Kasparov's Ultimate Ending?
Septuagenarian Rex Sinquefield, one of the biggest St. Louis Cardinals fans, has seen many of his favorite team's 11 World Series Game Sevens. Today he got to play one of his own.
With the "Ultimate Moves" team battle knotted at 3-3 between his and his son's GM-laden squads, the original procedure called for a tie. After some discussion, the teams reconvened for an impromptu game seven.
Cover photo: Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.
Whereas in the first six games players alternated after five moves each, in this deciding game, chairs were redundant. Players only made one move before slinking off to the back of the line. Players chose to stand rather than sit.
After a tense battle, a familiar ending: One of the Sinquefields lost due to his family's namesake move.
Team Randy, or more accurately, Randy Sinquefield himself, advanced his pawn to a8 in a winning position, but hit the clock before replacing it with a piece. This is just about the only illegal promotion left on the rulebooks, and arbiters correctly ruled the game lost.
Rex vs. Randy Sinquefield: The most watched father-son battle in chess. | Photo: Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.
Even before today's incident, the procedural error has been dubbed "The Sinquefield Move" and now that nickname appears here to stay.
Rex lost a game in the exact same way several years ago at the same event. The move is apparently hereditary.
"We've been working on it for years," a chagrined Randy said, turning toward his father. "He taught me that. I perfected it."
"Team Randy" consisted of Randy Sinquefield, Fabiano Caruana, Garry Kasparov, Vishy Anand, David Navara, Le Quang Liem and Rachael Li, the 7-year-old sister of GM Ruifeng Li. "Team Rex" consisted of Rex Sinquefield, Levon Aronian, Hikaru Nakamura, Sergey Karjakin, Ian Nepomniachtchi, Lenier Dominguez and former member of the Baltimore Ravens and current PhD student at MIT, John Urschel.
The original format was best of six games, with Rex and Randy starting, playing five moves each, the next moves played by Caruana and Aronian, and so on; each player in the team roster played five consecutive moves before giving way to one of their teammates. The time control was five minutes plus a five-second increment.
Already in the first game Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz winner did his best to live up to his reputation as one of the best trash talkers. "I was trying not to play the best moves but I just can’t help it, it comes automatically!" Aronian said.
At some point the game saw a move repetition, which prompted Anand to ask: "Is there a 30-move rule?" Kasparov quickly explained: "With a triple repetition it doesn't matter!"
GM Garry Kasparov exults against GM Leinier Dominguez upon taking over after his team's 1...e5 2...b6 opening combo. | Photo: Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.
When team Randy lost a piece, Caruana didn't immediately throw in the towel. Kasparov, who was next: "Do you want me to resign?" (And so he did.)
Team Rex took a 2-0 lead after dominating the second game from the very start. Especially Randy's second move was frowned upon, and Nakamura saw the upside of that: "It's awesome to see the look on Garry's face. I don't think he's ever seen this opening before!"
Kasparov and GM Hikaru Nakamura after a game ends. | Photo: Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.
With mate to appear on the board, Nepomniachtchi acted as thought it was still a tense struggle, and took his time to make the very obvious winning move. Later he would say: "I think I am the man who made the point!"
Rex stayed faithful to his 2...g6 Sicilian in game three, and Randy more or less repeated his opening moves too. Karjakin, who was a spectator this time, said: "Now our only problem with this position is that it's very similar to my game with Carlsen and that didn't go great for me. But I think the team will do much better."
It was Team Randy who was successful this time with Li making some critical moves vs Urschel. Kasparov clearly approved of the young girl's play.
The biggest (size) mismatch in chess? Seven-year-old Rachael Li against former NFL player John Urschel. Li outrated him by about 200 points (1800 to 1600). | Photo: Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.
Team Rex took a 3-1 lead in the very next game, despite the fact that Randy Sinquefield was playing the opening much better. Rumor had it that he had received some advice from a certain 13th world champion. Aronian didn't mince words: "I think they should try dominoes, or some other game."
GM Levon Aronian psychoanalyzes the position while his teammates look on. | Photo: Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.
Games five and six were must-wins for Team Randy, and they managed to deliver. First, in another Closed Sicilian kind of opening, Rex decided to give up the queen for just two minor pieces early on. Nakamura held spirits high: "The two pieces are much stronger than the queen. The position is just so beautiful."
GM David Navara -- the man who unexpectedly spurred Kasparov's future return to chess? | Photo: Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.
Game six saw Randy going for 3...Bg4 in the Philidor, and luckily his father wasn't aware of a Paul Morphy classic. White did win a pawn early on, after which Kasparov called the opening the "Saint Louis Gambit." Aronian: "Actually he's playing the Benko!" In what was quite a tense game, Rex flagged, and so the 3-3 was on the score board.
Kasparov discusses strategy with GM Fabiano Caruana. | Photo: Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.
The original plan was to end things there, but after an ad hoc meeting took place, an unexpected seventh game was created, allowing Rex to live out a game-seven sporting fantasy.
For the record, the Cardinals are 8-3 in their franchise's long history of World Series game sevens. And now the superfan with a luxury box in right field has a deciding final-game win of his own.
All that remained was one final round of short speeches. For the fourth time this month, players gathered at the World Chess Hall of Fame, this time for the last closing ceremony. Two issues lingered: Aronian's closing comments, and Kasparov's final reflections.
Aronian has had a lot to smile about in 2017, with several tournament wins. | Photo: Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.
"I'm relieved it's over," Kasparov said. "It's the end of my chess vacation.
"In my 12 years I lost touch with professional chess. Here, I reconnected...I'm happy I took this risk."
Kasparov hedged ever so slightly on the big question of the night. | Photo: Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.
The $64,000 question: Was this for sure the last time he'd play rated chess? Although he insisted pre-tournament that he absolutely intended this to be a one-and-done, a few cracks in the party line occurred.
First, he reiterated how much that one rapid loss hurt him: "For the rest of my life I will have a Navara moment."
And would he double down on his retirement insistence? "Never say never," Kasparov began, to the cheers of the crowd. Then he added even more hope by saying, "If it happens, it could only happen here in St. Louis."
As for the winner, Aronian joked that he also gave some incentive for Kasparov to return. "Keeping good score with Garry, I should give motivation to come back," Aronian said.
The winning shot. Left to right: Dr. Jeanne Sinquefield, Rex Sinquefield, GM Levon Aronian, County Executive Steve Stenger.
He said his turnaround from a sub-par 2016 came from better balancing of creativity and pragmatism in his play. Also, there's that bit about his upcoming wedding.
"Starting a new family requires a lot of positive emotion and financial support," he said.
Peter Doggers contributed to this report.