Let’s forget all about Magnus Carlsen, MVL and the top-notch action of an exciting Sinquefield Cup, and just readily admit that the real reason for packing my bags and jumping on a plane to Saint Louis was to witness at firsthand the return to top-flight chess again of Garry Kasparov, the ‘Beast of Baku’ himself, who made a dramatic comeback following his even more dramatic retirement announcement at the end of the 2005 Linares super-tournament.
Kasparov, now 54, has been 12-years out of professional chess, and when he accepted his wildcard spot to play in the new Grand Chess Tour event of the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz, he did so by sardonically commenting “Looks like I’m going to raise the average age of the field and lower the average rating!”
It’s quite a coup, though, to see Kasparov making a comeback, albeit even if the 13th World Champion admitted it was just going to be a one-off affair. Kasparov has been truly captivated with the many tournaments and exhibitions staged at Rex Sinquefield’s impressive Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis (CCSCL) – and this was his way of paying tribute to all the handwork and vision at the CCSCSL, by agreeing to take a wildcard spot.
And sure enough, the crowds and the media also turned out in force for Kasparov’s return. And while he may be a bit more grey on top – not to mention the hairline receding rapidly – and a more than just a little match-rusty, there were several flashes of his former past on display on the opening day, as he was held to draws by Sergey Karjakin, Hikaru Nakamura and Leinier Dominguez.
Standings Day 1
1-4. Liem Quang Le (Vietnam), Levon Aronian (Armenia), Fabiano Caruana (USA), Ian Nepomniachtchi (Russia) 4/6; 5-8. Hikaru Nakamura (USA), Sergey Karjakin (Russia), Garry Kasparov (Russia), Leinier Dominguez (Cuba) 3; 9-10. Vishy Anand (India), David Navara (Czech Rep.) 1.
(Rapid scores 2 points for a win, 1 point for a draw)
(Photo opposite) Kasparov is back! | © Lennart Ootes GCT
GM Hikaru Nakamura – GM Garry Kasparov
St. Louis Rapid & Blitz, (2)
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 Garry may have been gone for 12-years – but some things never change, and he’s stayed faithful to his favourite Grünfeld Defence. 4.Bg5 Bg7 A popular pawn sacrifice line, which seems to be holding firm for Black. 5.Bxf6 Bxf6 6.cxd5 If 6.Nxd5 Bg7 and White’s d4 is going to be hit with …c5 and …Nc6 regaining the pawn. 6…c6 7.e4 Accepting the pawn sacrifice with 7.dxc6 Bxd4 8.cxb7 Bxb7 9.Qb3 Qb6 leaves Black with the active bishop-pair and lots of opening lines, and the database results are holding up more than well for Black. 7…O-O 8.Nf3 cxd5 9.e5 Again, 9.Nxd5 runs into 9…Bg7 followed by …Nc6 and …Bg4 and capturing on d4. 9…Bg7 10.Qd2 Nc6 11.Bb5 Bg4 12.Ng1 f6 If anything, Garry has ‘won’ the battle of the opening – he has the bishop-pair and now starting to break down White’s centre. 13.h3 Be6 14.exf6 Rxf6 15.Bxc6 bxc6 16.Nge2 Qd6 17.O-O Raf8 18.Rae1 Bc8! Garry is showing some vintage touches here – the bishop retreat not only paves the way for …e5 but, if Nakamura is not careful, Black’s bishop will re-emerge again on a6 with a big advantage. 19.Na4 e5 20.dxe5 Qxe5 21.b4 Re6 Another possibility was 21…Qd6!? 22.Nc5 a5 23.a3 g5! threatening to follow-up with …Rg6 and …g4 and breaking through on the kingside. 22.Nc5 Ree8 23.Nb3 Qb2 24.Qxb2 Bxb2 With the bishops vs. knights and the more active rook pair, Garry had to fancy his chances of converting this – but it is not so easy, as Nakamura’s knights have good central outposts on c5 and d4 to hit the weak c6-pawn. 25.Ned4 Rxe1 26.Rxe1 Bd7 27.Re2 Bc3 28.Rc2 Bxb4 29.Nxc6 Bd6 Garry rightly wants to maintain his bishop-pair – and from d6, it also retains mating threats that have to be dealt with. 30.Nxa7 Re8 31.g4 h5 32.f3 Re1+ Garry starts to fall behind on the clock now and begins to lose his initiative. Better was 32…Ra8!? with the big idea being 33.Nc6 Ra4! and suddenly …Rc4 becomes a major problem for White to deal with. 33.Kg2 Kf7 34.Nc6 h4 35.Ncd4 Nakamura has consolidated his position, and now the extra pawn is a major headache for Kasparov. 35…Rd1 36.Rd2 Rxd2+ 37.Nxd2 Kf6 38.Kf2 Ke5 39.Ke3 g5 40.f4+! Well timed by Nakamura – and this really should have been the precursor to a won game. 40…gxf4+ 41.Kd3 Be7 42.N2f3+ Kd6 43.Nf5+ Bxf5+ 44.gxf5 Nakamura has passed pawns on both sides of the board – and you can’t stop both. 44…Kc5 45.Nd4 Kd6 46.a4 Bd8 47.Ne6 It’s amazing now how Nakamura’s knight dominates Kasparov’s bishop. 47…Bb6 48.Nxf4 Ke5 49.f6! Again, a nice touch from Nakamura, as Kasparov can’t take the pawn because of Nxd5+ forking the king and bishop, and he also can’t play …Kxf4 as the f-pawn queens. 49…Bc5 50.f7 Kf6 51.Nxd5+ Kxf7 (See diagram) 52.Ke4? The wrong move that swings the game from a win to a draw. Tempos are vital in minimal endings, and perhaps Nakamura simply overlooked that he had a very obvious one at his disposal with 52.Kc4! Bf2 53.Kb5 Ke6 54.Kc6! Cutting off the king and threatening a5 and Nb6 shielding the a-pawn home, which now forces 54…Be1 55.Nf4+ Kf5 56.Ng2 Bd2 57.Kb5 with a won endgame. The point being is that if 57…Ke4 58.Nxh4 Kf4 59.Ng2+ Kg3 60.h4 Kxg2 61.a5! and the bishop can’t stop both pawns running for home. 52…Ke6 53.Nf4+ Kd6 54.Ng2 All the playing engines may well say that White is easily winning here, but in practical terms, this is simply a draw, as now Black’s king has crossed over to deal with the a-pawn, the bishop can sacrifice itself for the h-pawn. 54…Bf2 55.Kf3 Bg3 56.Kg4 Kc5 57.Nxh4 Bf2 58.Nf5 Kb4 Garry has successfully achieved his objective – but in doing so, he was running critically low on time now, having to move almost instantly. 59.Ng3 Kxa4 60.h4 Kb5 61.h5 Be3 62.Ne4 Kc6 63.Ng5 Kd7 64.h6 Ke7 65.h7 Bd4 66.Kf5 Ba1 67.Kg6 Bb2 68.Nf7 Ba1 69.Nh6 Bh8 70.Ng4 Ba1 71.Ne3 Bh8 72.Nd5+ Ke6 73.Nf4+ Ke7 74.Nh3 Ke6 75.Ng5+ Ke7 76.Nf7 Ba1 Nakamura made Kasparov ‘sweat’ a little, being down to his last 15 seconds or so before queening the pawn and the easy draw. 77.h8=Q Bxh8 1/2-1/2