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Kasparov: What Went Wrong?

Kasparov: What Went Wrong?

The St. Louis rapid and blitz tournament was definitely the most anticipated chess event of the year. Even people who remember chess only when they see a puzzle in the Sunday column of their local newspaper were intrigued.

Indeed, the return of Kasparov after 12 years of hiatus was an attempt to defy the laws of nature.

Some 2,500 years ago the Greek philosopher Heraclitus coined the famous phrase: "You cannot step twice into the same river." His meaning? Change is the only unchangeable thing in this world. 

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Image via Pinterest. 

The Internet was abuzz and the typical discussion on the forums went like this:

— It is Kasparov we are talking about!

— True, but he didn't play in official tournaments for 12 years!

— But it is still Kasparov!!

— But it is 12 years!!

— If we could move Kasparov from 12 years ago into today's tournament he would rip apart everyone!

— His openings would be outdated anyway...

— Who are you to judge Kasparov's openings?

And true to the nature of Internet debates, at this point the chess part of the conversation was usually over, and to mutual delight the parties would call each other idiots.

My personal forecast for the event was that Kasparov would score somewhere around +1 but my hidden hope was that if Kasparov got a tailwind he would finish in the top three.

Boy, was I wrong! So, what went wrong?

I need to start with the general nature of such comebacks. The first major comeback happened in 1992 when Bobby Fischer decided to play after 20 years of inactivity! 

While Fischer confidently won the match (17.5-12.5), it was a true Pyrrhic victory, which completely ruined his legacy. You see, for my generation Fischer was chess God. His moves were way above the level of us, mere mortals. Who would forget the trade that shook the world?

The rematch Fischer-Spassky practically didn't bring anything new to the chess world. Since Fischer encountered his old opponent, both of them played the same kind of chess and you could almost smell a mothball odor. Indeed, Spassky was losing like it was 1970s.

Compare to this famous game:

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And Spassky was winning like the disco ball and the lava lamp were still all the rage:

Compare to the following classical game:

As you can see, when the re-match Fischer-Spassky was played, most of its games were from the category "every Russian schoolboy must know it." It would have been very interesting to see a match Fischer vs. a top player from the new generation and they even tried to arrange a match vs. Judit Polgar, but at the last moment Fischer backtracked.

You see, Fischer can be called schizophrenic, lunatic, whatever, but he was not a fool! He clearly saw that such a match could have easily turned into a massacre, so he wisely decided to avoid a direct confrontation with the new generation of top players and instead kept talking about the world conspiracy with all the  pre-arranged games and matches. 

I knew very well that in Kasparov's case it was going to be very different and we would see modern chess rather than a flashback. It is precisely why the legendary Viktor "the Terrible" Korchnoi was dangerous well into his 70s: because he kept working on chess till the very last day of his life and his game evolved.

Therefore even when Korchnoi played grandmasters who could be his grandchildren age-wise, he played their kind of chess, rather than the chess of his youth.

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Photo: Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.

Indeed, just as I expected, Kasparov didn't try to step into that old river of the past. His play in the tournament was absolutely modern and you could never say just by looking at the moves that it was played by a retired person.

Judge for yourself:


Unfortunately, the quality of his play didn't transform into points and, to put it mildly, his final result was not exactly what he was hoping for. So what went wrong? For anyone who followed the tournament the answer is absolutely clear: Kasparov's time management was absolutely horrible.

He was behind his opponents most of the time and he even managed to set a sad record in the game vs. GM Liem when at some point he had less than four minutes vs. 22 minutes of his opponent!

What's the root of the problem? If Kasparov's opening preparation, calculations skills and the general understanding of the game are still sky high, how come he was so slow? Is it his age? Does it mean that we'll never see Kasparov at the top of the cross table when he plays young top guys?

We'll discuss all these questions in next week's article. 

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