Chess: Small difference of opinion

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
VIEWED from two different perspectives, a single game of chess may create very distinct impressions, writes William Hartston. The winner, explaining the game, may linger over the early moves, taking time to explain his profound insights. When the final, decisive error comes, he will say: 'Of course this loses at once, but he was lost anyway'.

The loser, however, will rush through the moves until the moment of that decisive error, and will then throw his arms into the air and plead: 'I just made one stupid move. Up to here my position is fine, then I did this]' (Plays move with flourish of self-contempt). There are thus two main components to the theory of relativity in chess: Firstly, in hindsight, time moves more slowly for the winner; Secondly, the quality of a position is dependent on the viewpoint of the observer.

Rarely have these principles been better illustrated than in a new book by Anatoly Karpov called Winning With the Spanish (Batsford, pounds 12.99). It is very much a Karpov's eye view of his own games with the Ruy Lopez opening, with some deep and thoughtful analysis, but with the theory of relativity producing some curious effects. The material is divided into primary games (which Karpov generally wins) and secondary references in the notes, which often include his losses. So the overall impression is that he did rather well defending the Spanish against Kasparov, though the final score suggests otherwise.

In annotating his losses, Karpov delights in identifying the moment when he could have done better, thereby justifying his previous play. Improvements for his opponents are rarely given comparable prominence.

The best bit comes in the preface where Karpov explains why no mention is made of one particular system: 'We recall that the variation 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. 0-0 Be7 6. Qe2 was employed twice by Nigel Short in the 1992 Candidates semi-final against the author.

'Both games ended in a win for Short, and may even have been decisive in turning the match in his favour. But it is clear that the queen move to e2 fails to refute Black's play, and these losses are to be attributed not to my choice of opening, but to my poor performance in the match as a whole.'

That's not what it looked like from over here, Anatoly.