I have always loved studying the classics. There were periods when I would just take a book on Morphy, Steinitz, Lasker, Capablanca and all the other champions and analyse their games for weeks. I derived great pleasure from looking at their games, learning and understanding how they played.
While studying all the games from the champions of the past I would inevitably pick up a lot of ideas, typical plans and maneuvers and this knowledge helped me progress faster.
The main practical advantage of studying the classics is that you don’t have to invent things that have already been invented. Here are two examples.
This is the position from the game Alekhine-Rubinstein played in 1912. Black will obviously recapture on g6, but how? “Traditional” advice is to capture towards the centre, but Rubinstein understood the position profoundly and captured 15…fxg6!
The move is both prophylactic, opening the f-file against White’s possible attack with f4-f5, and aggressive, as he wants to use the f-file himself, plus the doubled g-pawn can be used to advance without weakening the position of Black’s kingside. On his next move Black played 16…g5, then castled and won the game with a direct attack on White’s king.
Mere 60 years later, another game was played.
This is the position that arose after White’s attacking 11 f4. At the time it was considered that this was dangerous for Black. White wants to open the f-file, castle, put a knight on f5 and attack at all leisure.
But playing Black was Bobby Fischer, and he definitely knew the games of the classics. He came up with the novelty 11…Ng6! that immediately neutralised White’s attack. After 12.Nxg6 fxg6 we have the same idea as in the Rubinstein game. By opening the f-file Black is safe from attack and after 13.fxe5 dxe5 he then advanced the g-pawn to g5 and opened the h5-e8 diagonal for the queen transfer to g6, thus obtaining initiative on the kingside. Fischer won this 5th game of the match against Spassky in Reykjavik in 1972 after Spassky blundered badly in a worse position. By a strange coincidence, both Rubinstein’s and Fischer’s games finished in 27 moves!
Looking at these two examples it is easy to understand the importance of the …fxg6 recapture in similar positions. However, it would be very difficult to come up with the same concept alone during a game!
Today, almost everything has already been played out – the plans in almost all positions are already known, the maneuvers, the typical reactions – it is all there, in the books and databases. The only thing that is required is the desire to learn and this knowledge can be yours.
At the risk of sounding old-fashioned, I would still say that the best way to acquire this knowledge is by studying the games of the great players by using the best books written about and by them. It is definitely time-consuming, but if you really enjoy the process then the time will be well-spent while the benefits will be lifelong.