The Greatest Chess Game Of All Time Explained - Kasparov vs. Topalov, 1999
Do you agree that Kasparov vs. Topalov, 1999 is the greatest chess game in history?

The Greatest Chess Game Of All Time Explained - Kasparov vs. Topalov, 1999

SamCopeland
NM SamCopeland
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Can there ever be a consensus when the word "greatest" is used? Start a conversation about the greatest chess player ever or the greatest player of any sport, and you will get 15 opinions from 10 people. Still, the chess world is pretty unanimous that Garry Kasparov's 1999 victory against Veselin Topalov is the greatest chess game of all time.

The setting, the players, the game, and the variations unseen all contribute to this game's stature. Garry Kasparov had been relatively inactive after his 1997 defeat by the IBM engine Deep Blue, and discussions about a world championship match with Alexei Shirov had fallen through. Anand was making rating gains on Kasparov and seemed due for a rematch against Kasparov that many he thought he might win.

In this setting, Kasparov's 1999 is even more impressive. He kicked things off with Wijk aan Zee where he won his masterpiece against Topalov and won the tournament with a record score. The rest of 1999 was equally impressive, with a huge victory at Linares and undefeated performances at Sarajevo and Siemens, allowing Kasparov to reach a record rating of 2851, a mark not equaled until Carlsen surpassed it 14 years later in 2013.

The game features an incredible rook sacrifice on move 24 that Topalov *should* have turned down, but once the sacrifice was accepted, Kasparov was able to launch a king hunt that hinged on a breathless cascade of sacrificial checkmating ideas.

Lessons:

  • Defending dubious openings can be a risky proposition.
  • The defender's task is usually harder.
  • You should be optimistic when you can separate your opponent's king from his forces.

I've annotated the game below. Even though I've seen this game numerous times over the years and there is a TON of great analysis available on the game, it was enormously rewarding to review all the main lines and sub-variations again with a modern engine. You never really know a rich game like this until you try to explain it yourself.

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