Karpov System: A Complete Chess Accounting

Karpov developed a  system of complete chess accounting which enabled him to remain undefeated at the topmost levels for years and years.While Fischer tried to find the winning move (and avoid any drawish move) at each stage and lost some games in order to win, Karpov created a much more objective system of ensuring a win or escaping with a draw on every move. Hence Karpov system is more objective and solid. 

Elements of the Karpov System:

 A. Seven Timeless Reference Points:

1. Material Relationship between the forces: Calculation of material strength is the starting point for evaluation of any chess position. If the material  position is equal, accent gets shifted to other six reference points. However, if the material equality is destroyed, then under stable equal conditions, the side having an advantage must win. To win, the player having advantage shall perform systematic exchanges reducing the number of active pieces and shall make his material superiority more and more noticeable and dominant. The goal of player in advantage shall be to take the position to one of the theoretical endgame positions which he can handle more confidently. Karpov is a follower of Philidor here "the ability to play the end of the game is the ability to play". The weaker or defending side (the side in material loss) usually strives to organize tactical complications in such situations, to take the struggle into irrational positions in which the opponent's material superiority looses its significance.

2. Presence of direct threats: Three questions shall be asked constantly during the evaluation of any chess position:
(i) What is threatening me?
(ii) What else can my opponent do?
(iii) What else can I do?
Result of such evaluation can be - better, equal or worse position. You can't play good chess without constant, concentrated attention during the game.

3. Position of the kings and their safety:This is quite often the most important reference point of evaluation of a chess position. A successful attack on the opponent's king mostly wipes out many of the opponent's pluses in a chess position and leads to the biggest material losses of all kinds. With same side castling, the main method of destroying the opponent's position is to exploit a weakness in his pawn cover. But in the cases of opposite side castling, the number of attacking methods increases significantly. Typical plan of attack in opposite side castling is - "Pawn Storm" the goal of which is to destroy the pawns covering the opponent's king and to open lines for a decisive attack by the pieces. When we have our advanced pawns in front of the opponent's king, the lines of attack can be opened much more easily.

4. Possession of open lines: Important lines are files, ranks and diagonals. Control over these lines have significant influence over evaluation of a chess position and if other points are equal leads to a  better game.There are four strategic plans based on fighting for different types of open lines:

(i) Breakthrough in the Centre: This helps in mobilizing your forces fast to any part of the board.

(ii)  Breakthrough between the Centre and the Flank: This plan works on the c and b files.

(iii) Attack on the Edge of the board:  The queen rook file (a file) is the farthest from king in short castled positions. Opening of the outside a file diverts opponent's forces from his king side towards queen side and provides an opportunity of opening his king side. This often leads to outside passed pawn too which plays a significant role in pawn endgames.

(iv) Dangerous Diagonals: Entire opening systems (like King's Indian, Sicilian Dragon etc. for black's dark squared bishop and Reti and English Openings etc. for White's light squared bishop) have been created in which right from the first move, battle is focused on opening and controlling the long diagonals on which the bishops can display their strength. Quite large sacrifices are sometimes made to control the long diagonals. Many times a player gives up his rook in exchange of opponent's bishop to gain control over long diagonal.

5. Pawn structure, weak and strong squares: The position of pawns has always directly or indirectly influenced the choice of plans, actions of both sides and finally the result in chess. Pawn structure created in the opening to a large extent determines the course of the game. One of the most popular pawn structures is the Carlsbad structure which arises in Queen's Gambit declined (1.d4 d5, 2.c4 e6, 3.Nc3 Nf6, 4.Bg5 c6, 5.e3 Nbd7, 6.cxd), Grunfeld Defence (1.d4 Nf6, 2.c4 g6, 3.Nc3 d5, 4.Nf3 Bg7, 5.Bg5 Ne4, 6.cxd Nxg5, 7.Nxg5 e6, 8.Nf3 exd), Nimzo-Indian Defence (1.d4 Nf6, 2.c4 e6, 3.Nc3 Bb4, 4.Qc2 d5, 5.cxd exd) and with colors reversed in Caro-Kann defence (1.e4 c6, 2.d4 d5, 3.exd cxd, 4.Bd3 Nc6, 5.c3). 
In the Carlsbad pawn structure, white has at his disposal pawn minority attack or a break in the centre with e3-e4 and also king side attack. 
Black's defence usually depends on the course of action taken by white and consist of counter attack with pawns or pieces on the king side, positional methods like creation of a defensive line including b7-b5 or piece control over the c4 and b5 squares and also undermining of the centre or a counterattack on a queen side castled position. .

6. The Center and Space: There are five basic types of pawn positions in the centre and there are fairly precise plans of attacking and defensive play for each of these positions:

(i) Closed Center with Fixed Pawn Chains: These arise after the Ruy Lopez, the French Defence or the Kings Indian Defence openings. The game moves to the flanks. Attacks take place on the side with open lines or where superiority of forces can be created in the shortest time. In the cases of Opposite side castling, the attack always occurs on the side where opponent's king is located. Plan of Attack: Flank attack with a pawn storm to clear a path for attacking pieces.
Plans of Defence: 1. Counter attack on the other side. 2. Put obstacles on the way of opponent's pawn attack.

(ii) Static Center with Central Pawns fixed in pairs: Characteristics are a manoeuvring battle for the central squares and switching of the attacks to the flank at an appropriate moment. We need to keep in mind that a peaceful center is a necessary condition for flank attacks on the opponent king. Hence, the plan of action is - 1. Obtain the initiative with a peaceful center. 2. Look for an active play on the flanks.

(iii) Dynamic Center where final position of the pawns is not yet fixed: These arise after half open openings and Sicilian Defence games. These can transpose to any of the other four pawn positions. Thus we need to keep a careful eye on the center and to forsee upcoming changes. In fact, we shall convert this position to a position which suites our playing style or the playing situation (we want sure-shot win or draw is also acceptable). We need to be cautious towards opponent's flank attacks too.

(iv)  Mobile Center where any of the central pawns can move: This is a feature of Evans Gambit, Alekhine's Defence, the Grunfeld Defence and some other openings. The main method to handle a mobile center is to blockade it. An attack on a central pawn forces it to advance after which it should be blockaded and the weakened squares in front of the pawn shall be occupied with our pieces.

(v) Open Center where there are no pawns in the center: These arise after the Ruy Lopez, the King's Gambit, the Slav Defence and the Queen's Gambit Accepted. Absence of central pawns in this type of center takes the game to sharp active tactical piece play. Action plan is to take possession of central lines and important central squares. 
Plan of Attack: 1. Achieve a superiority in the center. 2. Create weaknesses in your opponent's camp. 3. Make a coordinated piece attack on the side or center where opponent is weak. 
Plan of Defence: 1. Defend the weak squares. 2. Offer piece protection to the flank under attack.

7. Development and the position of pieces: As per Karpov, the most important law of chess is - Restricting the mobility of our opponent's pieces and increasing the domination of your own pieces. There are seven methods for restricting your opponent's piece mobility:

(i) Make opponent's piece occupied with the defence of another piece or an important square.
(ii) Make your opponent's piece tied down with covering a valuable piece or an important square.
(iii) Make two or more of the opponent's pieces or important squares simultaneously under threat.
(iv) Make your opponent move a piece unfavorably when the moved piece destroys an established connection (blocks another piece's line of action or takes an essential square away from it).
(v) Make the square(s) to which an opponent's piece can move attacked by your pieces.
(vi) Make the square where your opponent's piece can move blockaded or occupied with your piece or opponent's piece.
(vii) Make the opponent's pieces' paths obstructed by your own or opponent's pieces.


B. Chess Accounting: This shall be performed in following stages:

1. Stage One: Compare Reference Points - After comparing the positions on the basis of above seven reference points, a player can determine whether he is in advantage or loss position. Selection of plan in stage two is dependent on this estimation of the position.

2. Stage Two: Choosing a Plan -  A player shall choose an attacking or defensive plan depending on the objective evaluation of the position in stage One. 

(i) Better Position: If a player has got an advantage in development, he should try to prevent his opponent from completing the mobilization of his (opponent's) forces. To achieve this, the player in advantage shall choose as the opportunity arises, moves that present concrete threats, forcing the opponent to waste time and energy deflecting the threats. Often such moves are tactical blows to open the game and get to the opponent's king more quickly.

(ii) Equal Position:  In equal position, as a rule proceedings go peacefully. Unnecessary aggressive actions might only ruin one's position. Usually a long period of positional or tactical maneuvering starts, during which both sides try hard to avoid weaknesses in their position and try to create weaknesses in the opponent's camp.

(iii) Worse Position: In worse position, the main task of a player is to slow down the opponent's attack. The best method to slow down an attack is to simplify the position by exchanging the opponent's attacking pieces. Once a player has slowed down the opponent's attack, his next plan shall be to prepare a counter attack.

3. Stage 3: Strengths & weaknesses of chess pieces: Karpov also studied the limitations of different chess pieces and developed methods to trap each one of them. A set of such studies are available in the book mentioned below.  

References: (To further master Karpov System, one must purchase and read following books)

1. "Find the Right Plan with Anatoly Karpov" by Anatoly Karpov and Anatoly Matsukevich, Batsford Publications 2008. 

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