Anatoly Karpov

Calculating Variations versus Intuitive Piece Placement

Grandmaster Anatoly Karpov in Luxembourg in 2019

Throughout my whole life, I have met three kinds of chess players.

Kind Number 1: The Calculator

The Calculator has the ability to visualise positions clearly in his head, even when calculating several variations, several moves deep at once. It seems like the process of calculating is effortless to them; they just close their eyes, start breaking down variation after variation, move after move and conclude the truth after a few minutes of immense concentration. I would say about 5% of chess players are “calculators”.

Kind Number 2: The Wunderkind

The Wunderkind is an idiot savant: it plays the right move, without knowing concretely why. They make this possible by relying on practical decisions and experience which they have accumulated over years of playing in tournaments, or just by sheer talents. As the famous José Ràul Capablanca once said (who most certainly was a Wunderkind himself), after being asked how many moves he calculates ahead: “Just one, but always the right one.” (Above all, Capablanca was a modest man!) I would say that also about 5% of chess players are Wunderkinder.

Kind Number 3: The “I’m-somewhat-in-between”

Those are the other 90%. Club players and amateurs tend to belong to the chess player-kind, while they are more scarce among professional players. This kind is not particularly brillant in neither calculation nor intuition, but decent in both.

After establishing the existence of the three different kinds of chess players, I would love to talk about Anatoly Karpov. I don’t think anyone would argue with me saying that he belongs to the “Wunderkind” category. But unlike Capablanca, who was born with an unearthly intellect and talent in spades, Karpov accumulated his intuition the good old fashioned way, via tournament experience.

In a forthcoming article, I will give my best to break down different parts of Karpov’s life, especially his early career to see how he evolved into one of the greatest chess players that ever walked the earth.