It is Checkmate Monday again and for this instalment in our ongoing series we present three of Anatoly Karpov’s snap checkmates.
We normally associate the 12th World Champion with excellent technique and the way in which he squeezes positions with a tiny advantage. This then grows into serious winning chances before he finishes off his opponents in a highly efficient manner.
However, despite Karpov’s obvious preference for positional play, he was more than ready to pounce when the possibility of a checkmate appeared.
Karpov was dominant during his tenure as World Champion (1975-1985). It was rare indeed to see him play in a tournament and not finish in first place and he was untroubled in the vast majority of his games.
Yet occasionally he would find himself under pressure and looking at a possible defeat. At such times, he had a habit of keeping just enough going on in the position to be able to strike back as soon as opponents dropped their guard.
Sometimes just one mistake would all it would take for one of Karpov’s snap checkmates to stun the opponents.
Karpov found himself in very serious trouble in the first of our examples.
Anatoly Karpov – Istvan Csom
Bad Lauterberg, 1977
White to play
This is not the sort of position we expect to see from a Karpov game from the 1970s.
He is a knight and a pawn down and his king is completely exposed. Csom is winning easily. Nobody could imagine he would resign after four more moves.
47 Ng3 Qa8
48 Qc7+ Kh8
Karpov was very good at getting the maximum out of his pieces. It shouldn’t be enough on this occasion, but it gives him a chance of creating something if the opponents slips up.
49 …Ng5! would have prevented what happens next and also created significant threats against the white king. Karpov may well have resigned, but now he wins the game.
Karpov to play and win! What did he do next? Csom resigned immediately after White’s 50th move.
He played 50 Nf5!, the key line being 50 ….exf5 51 Qh2+! Kg8 52 Qg3+ with checkmate to follow.
Viktor Korchnoi – Anatoly Karpov
World Chess Championship, 1978
White to play
Karpov had been in trouble for most of the game but now takes advantage of Korchnoi’s habitual time-trouble. His last move, 37 …Ncd2, gives Korchnoi plenty to think about as his time ticks away.
38 Ra3 Rc6!
Such a difficult move to meet when very short of time! 39 …Rc1+ is the obvious threat, which is why Korchnoi now drops his rook back to the first rank.
Unfortunately for Korchnoi, Karpov had set a very vicious trap. 39 g3, securing the back rank and guarding against the trap, would probably lead to a draw.
What did Karpov now play to produce a snap checkmate?
39 …Nf3+! when 40 gxf3 Rg6+ 41 Kh1 Nf2 is checkmate, as is 40 Kh1 Nf2.
In 1984, Korchnoi fell victim to another snap checkmate from Karpov. This time Karpov kept the game under control. He was never in trouble and the checkmate crowned an excellently-played game against his great rival.
Anatoly Karpov – Viktor Korchnoi
Philips and Drew, 1984
White to play
What would you play for White?
Karpov wrapped up the game with 38 Ng6+! and Korchnoi resigned, 1-0. After the forced reply of 38 …hxg6 White will checkmate the king with 39 Qh4 (or h3)+ Bh6 40 Qxh6 checkmate.
Our series on checkmates will continue next Monday. Meanwhile, highlight the space under each question to reveal today’s answers.
There are many more beautiful checkmate patterns in our course, The Checkmate Patterns Manual, by International Master John Bartholomew and CraftyRaf.
There is a shortened, free version of the course here.