The Karpov Variation – also known as the Keres Variation (which, in turn, is also a 9…a5 variation of the Spanish Opening – is a fascinating and complex line in the Ruy Lopez opening, one of the oldest and most respected chess openings.
Below we look into the intricacies of the Karpov Variation, exploring its move order, theory, strategy, and purpose, as well as its variations, history, suitability for different levels of players, and its frequency of play at the Grandmaster level.
Move Order of the Karpov Variation / Keres Variation
The Karpov Variation follows the sequence: 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 d6 8. c3 O-O 9. h3 Nd7.
This move order leads to a rich and complex middlegame, with many strategic nuances.
Theory, Strategy and Purpose of the Karpov Variation
The Karpov Variation aims for a solid but slightly passive setup.
The knight’s retreat to d7 frees the f6 square for other pieces and supports central pawn advances.
However, it can lead to a somewhat cramped position for Black, with less active piece play.
Variations of the Karpov Variation
Confusingly, 9…Nd7 is also called the Chigorin Variation, so there are two variations of the Ruy Lopez with that name.
But 9…Na5 is the move more commonly associated with Chigorin.
This defense, as mentioned, is also known as the Keres Variation, after Paul Keres.
Continuation Lines of the Karpov Variation
Continuation lines of the Karpov Variation as performed at the top level might include:
10. d4 Bb7 11. Nbd2 exd4 12. cxd4 Re8 13. Nf1 Na5 14. Bc2 c5 15. d5 Nc4 16. N3h2 Bf6 17. Rb1 Bc8 18. Ng3 Be5 19. Ne2 Bf6 20. b3 Nce5 21. f4 Ng6 22. Ng4 Bh4 23. g3 Bf6 24. b4 cxb4 25. Rxb4
10. d4 Na5 11. Bc2 c5 12. d5 Nb6 13. Nbd2 Qc7 14. b3 c4 15. b4 Nb7 16. Nf1 a5 17. Ng3 axb4 18. cxb4 Na4 19. a3 Nc3 20. Qd2 Na4 21. Qe3 Nd8 22. Nf5 f6 23. Nd2 Bxf5 24. exf5 Nf7 25. Ne4 Qb7 26. Bxa4 Rxa4 27. Nc3
10. d4 Na5 11. Bc2 c5 12. d5 Qc7 13. b3 Nb6 14. Nbd2 c4 15. b4 Nb7 16. Nf1 a5 17. Ng3 f6 18. Be3 axb4 19. cxb4 Bd7 20. Nf5 Bd8 21. Nd2 Na4 22. Nb1 g6 23. Nh6+ Kg7 24. a3
10. d4 Na5 11. Bc2 c5 12. d5 Qc7 13. b3 Nb6 14. Nbd2 c4 15. b4 Nb7 16. Nf1 a5 17. Ng3 axb4 18. cxb4 Na4 19. a3 Nd8 20. Be3 Bd7 21. Nf5 Bf6 22. Nh2 Bxf5 23. exf5 e4 24. Bd4 Nb2 25. Qd2 Bxd4 26. Qxd4
Evaluation of the Karpov Variation
The Karpov Variation is evaluated as roughly +0.70 to +0.90, giving a decent advantage to white.
History of the Karpov Variation
Karpov tried 9…Nd7 several times in the 1990 World Championship match.
But Kasparov achieved a significant advantage against it in the 18th game.
This has led to a reevaluation of the variation and its effectiveness at the highest levels.
Is the Karpov Variation Good for Beginners or Intermediates?
The Karpov Variation is considered solid but may be slightly passive for aggressive players.
For beginners, the subtleties of the position may be challenging to grasp.
Intermediates may find it a useful addition to their repertoire, as it can lead to rich and complex play.
How Often Is the Karpov Variation Played at the Grandmaster Level?
While not as popular as some other lines in the Ruy Lopez, the Karpov Variation is still seen at the Grandmaster level.
Its solid nature makes it a viable option, but it may not be the first choice for those seeking more aggressive play.
Ruy Lopez: Karpov Variation / Keres Variation
The Karpov Variation in the Ruy Lopez (aka the Keres Variation) offers a rich variety of strategic and tactical possibilities.
While it has been somewhat overshadowed by other lines, its solid nature and complex middlegame play make it an interesting choice for players looking to explore new avenues in one of chess’s most respected openings.
Its history and connection to great players like Karpov, Keres, and Kasparov add to its allure.
Whether you’re a beginner seeking to understand the fundamentals or an intermediate player looking to deepen your understanding of chess strategy, the Karpov Variation offers a fascinating study in the eternal game of chess.