Garry Kasparov, world champion for 15 years and still the all-time No 1 in the eyes of many chess fans, lost crucial games by blunder and time forfeit as he was beaten in his latest cameo comeback, the Champions Showdown, at Saint Louis this week.
The 56-year-old’s game proved too error-prone and too slow to handle random starting positions combined with one-hour rapid and 10-minute blitz against the current world No 2, Fabiano Caruana. Kasparov lost 5-1 in rapid, though the score flattered Caruana, who benefited from a blunder and a time forfeit in two winning positions for his opponent.
Kasparov retired from full-time chess in 2005, planning a career in Russian politics and a challenge to Vladimir Putin which failed badly. His 2014 bid to unseat Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the eccentric head of the global chess body Fide, was also easily defeated. Kasparov has since found his niche by combining work as an international speaker on Russian affairs with helping the billionaire Rex Sinquefield, who bankrolls many events in Saint Louis as well as the Grand Tour tournament circuit.
Starting in 2017, Sinquefield persuaded Kasparov to compete in special speed events against current elite grandmasters. The first occasion was a significant success, as Kasparov took on America’s top trio of Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura and Wesley So. He held his own comfortably and could have won the tournament if he had converted his favourable positions.
Kasparov lost his 2018 Champions Showdown match with his old rival Veselin Topalov, using random starting positions, 14.5-11.5 despite winning the final two games. So it was a surprise that this year’s match was against the formidable Caruana. A decisive moment came as early as the second rapid game, where Kasparov had a winning position only to make the fatal blunder in this week’s puzzle.
He did better in blitz, but with rapid counting double Caruana had a winning 14.5-3.5 margin at the start of Thursday’s final eight blitz games. The 2018 world title challenger benefited from another disaster where Kasparov overstepped in a winning position.
“I can fight all opponents, but not age. Time is the most powerful opponent none of us can beat. I’m actually quite happy with what I did today,” said Kasparov after the second day.
Chess with variable starting positions is becoming more mainstream and potentially more marketable. Known as “Fischer Random” from Bobby Fischer who first popularised it, the name changed to Chess 960 (the number of possible starting positions) 20 years ago when annual tournaments began, The Saint Louis organisers have copyrighted the name as Chess 9LX.
Will Kasparov return again in 2020 after such a heavy defeat? He explained that he prefers 9LX because he does not need to prepare before the tournament, but his blunders and slow play speak otherwise. In 2017 he relied on his trusted Sicilians and King’s Indians from 20 years ago and they still worked against well-prepared opponents.
While one legend was suffering in Saint Louis, another is on the brink of a special success in Torquay. GM Keith Arkell is poised for what may be a unique record in a traditional tournament: After seven of the nine rounds of the Paignton Premier at Torquay, he led with 5.5/7, ahead of his nearest rival by 1.5. First prize would be his 25th victory in this, the Devon county annual tournament, in 27 attempts. Arkell wins many games by classic and simple chess, as here from round two this year.
Paignton used to be played at Oldway Mansion, the Versailles-style home of the Singer sewing machine family. In its inaugural year in 1951, Harry Golombek won, defeating the former world champion Max Euwe from a pawn down. A popular feature was a putting green immediately outside the playing hall, so that you could improve your golf while waiting for your opponent’s move.
The tournament is named the Ron Bruce Premier in memory of a Devon stalwart who once played and lost to two world champions in a single day. That was at Plymouth 1938, where Bruce lost to the world woman champion Vera Menchik in round two in the morning then to Alexander Alekhine in the evening: 1 e4 c6 2 Nc3 d5 3 Nf3 dxe4 4 Nxe4 Bf5 5 Ng3 Bg6 6 h4 h6 7 Ne5 Bh7 8 Qh5 g6 9 Bc4 e6 10 Qe2 Nf6 11 Nxf7! Kxf7 12 Qxe6+ 1-0
3635 1…Bxb2?? 2 Qxb2?? Rb3 wins, but Caruana played 2 Rc5! Qb4 3 Rxa5+ Kb6 4 Ra4 Qb3 5 Qxb2 1-0