the game, its history and especially on the opening theory of their day. When this game was played , Spassky was already way past his peak (age 45), but he was still an incredibly strong grandmaster. World champions don’t grow on trees, and a Spassky at 45 would still be a big favourite against many of today’s younger superstars , such as Nakamura or Karjakin. Spassky was just that good!
An old photo of Spassky and Karpov from the early 1970’s when Karpov was first coming up. They played a match in 1974 in the Candidates, and this was a truly great match! Spassky went in as the favourite (and even won the first game with the Black pieces) but Karpov held tenaciously and ultimately ended up crushing his opponent–to the surprise of the entire chess establishment! This marked the change of guard of generations. Karpov was to rule world chess for the following decade, until Kasparov took his place.
Returing to the 1982 FIDE World Cup:
POSITION AFTER WHITE’S 15th MOVE (15.d5)
Here Karpov went into deep thought , using close to 20 minutes of his time, leaving him with just minutes for the rest of the game. However, this was the critical position of the game and it was necessary to play the objectively best move.
In the audio embedded within the video Karpov explains ,brilliantly if I may say so, his entire thought processes and the candidate moves that he considered. Especially, his first choice was for the unexpected 15…h5!?, giving up a piece. After 16.dxc6 QxQ 17.BxQ bxc6 Black would have 3 pawns and the Bishop pair for the White Knight that is stuck over on h4 (and which has no good moves!).
Without finding anything wrong with this idea, Karpov soon enough rejected this sacrifice on practical grounds: he did not need to win this game (since he won the first game, a draw was sufficient to win). Karpov then went on to consider both 15…Ne5 and 15…Ne7, before settling on the latter. The game soon went into a roughly even endgame….where Spassky made some very silly moves. Karpov soon found himself completely winning:
POSITION AFTER 34 MOVES:
Spassky had played a very interesting game up to around move 25 and then lost the thread and Karpov took full advantage of it, winning an exchange. In the position above, the fight is all over. The passed d-pawn poses no threat at all and soon Black should be able to sacrifice his Rook for the White Knight to enter a winning King and Pawn ending.
As I was watching this video (I had no idea of who won the game) I expected Spassky to resign at any moment! But he did not , playing on … he had nothing to lose I suppose…. and then a MIRACLE took place with Karpov having just a minute (or less!) on the clock:
POSITION AFTER WHITE’S 41st MOVE:
The White d-pawn is safely blockaded and does not pose an immediate risk at all. Simply 41…g5 does the trick. Spassky will not be able to stop the Queenside from advancing. INSTEAD, Karpov rushed his Queenside immediately and lost his Rook for nothing!
Amazing! This is why Spassky did not resign earlier! The position seems like a study! Black must lose his Rook for nothing. Even more amazing, Black is probably still able to make a draw!! The game continued for a while, White Queening his g-Pawn while Black Queened his a-Pawn….eventually producing a Queen and Knight versus Queen ending.
Spassky , with 5 minutes on his clock, tries to beat Karpov ( with less than half a minute) in a drawn Q and N vs Q ending. The remarkable footage in this video shows just how calm both players were while this was taking place…
POSITION AFTER WHITE’S 87th MOVE (87.Qa7-ch):
Here, according to the tablebases, Black should draw with 87…Kd6. INSTEAD, Karpov (with just seconds left) blundered with 87…Kd8?? and after 88.Qb8-ch! he resigned since after 88…Kd7 89.Nc5-ch wins the Queen.
Karpov resigning the game.