Kasparov Closes Battle in Saint Louis with 5-0 Sweep of Short

By Brian Jerauld

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Kasparov, defending with his trademark Najdorf Sicilian, was too strong for Short in Rapid Round 2 // Austin Fuller photo

And just like that, Garry Kasparov has left the building.

Though his appearance was brief, returning to the board for only two days and 10 games in his Battle of the Legends match against Nigel Short, while he was here Kasparov made certain to leave nothing on the table.

No missed opportunities. Not many of Short’s pieces. And certainly, no doubt.

Convincing enough on Saturday, emerging from the first day with a two-point lead, Kasparov reminded the world who he is on Sunday at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis. Though retired for a decade, the greatest chess player in history completely dismantled Short -- still active, as the world’s No. 60 player -- with a stunning 5-0 sweep of the afternoon. The brutal end of the lopsided 8.5-1.5 match, which featured him flagging for a loss on day one to raise concerns about rust collecting on the 13th World Champion of Chess, instead reminded everyone: Gold does not rust.

“I feel great, and I have to confess: I'm also surprised,” Kasparov said of his toppling victory. “I felt like it was time to play as I had played 20 or 30 years ago: Just have fun -- and attack, attack. So I did it in every game, and it worked.”

Indeed, at 52 years old on Sunday, Kasparov looked like the player of yesteryear, showcasing five games worth of devastating attacks that left the bout looking less like a mismatch, and more like he was simply running up the score. Ironically Sunday’s first game -- the day’s only to feature a longer Rapid time control -- was the only game to reach a fantastic race in time pressure, while the remaining four Blitz games featured lopsided crushes, each of them worse than the last.

“I think I had chances in that first game -- and then things started to go from bad to worse,”Short said. “By the last game, I didn't see anything at all. I didn’t see a single move."

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The only points Short earned came in Day 1. His only victory came when Kasparov flagged in Blitz Round 2 // Austin Fuller photo

Sunday’s opening Rapid game was a nostalgic chess fan’s delight, as Kasparov with the black pieces defended in his trademark Najdorf Sicilian. His lash out with 13...h4...h5 helped to tear open white’s kingside protection, while his exchange sacrifice at 16...Rxc3 collapsed the center and ravaged white’s pawn structure.

Through a middlegame with variations plentiful and wild, Short held the material advantage extremely well, using the recapture at 21. cxd5 to repair his structure and temporarily hold black’s compensation attack at bay. The move left Kasparov stalled, head shaking in frustration as his clock fell below six minutes, and finally deciding on the innocuous 22...a5. Short responded with a quick 23. Rc1, further solidifying his position.

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If there were any questions about Kasparov's form in Day 1, classic Kasparov showed up for Day 2 to put them all to rest // Austin Fuller photo

But Short gave up a nearly five minute clock advantage before deciding on 24. Qb3, and his 26. f4! triggered the blitz fireworks in a fantastically complex endgame.

GM Nigel Short v. GM Garry Kasparov, Rapid Round 2 // Annotation by GM Alejandro Ramirez

After collapsing in the rapid Rapid endgame, Short was rolled over with each of the four passing Blitz games.

“Unfortunately, chess is a sport, and you need energy -- and that’s what was completely lacking in my own game,” said Short, who won the Thailand Open last week but reported a suffering from jet lag in Saint Louis. “Actually, I felt my energy going down throughout this match. I just didn’t arrive in good physical condition."

In Sunday’s second Blitz game, Short steered clear of more Kasparov Najdorf hijinx, the game turning into a Classic Sicilian. By 13...Qa5, Kasparov was on the attack again, shocking Short with a quickly played 15...e4 that sent white’s army into disarray.

GM Nigel Short v. GM Garry Kasparov, Blitz Round 6 // Annotation by GM Alejandro Ramirez

Short was all-but looking for the exit by the match’s tenth and final game, body language indicating that he had seen better days. He desperately tried to slow the afternoon onslaught down into a positional battle, but Kasparov continued to pour it on. Black’s castling on the 14th move allowed white the central break with 15. e4, but Kasparov’s response of 15...c5 turned the game on a sharper blade and rocked Short back in his seat.

Under kingside duress already, Short sent his queen away hunting pawns with 24. Qxd5+, while Kasparov’s queen slipped in through the back door. The legend brought the match to a close with a menacing attack, ending the vicious afternoon with a fitting finish: Checkmate on the board.

GM Nigel Short v. GM Garry Kasparov, Blitz Round 8 // Annotation by GM Alejandro Ramirez

“He’s the greatest player in chess history, in my opinion,” Short said. “He had a much longer reign than Bobby Fischer -- Bobby probably burned brighter for a shorter period of time, but Garry just kept on winning and winning for many, many years.”