Chess Engine Tweaking: Cloning Karpov

Yesterday I logged into my Youtube account and seen that there was a new comment on one of my chess videos.

The video in question was a chess engine review I did, in which I presented a new “personality” of the Chess Engine Disaster Area 1.54.

The Chess Engine Area Karpov

This was part of a blog post on creating attacking chess engine personalities for training games.

The commenter was a chessplayer named Manuel Camacho who’d asked me;

“Hello, Brendan! Thank you for another good video. I know you like attacking chess,. But, in your experience, how would you set DisasterArea for a human-like positional chess style? Thanks!”

What an interesting question.

So immediately I set about on creating a positional personality with Disaster Area 1.54 and after some time, I came up with what I think is a pretty good personality.

I’ve chosen to call it…

Disaster Area 1.54 Karpov!

Anatoly Karpov is a chess player who I truly admired and studied a great deal as a teenager, learning a lot of what I now know about positional chess in the process.

chess engine karpov

Karpov played chess in a very positional style (he was also no slouch tactically) and seemed to effortlessly place his pieces on the perfect squares before attacking his opponents tiniest weaknesses with relentless pressure.

Then he would keep squeezing until they collapsed from the pressure.

Some have described his style as a “boa constrictor” style.

I remember being amazed as a kid at the perfect harmony of his pieces and how he’d surrounded even a simple pawn weakness and as his opponent scrambled to defend it, he’d prevent their attempts, win the pawn and then convert the endgame like a machine!

Here’s a game which made a big impression on me back then.

Nigel Short vs Anatoly Karpov – 0-1

In this game we see Karpov as black in his beloved Caro Kann Defence as he positionally crushes the very strong British grandmaster Nigel Short.

When I first seen this game, I was amazed and how without the use of any tactics, Karpov surrounded the weak white e-pawn and with every maneuver just kept improving his piece position, squeezing the life out of white.

Eventually white was left with no space and just shuffling his king back and forth.

Amazingly powerful positional play.

So how to reproduce it in DisasterArea 1.54 while still keeping it weak enough (its CCRL rating is 2800+, remember!) to be a sparring partner for me?

Here are the some of the characteristics from Karpov’s play I hoped to reproduce in the engine.

  1. Preference for (and powerful use of) the two bishops, something which characterised many of Karpov’s wins.
  2. When he chose to take the knight, it was used to create a so-called “good knight vs bad bishop” scenario.
  3. Exchange sacrifices (this is when one side sacrifices a rook for an enemy bishop or knight, usually in return for some form of positional compensation) for powerful passed pawns or otherwise positional dominance.
  4. Prevention of opponent’s counterplay prior to pursuing one’s own plan.

Although,  completely replicating a mastery of Karpov’s calibre is impossible, I think I have managed to create somewhat of a cheap imitation!

It’ll definitely be fun to challenge DisasterArea 1.54 Karpov in future training games anyway.

Let us have a look at some examples. Keep in mind the numbered elements from above we are hoping to reproduce.

Karpov vs the Grunfeld Defence:

Anatoly Karpov had a very good record as white against the Grunfeld and Kings Indian Defences, as well as a very particular way of dealing with them.

Observing the games below will show how Disaster Area 1.54 Karpov’s style does indeed look similar when comparing with the true style of Anatoly Karpov.

Let’s have a little look.

Anatoly Karpov  vs Robert Huebner

In this game, Robert Huebner plays a Grunfeld Defence and after an early queen swap the players land in a queenless middlegame where Karpov has the two bishops and a little bit of pressure.

Over the course of several moves Karpov activates his king, while probing black’s weaknesses and improving the activity of his rook. Huebner is left pretty passive and succumbs once Karpov’s king enters the black position. A pretty typical strategic win in Karpov style.

DisasterArea-1.54 Karpov vs GoliathBlitz

In this game we see DisasterArea 1.54 Karpov playing in a manner which could easily be Karpov himself!

Play through this game and the one above and tell me which was played by the engine…

I truly think it’s not so easy to tell at first glance.

DisasterArea-1.54 Karpov vs AnMon 5.75

Here we see poor old AnMon, an engine who (despite being well over 2500 on the CCRL ratings) is constantly being used as a punching bag for the engines I test.

And again… We see an almost perfect representation of the Karpovian style of play.

Just as Karpov so often did, DisasterArea 1.54 Karpov made a strong opponent look easy.

Prevention of Counterplay

Anatoly Karpov has a knack of seeing everything in the position, both for himself and for his opponent and whilst preparing his own active plans, he also would take measures to prevent any counterplay his opponent might have.

This effectively is like being in the boxing ring with an opponent whose hands are tied behind his back.

Let’s see what I mean.

Anatoly Karpov vs Pablo Ricardi

In this game, we see Karpov as white gain a single trump in the position (better pawn structure) and in return his opponent got attacking chances against the white king.

Several times in the game black has ideas of sacrificing a piece around the f4/e3 squaress and on the dark squares around the white king in general, but Karpov sees it, prevents it and keeps building his position.

After some subtle manoeuvring, black’s attacking potential is gone and his pieces are on terrible squares (especially the stranded queen on the kingside) and Karpov finally goes to work on the weak black pawns on the queenside.

A very deep game worthy of even deeper study by serious chess students.

Now let’s see some of that from DisasterArea 1.54 Karpov.

DisasterArea-1.54 Karpov vs CAPTURE

Here we see D.A Karpov against a chess program called Capture, which is very experienced having played in many Man vs Machine Matches (click here to see it beat a 2300 player in 16 moves, proving as I have said that strong players CAN lose quickly if placed under pressure!), so we were indeed in for a treat in this game.

Capture knew more theory in the opening than D.A Karpov (a dedicated opening book) and went into a known line of the Catalan.

One outstanding moment is when D.A Karpov played the novelty 16.Qc5N!? (16.e3 is theory) which was designed to prevent the move 16…e5 which seems to give black good play.

Capture decided to give a pawn back with 16…Qd6! which goes into a bishop vs knight ending which in this case was good for the bishop, but not good enough to beat D.A Karpov.

Key moments: 16.Qc5!

DisasterArea-1.54 Karpov vs BigLion

Here D.A Karpov faces an opponent who is only 2062 on the CCRL scale and expected to be a comfortable win.

D.A Karpov still plays cautiously and prevents all of black’s counterplay, while gaining space and building his position.

Black’s moves 20…h5, followed by 22…hxg4 are very dangerous (opening the h-file for white) only show that having had his plans stopped, black didn’t know how to proceed.

D.A Karpov keeps maneuvering (especially his knight into the beautiful f5 square) and finishes with a lovely rook sacrifice to lead to mate.

Key moments:

  • Around move 14 it is clear that black’s main attacking plan involves some type of sacrifice on g4, possibly followed by an …f5 break and the black queen coming to h4 at some point. White’s 15.Re1 followed by the maneuver Bg2-f1-e2, and Kg2 and then Nd2 ensure that the entire kingside is solidified and white can continue to gain space without fear.
  • 27.c5!! is an excellent positional pawn sacrifice to free his bad bishop and gain the c4 square for his knight.
  • After 33.Ne3 note the similarities to the Karpov game against Pablo Ricardi above (stranded queen+shattered kingside pawn structure)

So without further ado, let’s see this game!

Exchange Sacrifices, Two bishops and Weak Pawns!

Some of the coming games have overlaps in terms of the strategical themes which arise in them, but I want you to keep an eye out for the following themes.

  • Two Bishops (one side has a pair of bishops which are used with mastery)
  • Weak pawns (one side creates terrible pawn weaknesses in the enemy camp and then just probes away at them and wins them all over time)
  • Exchange sacrifice (one side gives a rook for a minor piece and gets great positional compensation)

Christopher Lutz vs Anatoly Karpov

Here we see Karpov sacrifice the exchange and in return he gets complete dominance over the dark squares, the bishop pair and access to a ton of weak white pawns.

He then skilfully uses these imbalances to push his way to victory.

Simply incredible, huh?

What about this one.

DisasterArea-1.54 Karpov vs Ruffian 1.0.5

Here we see D.A Karpov with the two bishops in an unclear endgame. He plays the move Rd6!! sacrificing the exchange and in return has two bishops, a path for his king and running passed pawns.

Ruffian, his 2600+ opponent can do nothing to interrupt the perfect co-ordination of white’s forces.

Abrok_5_0 vs DisasterArea-1.54 Karpov

Here after just 15 moves D.A Karpov is two pawns down and very optimistic.

Why?

Because he has two strong bishops and tons of weak pawns to attack.

Just watch the way he used these imbalances to probe at white’s weak pawns, win several of them and eventually the game.

True Karpov style.

There are so many examples from this excellent personality that I could show you, but I’ll just show you one more which was the first game I seen in my test.

 

DisasterArea-1.54 Karpov vs Abrok_5_0

Here we see D.A Karpov play a model game with the two bishops against weak pawns.

Black plays natural moves and is still left defending  pawn weaknesses all over the place and in the end, D.A Karpov turns his attention to the black king.

How did this happen?

  • Witness how D.A Karpov prepares the centre to open with 13.c4 and only captures the knight on g6 when the timing is perfect.
  • The move 24.Qa4 (keeping the queens on the board) is excellent as well, since the queen will be very useful for attacking the black weaknesses, particularly on the kingside.
  • 35.Bxe7+ followed by the rook invasion of the 7th rank is the last straw and black can no longer defend.

I think this game is very instructive for study, and highly recommend it.

Conclusion:

So what do you think? How close to the style of Anatoly Karpov have we reached with this tweaking and have I satisfied my YouTube viewer’s request for a “positional” version of DisasterArea 1.54?

I don’t know for sure, but I welcome you guys to test this personality out for yourselves and let me know how you go!

Before I forget!

Tools:

  • DisasterArea 1.54 Download link
  • Arena Chess GUI (for chess engine testing and matches)
  • DisasterArea 1.54 Karpov configuration settings (what variables to enter for this style)
disasterarea chess engine

The magic settings!

 

So that ends this post guys, let me know what you think and I hope you have fun testing this guy Karpov out in a few games…maybe against this guy! 😉

  • Ted Summers

    Nice article!

    • Thanks Ted, I have a much better Karpov personality now. It uses Rodent as the base engine and plays sooo much like Karpov it’s uncanny stylistically. Almost as strong as the default Rodent too. 🙂