Dynamics: The Cusp of The Matter

Of all the chess books that I have decided to spend money on, (and there have been many over the years), those of the late Alexander Kotov (1913-1981) are among my most prized. His books, ‘Think Like a Grandmaster’, and ‘Play Like a Grandmaster’, although being rather ambitiously titled, give a great insight into the mind of the advanced chess player.

One of the topics that has most stuck with me, is his coverage of thought processes and how they change in the course of a game. In positions where there is little contact between the opposing forces, one focuses upon strategic considerations, he said, the placement of pieces, pawn structure, rather than the analysis of variations. When there is much contact, much tension, the possibility of exchanges, the thought process changes to the detailed analysis of variations, as deep and as concrete as possible. One can not argue with this logic, but all the same it can not be taken as absolutely black and white. For example, one can not afford to ignore the cusp!

Cusp: ” … a point which marks the beginning of a change.”

In other words, one must make the change in thought process not merely at the moment the dynamics in the game change, but before. We must be ever vigilant so that we can anticipate and be ready for any change that may occur. If we are surprised in a game, by an unforeseen lunge, or an out of the blue sacrifice, or a few timely and awkward knight hops, we have more than likely failed in this.

The following game is between Danish Grandmaster Carsten Hoi (although an International Master at the time), and Russian-American Grandmaster Boris Gulko. The game begins relatively calmly, and so Kotov’s advice of general strategic considerations would appear to be in place. After all, why waste time going through complicated variations when it is not needed, right? Indeed so — but Gulko, playing Black, decides to make an exchange of pieces with his 19…Bxf3. It is likely that he expected liquidation via 20.Qxf3 Qxf3 21.gxf3, when his position would be slightly inferior, but nothing major.

However, our opponent does not have to comply with our wishes, infact they rarely do. Accordingly, Carsten Hoi saw things differently than Gulko, and instead maintained pieces and opted to activate the g-file and launch an attack upon the Black king. This, it seems was a hugely viable decision, and the conclusion that I draw is that Boris Gulko either failed to explore the cusp of the change in dynamics in the position (before playing 19…Bxf3) or under-estimated his opponent’s potential. Make your own mind up, but whichever it is, it was to be a painful outcome for him.

John Lee Shaw