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Master of Positional Play

Apr 10, 2014
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This week I decided to take a break from the typical examination of one positional theme and present you a recent game by one of the great masters of Positional Play. I intentionally used initials for the name of this player because I first would like to invite everyone to play a guessing game :)

Who is this player?

1. He has a large chess book and stamp collection

2. He is a great calculator in his games

3. Known for his superb endgame play

4. Has deep positional understanding and a knack for prophylactic play

5. 12th World Champion


You're right! (I'm assuming you'd figure it out by the time you get to #3, if not then I'm glad to contribute to your World Chess Champion education!) It's none other than the legendary Anatoly Yevgenyevich Karpov, who played this week in arguably the strongest professional chess league--"Schach Bundesliga." In this game I'll be focusing on Karpov's middlegame play in which he displayed a combination of smooth positional play and accurate calculation skill. Feel free to draw out any other lessons from this game because Karpov's games are a great source of instruction!

Rodshtein, Maxim (2664) - K, A. Y. (2616)

Bundesliga 2013-14 2014.04.06

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.g3 Be7 5.Bg2 O-O 6.O-O dxc4 7.Qc2 a6 8.Qxc4 b5 9.Qc2 Bb7 10.Bd2 Be4 11.Qc1 Bb7 this is one of the popular mainlines of the Catalan Opening

12.a3 Qc8 13.b4 Nbd7 his knight is better here than on c6 because it heads for the strong c4 square or the central d5 


If White opts quickly develop his knight with 14.Nc3, Black can easily equalize with 14... Nb6 15.Qc2 Nc4 16.e4 Rd8 = Black's pieces are well coordinated and have targets of attack.

BD_10663_105_0.pngDiagram #1

Back to the game:

14... Ne4 15.Qc2 a5!

BD_10663_105_1.pngDiagram #2


If 16.bxa5 I'm sure Karpov was planning16... Nxc3 or even c5!? right away 17.Qxc3 c5! 18.dxc5 Bf6 19.Nd4 Bxg2 20.Kxg2 Qxc5 and Black has effectively used his development advantage to build pressure on White's position.


16... Nxc3 17.Qxc3 Nb6 another good possibility is to first play axb4 18.axb4 Nf6 =/+ to limit White's options next move.

BD_10663_105_2.pngDiagram #3

Back to the game:


BD_10663_105_3.pngDiagram #4

Intending to create counterplay on Black's light squares especially on c6. White uses active play to solve his problem of having queenside weaknesses but there is a flaw in it as Karpov will show us...

I think it was better to continue with the unnatural 18.bxa5 Nd5 19.Qb2 in order to use his strong square on c5 and gain some counterplay 19... Rxa5 20.Nb3 Ra4 but Black still has a good position.

18... axb4 19.axb4 Bxg2 20.Kxg2 Nd5 21.Qc6

BD_10663_105_4.pngDiagram #5

A counterattack on b5 and an outpost on c6 are what White has counted on

21... Bxb4 22.Ndf3 Bc3! but Rodshtein (White player) may have missed this in his calculation/analysis before playing Nf3-e5

23.Rxa8 Qxa8 24.Qxb5

BD_10663_105_5.pngDiagram #6

What did Karpov foresee?




24... Bxd4! with accurate calculation (he still got it!), Karpov wins a pawn by force.

25.Nc6 ( 25.Nxd4 Nf4+ 26.Kg1 Qg2#)

25... Bb6 26.Rc1 now we come to the *technical phase of the game in which Karpov is also known to be great at.

*"Technique" is the skill of increasing one's advantage, of converting an advantageous position into a winning one.


26... Qa3 27.Rc4 Ra8 28.Nce5 h6! solving any back rank problems which could be an enemy source of counterplay

29.Nd3 Now observe how the legend slowly drives the annoying White pieces back while he improves his

Any queen aggression will be met with an invitation to go to an ending 29.Qd7 Qe7 -/+.

29... Qa6 30.Qc6 Ne7 finally kicking the queen out of the camp

31.Qe4 Rd8 relieving the queen of her defensive duty

32.Qh4  If 32.Nfe5 Qb5 -/+ intending to exchange queens off once again.

32... Rf8!?

BD_10663_105_6.pngDiagram #7

Using a small tactic to keep his kingside and pieces safe

32... Rd7 is a somewhat awkward because it subjects the Black rook to a future attack on e5 33.Ra4 Qb7 Black is ofcourse still better but has to be a little careful. Not Qb5?? 34.Ra8+ Kh7 35.Nde5 +- when White suddenly has a winning attack.

Back to the game:

33.Ra4 Qb5 34.Rb4 Qe8

BD_10663_105_7.pngDiagram #8

Black's army regroups on the kingside

35.Nde5 f6! and gradually marches forward

36.Nd3 e5! and gains more space

37.Qe4 Qc6

BD_10663_105_8.pngDiagram #9

Now there's practically no escape from a queen trade

38.g4 Avoiding it would mean moving the White queen back to the bad h4-square and putting himself under attack 38.Qh4 Nf5 39.Qg4 Nd4 -+.

BD_10663_105_9.pngDiagram #10

The zero-knight on e7 becomes a hero on d4! Notice how this super-knight exerts pressure on e2, f3 and divides the White army into two.

38... Ra8 39.Qxc6 Nxc6

BD_10663_105_10.pngDiagram #11

The ending doesn't need much comments as it's out of the scope of middlegame "positional play," but it's still worth playing through it because it is reminiscent of Karpov's superb endgame technique back in his prime.

40.Rc4 Ne7 41.e3 Kf7 42.Nfe1 Nc8 43.Nb2 Nd6 44.Rc2 Ke6 45.Ned3 Ra2 46.Nb4 Ra3 47.Nc6 g6

slowly improving the kingside situation

48.h3 h5! intending to create another weakness on the kingside (we will delve more into the Principle of Two Weaknesses later on).


49.gxh5 gxh5 50.Kg3 Ra8 51.Kf3 Ra2 52.Nb4 Ra5 53.Kg3 Nf5+ 54.Kf3 c5 the passed pawn finally marches forward, and the rest of the army follows

55.N4d3 Nd6 56.Ke2 Kd5 57.f3 Ra2 58.Rd2 Kc6 59.Rc2 Kb5 60.Nc1 Ra3 61.Rd2 Bc7 62.Nd1 Kc6 63.Rc2 c4 64.e4 Bb6 65.Na2 Bd4 66.Nb4+ Kc5 67.Nd5 f5 68.N1c3 fxe4 69.fxe4

69...h4!, and White resigned.

BD_10663_105_11.pngDiagram #12

Karpov's last move is a great way to finish off enemy resistance and win the game. To help you appreciate it, here's what 69...h5-h4 does:

1. It fixes another enemy weakness on the kingside

2. It eliminates every bit of enemy counterplay connected to having a pawn on h5 in the forcing sequence starting with Nd6xe4

3. Best of all, it puts White in zugzwang!

Let's test it tactically: 70.Ra2 Rxc3 71. Nxc3 Bxc3 ( or Rxa2+ 71.Nxa2 Nxe4) -+; 70.Kd2 Nxe4+ 71.Nxe4+ Kxd5 -+ all leading to a devastatingly winning position for Black.

Considering how long the 12th World Champion has been out of high-level competition, it is impressive how he outplayed an active 2650+ level player in the middlegame. I believe Karpov's victory could be attributed to a good positional understanding of where his pieces should go, and where to create a target of attack (b4- pawn with a6-a5!) which ofcourse are often backed by a competent calculation skill.

Seeing 12th World Champion play at a high level like this reminds me of his play between the years 1974 and mid-1990s. I hope you enjoyed this splendid performance by the legend!


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jessepals 20:27 - 21 Apr 2014
Karpov still is the best!

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