Thursday, January 23, 2014

Lubomir Kavalak Notes Similarities Between the "Baseline" Styles of Bjorn Borg and Magnus Carlsen

In Baseline Chess, Hedgehog and Magnus Carlsen (1),  Lubomir Kavalek writes that in Magnus Carlsen's crucial game nine win versus Viswanathan Anand in their World Chess Championship match Carlsen "became the ultimate baseliner. The term is borrowed from tennis and two great tennis players from Sweden come immediately to mind. Björn Borg and Mats Wilander won 18 Grand Slams between them, doing the damage mostly from the baseline. Net-rushers became victims to their precise, penetrating and counterpunching shots. In chess, it was another Swede, Ulf Andersson, who loved to shuffle his pieces in his own backyard, unwilling to cross the middle of the board, only to lash out when least expected. He sharpened his baseline skills even with the white pieces."

A power-based style--in tennis, chess or any other sport--excites the fans. Who does not like watching sizzling passing shots or stunning piece sacrifices? However, a power-based style requires more energy exertion and has a much smaller margin of error. Roscoe Tanner was a more powerful player than Bjorn Borg but Borg was a much more consistent winner in no small part because Borg's style wore down his opponents; similarly, Carlsen rarely plays one particularly stunning move--in tennis parlance, he does not wow the crowd with devastating passing shots that just clip the line but he keeps getting the ball over the net until his opponents collapse from mental, psychological and/or physical fatigue.

Kavalek's sequel article, Baseline Chess, Hedgehog and Magnus Carlsen (2), explores some of the history of the Hedgehog structure. He notes that the Hedgehog most likely first appeared in a 1922 game played by Fritz Samisch. Salo Flohr, who Kavalek calls "the all-time finest Czech player," employed the Hedgehog in the 1930s, when he earned the right to challenge Alexander Alekhine for the World Chess Championship. Unfortunately for Flohr, World War II prevented the scheduling of that match and he never again had a direct opportunity to fight for the title.

The first 10 moves of game three of the Carlsen-Anand match mirrored the first 10 moves of a 1973 U.S. Championship game between Kavalek and Arthur Bisguier; both games reached the same position--though via a different sequence of moves--and both games ended in draws. As Kavalek puts it, "Time stood still": a variation that worked for Black 40 years ago in a high level game was still good enough for Black to obtain a draw in the 2013 World Chess Championship. Kavalek frequently finds a way to interject anecdotes from his own playing career into his articles, which at times provides a whiff of self-promotion/self-congratulation, but he is justifiably proud of his accomplishments: he won two Czech and three U.S. championships, he was once ranked among the top 10 players in the world and he has been inducted in the World Chess Hall of Fame.

Kavalek concludes the second article by looking at Carlsen's game nine win against Anand. Kavalek suggests that in general Carlsen prefers to use a space advantage to fight against Hedgehog structures but in this game Carlsen took out the World Champion with the Black pieces despite never moving his Q and QB from their original squares. Kavalek raves, "A unique game, indeed! Can somebody do it with the white pieces?"

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