Chess

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The Independent Online
With the death of Lev Polugayevsky last week at the age of 61, the chess world has lost one of its most profound strategists. Twice Soviet champion, three times world title candidate, winner of 20 international tournaments, from Marianske Lazne 1959 to Vienna 1989, he was one of the top half-dozen players in the world in the 1970s. Yet it is Polugayevsky's contributions to opening theory for which he will be best remembered.

The "Polugayevsky Variation" of the Sicilian Defence, characterised by the moves 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 b5!?, is one of the most complex lines known to man. White is challenged to push forward with 8.e5 dxe5 9.fxe5 when Polu's idea was 9...Qc7! 10.exf6 Qe5+. In many lines, Black seems to fall disastrously behind in development, but over 20 years of diligent analysis, the variation's inventor proved its resilience.

By contrast, his play with the white pieces was generally characterised by a desire for total control and the exploitation of small advantages. Against the King's Indian Defence, he pioneered a system (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Be2 0-0 6.Bg5 c5 7.d5 e6 8.Nf3 exd5 9.exd5) that, after exchanges of major pieces on the e-file led to an endgame where White's microscopic advantage was, in Polugayevsky's hands, enough to grind out victory.

His perfectionist approach was not always the most practical - I remember seeing him laughed at by other members of a Soviet team as he won one such long endgame against a hapless sub-master-strength opponent in an Olympiad. They had all won their games in 20 moves. Polugayevsky took three sessions.

When he faced Anatoly Karpov in a world title qualifier in 1974, thanks to deep preparation, he gained the advantage in all his games with White, and equalised with Black. Yet he lost 3-0 with five draws. Perfectionism was not enough.

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