WCh Chennai: it's all about style

11/12/2013 – At the World Championship so far two games have ended in draws by forced three-fold repetition. Clearly both players are settling in and show great respect for each other. This may disappoint chess fans for the moment, but it all boils down to the requirements and effectiveness of style. Tryfon Gavriel looks back at Petrosian and Tal, and analyses the start of Anand vs Carlsen. Very instructive video analysis.

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Chennai: Requirements and effectiveness of a chess style

By Tryfon Gavriel

Traditionally we have tended to classify players by their natural "style" of play. It is interesting to consider that style itself has a certain level of effectiveness depending on the context of the games in question. A radical example of this is the style of Tigran Petrosian. He rarely won games, but when he did so in matches, he could win matches with minimal risk. In tournaments it was different and even as World Champion, he rarely won tournaments. His style made him near unbeatable, but in tournaments you need to rack up the points.

Petrosian was a Candidate for the World Championship on eight occasions. He won the world championship in 1963 against Mikhail Botvinnik, and successfully defended it in 1966 against Boris Spassky, before losing it in 1969 to Spassky. Part of this however, may also be attributed to failing health, which is also considered part of the reason Tal lost his rematch to Mikhail Botvinnik.

Petrosian was widely recognised as one of the hardest players to beat in the history of chess. Yet his style was not often that sparkling. Occasionally though in certain events Petrosian could combine solidity and also very attacking chess, as this sparkling game shows:

[Event "Zenit vs. Spartak"] [Site "Moscow"] [Date "1957.??.??"] [EventDate "?"] [Round "?"] [Result "0-1"] [White "Evgeny Terpugov"] [Black "Petrosian"] [ECO "A46"] [WhiteElo "?"] [BlackElo "?"] [PlyCount "54"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 d6 3. Nc3 Bg4 4. e4 c6 5. h3 Bxf3 6. Qxf3 Nbd7 7. Be3 e6 8. g4 d5 9. e5 Ng8 10. O-O-O b5 11. Bd3 Nb6 12. Kb1 Nc4 13. Bc1 Qb6 14. g5 Ne7 15. h4 c5 16. dxc5 Qxc5 17. Rhe1 g6 18. b3 Bg7 19. bxc4 bxc4 20. Bf1 O-O 21. Ka1 Rfb8 22. Nb1 Nc6 23. Qg3 Rxb1+ 24. Kxb1 Rb8+ 25. Ka1 c3 26. Bd2 Nb4 27. Bd3 Qc4 0-1

When it comes to other players such as Mikhail Tal, they were often just more hard to lose to. Mikhail Tal took risks. The rewards of his style were to immortalise his "immor-Tal" games. The annual Tal Memorial Tournament pays tribute to the attacking genius, and his influence on the style of play generally was immense.

Even in World Championship match games, Mikhail Tal played in a very dynamic aggressive and creative way, as Games 1, 6, and 7 of his match in 1960 against Mikhail Botvinnik shows. Here in Game 1, we had very creative play indeed from Mikhail Tal:

[Event "Russia"] [Site "Match, Moscow (1)"] [Date "1960.03.15"] [EventDate "?"] [Round "1"] [Result "1-0"] [White "Mikhail Tal"] [Black "Mikhail Botvinnik"] [ECO "C18"] [WhiteElo "?"] [BlackElo "?"] [PlyCount "63"] 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 c5 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 Qc7 7.Qg4 f5 8.Qg3 Ne7 9.Qxg7 Rg8 10.Qxh7 cxd4 11.Kd1 Bd7 12.Qh5+ Ng6 13.Ne2 d3 14.cxd3 Ba4+ 15.Ke1 Qxe5 16.Bg5 Nc6 17.d4 Qc7 18.h4 e5 19.Rh3 Qf7 20.dxe5 Ncxe5 21.Re3 Kd7 22.Rb1 b6 23.Nf4 Rae8 24.Rb4 Bc6 25.Qd1 Nxf4 26.Rxf4 Ng6 27.Rd4 Rxe3+ 28.fxe3 Kc7 29.c4 dxc4 30.Bxc4 Qg7 31.Bxg8 Qxg8 32.h5 1-0

The 1960 World Chess Championship format was however longer than for the current World Championship being held in Chennai. It was the best of 24 games and the match was held in Moscow. In the event of a 12–12 tie, Botvinnik, the title holder, would retain the championship. Tal won with some fine games, like the initial game above. Some have speculated that one of the symptoms of the current World Championship match is the number of games. If it were for example 16 games instead of 12, or even 20 or 24, then more risks could be taken by the players.

When it comes to Youtube viewers and chess fans worldwide, it is undeniable that certain styles are more fascinating to watch. The attacking games often with queen sacrifices, or other sacrifices are far more compelling to watch than dry positional games, often ending in draws. But this is where style has to be seen in a particular context. The risk of losing a single game in a short twelve-game match, means that taking any unnecessary risks may be punished with extreme regret. The highest prize and title of chess – the title of "World Chess Champion", is at stake – more than just money, and rating points are incidental.

It is no coincidence I believe that one of my most well received videos ever was one of Tal's trainer, a lesser known player by the name of Rashid Gibiatovich Nezhmetdinov. Here is a sparkling queen sacrifice game of his:

[Event "Rostov"] [Site "Rostov"] [Date "1962.??.??"] [EventDate "?"] [Round "?"] [Result "1-0"] [White "Nezhmetdinov"] [Black "Oleg L Chernikov"] [ECO "B35"] [WhiteElo "?"] [BlackElo "?"] [PlyCount "65"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 g6 5. Nc3 Bg7 6. Be3 Nf6 7. Bc4 O-O 8. Bb3 Ng4 9. Qxg4 Nxd4 10. Qh4 Qa5 11. O-O Bf6 12. Qxf6 Ne2+ 13. Nxe2 exf6 14. Nc3 Re8 15. Nd5 Re6 16. Bd4 Kg7 17. Rad1 d6 18. Rd3 Bd7 19. Rf3 Bb5 20. Bc3 Qd8 21. Nxf6 Be2 22. Nxh7+ Kg8 23. Rh3 Re5 24. f4 Bxf1 25. Kxf1 Rc8 26. Bd4 b5 27. Ng5 Rc7 28. Bxf7+ Rxf7 29. Rh8+ Kxh8 30. Nxf7+ Kh7 31. Nxd8 Rxe4 32. Nc6 Rxf4+ 33. Ke2 1-0

There is something about queen sacrifices which get the enthusiasm and excitement of the dynamics of chess into our consciousness. It gets our heats beating with excitement, we become more aware that chess is a truly vast and wonderful game, with the potential for immense excitement, where rule breaking" in the materialistic sense can be rewarded. Kasparov in his book How Life Imitates Chess helps justify rule-breaking to the readers viewing chess as a relationship between material, quality and time. Hence often the “rule breaking” is a logical consequence of the balance of these three dimensions.

Will we see such rule-breaking dynamism in the current World Championship? Usually in such high profile matches, dynamic play is often the by-product of extensive and detailed preparation. With today's engines finding amazing resources in positions, it is quite often the case that modern brilliances were created as a result of good homework.

In Chennai so far, we have two games ending in draws, and draws by a forced three-fold repetition. Both players are just settling in, and show great respect for each other, in not taking any unnecessary risks. Of course this may disappoint chess fans for the moment, but there is still much tension left in the match. There is of course always the fall-back of the tie-breaks, where traditionally both players – if one counts only only rapid/exhibition games – have a fairly even score. Vishy Anand has beaten beat Magnus Carlsen 9 to 8, with 16 draws in such faster formats.

Game 1 showed how Vishy used a set of forcing moves to entrench a dangerous knight on c4, and forcing Magnus into a rather uncomfortable passive looking position, having to retreat his bishop on b2 to c1. However with Magnus's Qb3 move later, Vishy Anand decided against taking any unnecessary risks, such as b5, but instead took the opportunity to repeatedly attack the white queen with Na5-c4.

Game 2 showed how Magnus could play in an ultra-solid way with black, and pay tribute to the likes of Anatoly Karpov in making use of the solid Caro-Kann. A slight finesse seemed to promise some excitement with Black allowing an early Ne5. And this promise was renewed as we witnessed opposite side castling, which generally means carnage and line opening against both sides kings – at least at the amateur club levels of chess. But then to the horror of chess fans, the queens came off, and a three-fold repetition scenario was quickly reached.

Those of us who have experience club matches know that if our team is winning, and we are only required to draw to secure the match, then we should ideally just draw and not take risk where such risks are unnecessary. In certain leagues where adjournments and adjudications still exist, there is also the feeling one must not have a bad position before the sealing of a move occurs, as computers will take over, helping show true truth of one's risky moves. One may even have to immediately resign if, on returning home, Houdini comes up with a verdict of -2 or more. So we learn when to play safe, and when to take risks. In tournaments with prizes, there is a time for playing more dynamically and riskier openings. The Kings Indian Defence is still very popular in most tournament play, yet is seen much more rarely in the elite all-play-all events. When it is played, it often results in a much scrutinised game, and even Vishy Anand has in the past had some difficulties handling the dynamic complications of this system as this game against Nakamura showed:

[Event "London Chess Classic"] [Site "London ENG"] [Date "2011.12.06"] [Round "4"] [White "V Anand"] [Black "Hi Nakamura"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "E97"] [WhiteElo "2811"] [BlackElo "2758"] [PlyCount "98"] [EventDate "2011.12.03"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. Nf3 O-O 6. Be2 e5 7. O-O Nc6 8. d5 Ne7 9. b4 Ne8 10. c5 f5 11. Nd2 Nf6 12. a4 g5 13. Nc4 h6 (13... f4 14. f3) 14. f3 f4 15. Ba3 Ng6 16. b5 dxc5 17. Bxc5 Rf7 18. a5 h5 19. b6 g4 20. Nb5 cxb6 21. axb6 g3 22. Kh1 Bf8 23. d6 a6 24. Nc7 Rb8 25. Na5 Kh8 26. Bc4 Rg7 27. Ne6 Bxe6 28. Bxe6 gxh2 29. Nc4 Qe8 30. Bd5 h4 31. Rf2 h3 32. gxh3 Rc8 33. Ra5 Nh4 34. Kxh2 Nd7 35. Bb4 Rg3 36. Qf1 Qh5 37. Ra3 a5 38. Be1 (38. Nxa5 Rc1 39. Qxc1 Nxf3+) 38... Rxc4 39. Bxc4 Bxd6 40. Rxa5 Bc5 (40... Nxf3+ 41. Rxf3 Qxf3 42. Qxf3 Rxf3 43. Ra8+) 41. Be2 Bxb6 42. Rb5 Bd4 43. Bd1 (43. Rxb7 Nc5 44. Rb8+ Kh7 45. Rc8 Nd3 46. Bxd3 Bxf2 47. Qxf2 Nxf3+) 43... Bxf2 44. Bxf2 Nxf3+ 45. Bxf3 Qxf3 46. Rb1 Rg6 47. Rxb7 Nf6 48. Rb8+ (48. Rb6 Ng4+ 49. hxg4 Rxb6 50. Bxb6 ( 50. Qh3+)) 48... Kh7 49. Rb7+ Kh6 0-1

Risk taking is being kept to a minimum in Chennai, especially in positions which have not been thoroughly prepared. Both players in the press conferences have indicated also the start of the match as a kind of "exchange of information". In this rest day, perhaps there will be great investigations in the openings played, and maybe some sharper, riskier alternatives may be seen in the forthcoming rounds of the match. If you would like to check out some of the more dramatic encounters between Vishy Anand and Magnus Carlsen, you may find this play-list useful.

About the author

Tryfon Gavriel, also known as "Kingscrusher" on the Internet, is a FIDE Candidate Master (CM), British Regional Chess Master, and has run a popular Youtube channel for many years. He also does the weekly "Kingscrusher Radio show" on Playchess.com on Tuesday evenings at 21:00 GMT. Kingscrusher is also the Webmaster of the correspondence style chess server Chessworld.net. Tryfon has an instructional broadcast on Playchess – Tuesdays at 10 p.m. Server/European time.

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