Classic Kasparov Returns, Thumps Short in Attacking Blitz
By Brian Jerauld
All eyes on the 1993 World Championship rematch of Kasparov v. Short, both playing in Saint Louis for the first time // Austin Fuller photo
Those pursed lips. The extended chin. That familiar furrowed brow.
All of this recognizable before the clocks had even started.
After 10 long years of retirement, the 13th World Champion of Chess, Garry Kasparov, returned to his old black-and-white stomping grounds Saturday afternoon -- reappearing with a style so familiar, one could question if he had left the game only yesterday. At the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, Kasparov took sides for only the fourth time since 2005, re-emerging for the Battle of the Legends match against his famous foe-turned-friend counterpart, famed English Grandmaster Nigel Short.
Dueling through one Rapid game of chess followed by four Blitz contests, Kasparov fell right back into his animated groove of play -- tossing cursory glances into the air, then feverishly pressing his face through his hands -- and to the fans’ delight, returning to his memorable aggression on the board. Kasparov took a 3.5-1.5 lead over Short in the two-day, ten-game Battle of the Legends match, first settling with a wonderfully fought draw in the Rapid control, then smashing through with victories in three of the four Blitz.
“It’s easy for me to play the sharp game, where I see the straight lines,” Kasparov said. “But when you’re out of practice, it is extremely difficult to play a slow maneuvering game. Nigel was right dragging me into positions where the lack of practice helps -- and you could see that in game three.”
Kasparov returns to form during the fast-paced Blitz play, earning a 3.5-1.5 lead halfway through the inuagural Battle of the Legends // Austin Fuller photo
That third game, the second Blitz contest of the afternoon, revealed perhaps the only sign of rust given from Kasparov’s retirement: forgetting about his old, ticking friend. Intensely focused on seeing through a balanced position, Kasparov seemingly ignored his dwindling clock -- later revealing he felt “disconnected” from it -- and let his final seconds run out to provide Short his only win of the day. Kasparov rebounded with two victories to close the afternoon, however, including the day’s only win with the white pieces in Game 5.
“To be honest, I’ve never played with a delay in my life -- never, in any sort of important game,” Short said of the 5-minute, 3-second delay Blitz time control. “I haven’t quite got the hang of that. Also, I tried a little bit to exploit Garry’s lack of practice, put a little bit of clock pressure on him. It was a conscious idea, but I missed a lot of things. I was disappointed.”
For his part, Short defended wonderfully in the match’s opening Rapid round. In a Bogo-Indian, Short’s early 4...c5 slowed Kasparov for a moment of recall, finally deciding on 5. a3 to earn the bishop pair but a delay in development. He worked his way through, however, with the nifty 10. Nb5.
And by 19. Qg3 and 20. f4, the legendary Kasparov was once again on the attack. Short tried to add complications, centralizing with 20...Nd4 and attacking the white rook with 21...Bc4, but Kasparov ignored the attack, accepting the exchange while continuing to peck away at Black’s castle. Short’s clock fell below 7 minutes before finding 23...Kh8 and, worse, his opponent had found a familiar stance: Intently and aggressively leaning across the board.
Kasparov settles into a familiar stance, returning to his old black-and-white stomping grounds for just the fourth time since 2005 // Austin Fuller photo
England’s former child prodigy held his own down the stretch, however, finding all the right moves in a sharp position that required them. He removed white’s menacing white knight by returning the exchange with 24...Rxd5, then confidently played 26...fxe5 to challenge Kasparov’s dangerously forcing back-rank threat. White fully destroyed black’s castle protection, forcing the black king to cower in the corner, but the bishop pair could not help the queen break through black’s last line of defense. With 41. Qd8+, Kasparov entered into threefold repetition.
GM Garry Kasparov v. GM Nigel Short, Rapid Round 1 // Annotations by GM Alejandro Ramirez
Despite applause from the surrounding fans, Kasparov leapt from the board and looked exasperated to not have found the full point.
“People always ask me if I still play,” he said. “I ask them ‘What do you mean by play?’ For me, playing chess is being fully engaged. You find yourself at a chess set, watched by a lot of people not just here in Saint Louis, but worldwide - there is some pressure.”
He looked comfortably fine when he returned to his seat for Saturday’s first Blitz game, delivering a fine attacking victory with the Black pieces out of a symmetrical English. After castling, Short found himself up a pawn but in an extremely unhappy position - worse after giving up his best piece, the white squared bishop with 17. Bxc6. Kasparov revealed his not-subtle intentions with 20...f5 and by 30...Be5, white was ready to collapse under the pressure.
GM Garry Kasparov v. GM Nigel Short, Blitz Round 1 // Annotations by GM Alejandro Ramirez
The final Blitz game of Saturday left the afternoon with a thrilling cap, seeing Short make a last-second error in a queening race and an otherwise book draw. Kasparov as white found himself with a precarious looking position out of the opening, offering a queen trade with 13. Qxf4 that left him with the bishop pair but also a horribly ugly pawn structure.
A pawn exchange on d4 let the lethal bishop pair loose, and Kasparov’s emphasized 24. Rd6 ushered in a nifty exchange on c6 to hurtle toward endgame. Short soon found himself up a pawn, but his lack of control on the position made it seem he was down a full piece -- realized with 44...Nxe7, sacrificing the knight to eliminate white’s impending queening threat
At this point, Kasparov was below 15 seconds on his clock, while Short enjoyed a full minute -- though it was the Englishman who folded in time pressure.
GM Garry Kasparov v. GM Nigel Short, Blitz Round 4 // Annotations by GM Alejandro Ramirez
Sunday afternoon will bring the exciting conclusion to Battle of the Legends: Kasparov vs. Short, with one more Rapid game and four additional Blitz games to begin at 2:00 p.m. CDT. The games can be viewed live on www.uschesschamps.com, with commentary from Grandmasters Maurice Ashley and Alejandro Ramirez set to begin 10 minutes before the first move.