It doesn't compare with his epic struggles against Viktor Korchnoi and Garry Kasparov and his numerous successes in elite tournaments from the mid-70s to the mid-90s, but Anatoly Karpov's recent, convincing 6-2 match victory over the 2612-rated Romanian GM Andrei Istratescu was a heartening achievement for his long-time fans. Karpov rarely wins showy attacking games a la Shirov, but what he does, he does exceptionally well. The following game was particularly impressive; a fine model of winning with the two bishops.
Karpov,Anatoly (2674) - Istratescu,Andrei (2617) [E15]
Match Bucharest ROM (2), 21.03.2005
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 b6 4.g3 Ba6 5.b3 Bb7 6.Bg2 Bb4+ 7.Bd2 a5 8.0-0 0-0 9.Nc3 d6 10.Qc2 Nbd7 11.Rfd1 Bxc3 12.Bxc3 Be4 13.Qb2 c6 14.Bf1 b5N 15.Nh4 d5 16.f3 Bg6 17.Be1 Qb6 18.cxd5 cxd5 19.Rac1 Rfc8
White has a slight but definite advantage here, due to his possession of the two bishops in the sort of position that favors them in the long term. White would like to trade all the major pieces, gain space, and finally open the position at the right moment to exploit the strength of the bishop pair. Watch, learn, and admire! 20.e3 Ne8 21.g4 Nd6 22.Bg3 b4 23.Rxc8+ Rxc8 24.Rc1 Rc6 25.Nxg6 hxg6 26.Rxc6 Qxc6 27.Qe2 Kf8 28.Qa6 Qxa6 29.Bxa6 Ke7
The first stage has been accomplished, and White has a real edge here. Converting it to a win is hard work, but Karpov's technique is excellent and worthy of emulation. 30.h4 This is a very good move for several reasons. First, it grabs space, which is a very good thing, even in the endgame. Second, it fixes the Black g-pawns, which if nothing else removes even more of the elasticity of Black's position. And third, Black has to worry about the advance of the h-pawn - in a future sequence without a Black knight covering e5, something like 1.Bxd7 Kxd7 2.h5 gxh5 3.gxh5 followed by 4.Be5 wins: 4...g6 5.h6; 4...f6 5.Bxf6; 4...Nf5 5.Bxg7! Nxg7 6.h6 followed by 7.h7 and h8(Q). Black can defend against that threat, for now, but he also has to keep the a5 pawn safe and beware of a useful central break from White as well. One problem he can handle and maybe two, but three is too much. And therein lies the advantage of the bishop pair - they can rapidly tack from one side of the board to the other, or even hit both sides at the same time, while the slow-moving knights struggle to get from one side to the other. 30...Nf6 Stopping h5 and, for the foreseeable future, e4. Of course, White could play g5 at some point, but that would be a very bad move, taking away the h5 possibility and giving up the f5 square. In short, g5 takes away much of the White position's elasticity. 31.Bd3 Kd7 Nothing's happening right away, so White is improving the placement of his pieces before deciding on anything, and now it's the king's turn. 32.Kf2 Kc6 33.Ke2 Nfe8 34.Kd2 With the king on d2 and bishop on d3, White no longer has to worry about a maneuver like ...Nb5-c3, as it can be met by either a4 (...bxa3?? Kxc3), sealing the queenside and fixing the a5 pawn, or better still, a3, when after the inevitable axb4 axb4, Black's b4 pawn is a serious weakness. In fact, even if Black doesn't play Nc3, White may still try to achieve a3 at some point, with the same purpose of softening up the Black queenside pawns. 34...Nb5 35.Be5 Another annoying move, from Black's perspective. Tricks with h5 are on again (1.h5 gxh5 2.gxh5 and then White's threatening 3.Bxb5+ Kxb5 4.Bxg7 Nxg7 5.h6, winning), and attempting to expel the predator on e5 with ...f6 only serves to lose the pawn on g6. 35...Nbd6 36.Bf1 Kb6 37.Kc2 Nb5 38.Bg2 And now e4 is inevitable. 38...Kc6 39.Kd3 Nbd6 40.e4 Now Black has something new to think about. If he takes on e4, then White will create a passed d-pawn, and between the passer and the d4 square for the king, the win will be a mere matter of time. So Black will try to hold tight, but then Black has to worry about both exd5, leaving Black with a potentially vulnerable d-pawn (note that Black can't avoid the isolani with 1.exd5+ Kxd5?? because 2.f4+ forces mate next move), and e5, grabbing more space and taking the defensively useful d6 and f6 posts from the knights. 40...Kd7 41.Bh3 Ke7 42.Bf1 Kd7 43.Ke3 Ke7 44.Bd3 Kd7 45.Bf4 Kc6 After some harmless tacking around, White finally commits to something. It might seem surprising that Karpov hasn't done anything, or hasn't seemed to - in fact, it might seem that Karpov hasn't done anything all game long! Two responses: first, Black's position is such that there really isn't anything he can do, so Karpov isn't taking any risks with this strategy, as any active plan by Black will hasten defeat. ("Activity" would involve moving pawns, and that would just make them targets, not attacking units.) Second, he's looking for the ideal setup before committing to action, and why not? Black can do nothing, so the only thing that can go wrong is White choosing the wrong plan. No reason for haste! 46.e5 Nc8 47.Bg5
And just like that, Black is losing, unable to meet the threat of h5 followed by (after ..gxh5 gxh5) Bh7-g8, picking off the f-pawn. 47...Nb6 48.Be7 Another nice move, again improving his position to the maximum before cashing in. The point of this move is, first, to prevent even a meaningless bid for counterplay like ...a4; second, after h5 gxh5 gxh5, to play Bf8, Bxg7 and h6. Beautiful technique by Karpov! 48...Nd7 49.h5 Nc7 and Black resigned - White takes twice on g6 and progresses from there, maintaining all the advantages of his position without a single concession. 1-0