Kasparov Came, Lost and Recovered

Though Maxime Vachier-Lagrave received the praise he deserved for his splendid victory in the Sinquefield Cup tournament in St. Louis, it seemed as if he would only have his proverbial 15 minutes of fame, as a few days later all attention in St. Louis and on the internet went to Garry Kasparov, who would take part in a five-day rated rapid and blitz tournament.

On the first day especially, all the other competitors – Carlsen, to his regret, was not present – were relegated to the status of extras. I must confess that I too was gripped by the scenario of the return of the exiled king, and that during or after every round, I looked at Kasparov’s games first. Then came Levon Aronian and sometimes I had enough strength left, late in the Dutch evening, to spend some time on the other games.

In reply to a remark of Hikaru Nakamura, Kasparov had twittered that it was not his ambition to win the tournament. Tempering unrealistic expectations was something he was wont to do also during his active career. And there was more that reminded us of the past. The facial contortions, that with modern unobtrusive cameras could be captured much better than in the old days when photographers, during classical tournaments, were banned after the first five minutes of the round. Now I could see an almost frightening close up of Kasparov in full action, where it really seemed as if he wanted to put his teeth into his opponent.

Just as in old times, there was the watch that was taken off at the start of the game and would be put on again when Kasparov felt that he was clearly winning. As an English judge would put on a black cap before pronouncing a death sentence. But this last part of the ritual could not be effected during the rapid tournament. Kasparov lost three games and won only one, when the Vietnamese Le Quam Liem suddenly put a full rook en prise. No time to put on the watch before taking that rook.

The rapid tournament was won by Aronian, who also won the most beautiful game. It can be seen in the game viewer.

A Duty to Sacrifice

An interesting remark from Aronian afterwards was that his piece sacrifice had been forced, as otherwise he would have no advantage.

This way of thinking I knew from our Dutch world champion Max Euwe: “I’m White. So far I think that I have made no mistake. If I don’t sacrifice I have no advantage at all. So, by logical reasoning, the sacrifice is forced and must be correct.”

And also from Kasparov, when I watched him during post-mortems at Dutch tournaments. “Now I must sacrifice, or I will lose,” he used to say. This was not literally true, but it showed his attitude.

The most extreme example I found in a German edition of a chess manual for the average player by David Bronstein, Bronsteins Schachlehre, published by Sportverlag Berlin, where he wrote that after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6, the piece sacrifice 4.Nxf7 was forced.

Forced? This must have been written tongue in cheek. In another fine book by Bronstein, 200 Open Games, he recommends that we try 4.Nxf7, but also confesses that he himself only tried it once in a simul in the Netherlands, with great effect.

Thinking Too Precisely on th’ Event

In the rapid games Kasparov had often played impressively well, but his time management had been horrible. He seemed obsessed, in Shakespeare’s words, by “some craven scruple of thinking too precisely on th’ event.” Half-jokingly he twittered after the rapid tournament that blitz would prove to be the senior citizen’s game.

This seemed reasonable, as in a blitz game one cannot indulge too much in thinking too precisely on the event.

Even in the blitz tournament, Kasparov was sometimes seen thinking for more than a minute on one move, and occasionally he was punished for it, but all in all he did much better than in the rapid games. He also played the most impressive blitz game, and that too can be seen in our game viewer.

In that game, it is not easy to pinpoint Dominguez’s mistakes. To me, it seems as if he was pushed from the board by an irresistible higher power.

The combined rapid and blitz tournament was won by Aronian, who wrote on his Facebook page that he had also won a higher prize. He announced his marriage with his longtime companion Arianne Caoili by quoting the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 13): “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.”

Beautiful words. May the union of this couple be blessed.

Click here for Aronian Navara, St. Louis 2017 and Dominguez-Kasparov, St. Louis 2017