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By John Henderson

When Garry Kasparov announced his sudden retirement from competitive play in 2005, everyone was left shocked and surprised. Since then, there has always been a level of fan excitement generated with any Kasparov ‘cameo comeback’ announcement.  But his latest, in Zagreb, at the Grand Chess Tour’s Croatia Rapid & Blitz must have left a bitter aftertaste for the legendary 13th World Champion, after he crashed to his worst single-day performance ever.

It came after his “job share” partner GM Ivan Saric scored well in the rapid tournament to put the Kasparov/Saric team in a strong shared second place in the standings, as visibly nervous and often erratic Kasparov squandered their advantage by losing game as he slumped to a nadir in his career of an unheard of score of 0.5/9 – a remarkable scoreline made all the more remarkable with a humiliating seven move loss to Shakhriyar Mamedyarov!

Also in that devastating two-hour spell on the opening day of the blitz, Kasparov managed to lose more game with the big 6.Bg5 mainline in the Sicilian Najdorf than he probably lost during his whole career – so much so that he was forced to switch from the fearsome Sicilian variation that he once made his reputation as a street fighter with the Black pieces. And his day was rounded off by an equally humiliating loss to Magnus Carlsen’s latest title-challenger, Ian Nepomniachtchi (see game below).

But let’s put this in perspective: the reality of the situation is that Kasparov, 58, is now no longer the formidable opening-sharp and booked-up force he once was in his pomp, and he was definitely showing more signs of rust than the unexpected barn find of a vintage Volkswagen Beetle of the same age! And after getting off to such a nightmare start, psychologically there was just no way back for Kasparov, as the younger elite-level field relentlessly and remorselessly all piled in on the feeding frenzy.

However one man’s adversity can often prove to be an other man’s redemption – and after going into a rating free-fall and dramatically plummeting out of the World Top-10, Frenchman Maxime Vachier-Lagrave showed flashes of a return to top form once again, as he impressed in the blitz to take the overall Croatia Rapid & Blitz GCT title with his combined tally of 23/36 points (13/18 in the blitz, 10/18 in the rapid).

And as Kasparov fell from grace, another veteran was having an ‘Indian summer’, as 51-year-old Viswanathan Anand rolled back the years to sneak into second-place behind MVL – and the Indian did so by inflicting a double-whammy 2-0 score over his old title partner!

Combined final standings:
1. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, 23/36; 2. Viswanathan Anand, 21; 3. Anish Giri, 20.5; 4-5. Ian Nepomniachtchi, Jan-Krzysztof Duda, 20; 6. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, 19; 7. Alexander Grischuk, 18; 8. Anton Korbov (Ukraine), 15.5; 9. Kasparov/Saric, 12.5; 10. Jorden Van Foreest, 10.5.

Photo: It’s a bad day at the office for Garry Kasparov, as his day ends with yet another humiliating loss | © Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour

 

GM Garry Kasparov – GM Ian Nepomniachtchi
GCT Croatia Blitz, (9)
Queen’s Gambit Declined, Ragozin variation
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Nf3 d5 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Bf4!? There’s nothing wrong with this move per se, but the warrior Kasparov of old wouldn’t hesitate to put the bishop on its more natural square in Ragozin by playing 6.Bg5 to pin the knight. But Kasparov’s rational for playing 6.Bf4 is understandable, as he wants to avoid being hit in a theory-line – and given that he’s no longer a full-time professional player putting the hours of work in , that’s good enough reason for wanting to play 6.Bf4. 6…Ne4! And it only takes Nepo a nanosecond to come up with the correct move – and the follow-ups that leave Kasparov in dire straits. 7.Rc1 Nd7 8.e3?! It looks an innocent enough move, and a natural sort of move one would expect to play in such positions – but as a shocked Kasparov was soon to discover, he simply has to play 8.Nd2! Bxc3 9.bxc3 Qh4! 10.Nxe4 Qxf4 11.Ng3 and take the game from here. 8…g5! With two quick and unlikely brutal caveman pawn thrusts, suddenly Kasparov finds himself in a whole world of hurt. 9.Bg3 h5! 10.Qb3?! It’s a bad day at the office for Kasparov when he can’t – and you really can’t blame him – bring himself to play the move that he doesn’t want to play, namely 10.h3 and just accept that you are grovelling after 10…Nxg3 11.fxg3 c6 12.Bd3 Qe7 etc., as eventually Black will pick off one of the two weak pawns on e3 and g3. That said, Kasparov found a way to keep his bishop and the integrity of his kingside pawns – but at the cost of losing the game! 10…Bxc3+ 11.bxc3 c6 12.Nd2?! It’s just a big oversight from Kasparov – and hands up all those who have all been there and done it! On the surface, it looks like a very clever solution from Kasparov, as his king is safe in the middle of the board protected by his phalanx of pawns, and he’ll have the bishop-pair.  Only there’s a little snafu that sees Kasparov going rapidly downhill with all the velocity of Franz Klammer! 12…Nxd2 13.Kxd2 h4! Kasparov just doesn’t see the danger. 14.Bd6 Qf6! [see diagram] Oops, now he does! And with it, the double attack on the Bd6 and f2 proves fatal. 15.Ba3 Qxf2+ 16.Be2 As disasters go, it really doesn’t look all that bad for Kasparov, being only sans a pawn but with the bishop-pair and Nepo’s king stranded in the middle of the board. But alas, there’s one more blow to come that leaves him in ruins. 16…Nf6! The check on e4 is a cold killer, as with it White’s position will collapse as the e3 pawn falls to further expose Kasparov’s king. 17.Qb4 Ne4+ 18.Kd1 c5! 0-1 A wonderful multi-purpose move that forces Kasparov’s immediate resignation, as it not only stops the mate on e7, it also attacks the White queen, so no time to defend his king, and there’s nothing other than 19.dxc5 Bg4! 20.Rc2 (There’s no defence. After 20.Re1 Bxe2+ 21.Rxe2 Qf1+ 22.Kc2 Qxe2+ 23.Kb1 0-0-0! is easily winning.) 20…Qxg2 21.Re1 0-0 22.Qd4 Rfd8 and with …Rac8 looming, White is barely clinging on to the wreckage of his position. So rather than any more embarrassment and further suffering, Kasparov threw the towel in with his early resignation.

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