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Kasparov 'Survives' While 4 Others Surge To Top

Kasparov 'Survives' While 4 Others Surge To Top

Never have chess fans been so eager to see all draws. GM Garry Kasparov didn't mind them either.

"Unlike 20 years ago, I was happy with three draws," he said at the end of a day that left him tired.

Lead Photo: Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.

After three half-points in as many games in day one of his return at the St. Louis Blitz and Rapid, Kasparov isn't the leader. Neither is he far behind after coming out his 12-year retirement.

"I was quite pleased with my performance," Kasparov said. "My plan was to survive day one."

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Short-sleeved, watch-less, and jacket-less, GM Garry Kasparov must not have wanted anything encumbering him today. Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.

He survived, even if he didn't exactly thrive. Game one was another all-Russian "K vs. K" battle, but GM Sergey Karjakin has long since supplanted traditional Kasparov rival GM Anatoly Karpov. Kasparov neither pressed nor was under too much duress.

Game two was more shaky, as he squandered a noticeable advantage but held after a directional endgame mistake by GM Hikaru Nakamura. Game three didn't disrupt the streak as GM Leinier Dominguez's isolated queen pawn, the only positional imbalance, was swapped off for a third draw by the 13th world champion.

"I was not happy I had two Whites today," Kasparov said. "My plan was to play very solid."

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Since GM Maurice Ashley called GM Hikaru Nakamura a "bear," then with Kasparov showing his teeth this must be the "The Revenant" Attack. Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.

It's not common in reporting to ignore the leaders, but the Kasparov name is the asterisk of chess. He trails four other players, all by a half-point.

Three of the four leaders on 2.0/3 went the opposite way of Kasparov and played no draws. GM Levon Aronian, GM Fabiano Caruana, and GM Le Quang Liem all scored two wins and one loss as they collectively accounted for two-thirds of the day's wins. GM Ian Nepomniachtchi joined them 2.0/3 with a more "traditional" super-GM method: one win and two draws.

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Well look at who came out to play! Image: 2700chess.com.

Perhaps the balanced reporting and crowd attention will begin during day two, but today Kasparov's trio of games superseded the others.

Even top-class players focused on one man.

In round one, Kasparov admitted he was "quite worse and I had less time" against Karjakin. As you might expect after such a long hiatus, his form and confidence have yet to build back up to his prior levels.

Particularly worrying was his 10 minute, 55 second-think on move 18. In his heyday, Kasparov wouldn't normally spend 40 percent of his time on one move (time control: G/25 with a 10-second delay).

"I had to adjust myself to the atmosphere," he said, adding that even yesterday he was in a "very nervous state."

Game two pitted Kasparov against one-time student Nakamura. Most of the field hedged about Kasparov's expected placement. Not Nakamura. Although Nakamura's prediction wasn't exactly strident, he did say that it would be unlikely for Kasparov to win (and that he'd put the odds at 3-1 against him finishing last).

The game unearthed the best chances for Kasparov of the opening day.

"Garry has said that he hasn't been doing anything different than before retiring," Nakamura said to Chess.com prior to their game. "We all know that's not true."

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The photo shows the final move of the game, with Nakamura promoting to a queen. Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.

Nakamura had said he preferred to play Kasparov later in the rapid event to get a sense of his openings and his form. That didn't happen. The first moves did end up problematic, but for Nakamura.

"This opening has been a disaster for Hikaru,” commentator GM Yasser Seirawan said. Indeed, White's pieces had trouble finding useful squares while Kasparov registered the only bishops on the board by move 15.

Afterward, Kasparov spoke in similar terms: "His position looked very dubious."

No argument from Nakamura's camp. Longtime second NM Kris Littlejohn, spotted pre-round with Nakamura in front of a laptop at the adjoining cafe, said they had their plan ready and were merely reviewing things.

"Probably the wrong things!" Littlejohn said as the opening unfolded.

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The hot sauce opening? GM Hikaru Nakamura and NM Kris Littlejohn review their plans in the short interregnum between games. Chess.com/Mike Klein.

GM Maurice Ashley's years of watching Nakamura play offered him the most prescience.

"But [Nakamura's] like a bear that’s hard to bring down,” Ashley said after the meek retreat 12. Ng1.

"His pieces just crumbled in the center," Kasparov said. 

Then after allowing the blockading formation of knights on b3 and d4, Kasparov said his sacrifice on a7 was "totally crazy" and came about after he was "mesmerized by the two bishops" in trying to force a win.

In his recent MasterClass taping, Kasparov cited the beauty and the importance of the ending, which was never more on full display than here.

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The newly retired and the momentarily un-retired. The first move was played by the former NFL player John Urschel (middle). Kasparov has a laugh while club director Tony Rich explains to Urschel about the "zero tolerance" rule used in some events. Yet another "innovation" Kasparov never had to face (it's not in use at Grand Chess Tour events). Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.

Game three showed what might be twin concerns for the legend -- strong home preparation by his opponents and late afternoon fatigue. Prior to his game against Dominguez, Kasparov admitted to tiredness, then also had to deal with what he presumed was a novelty, 16...Ne6.

"I faced very, very precise preparation," Kasparov said. "It's a forced draw."

Indeed, the knight assisted with the strategic liquidation ...d4. As is often the case when Black can successfully advance his IQP, any hint of a White advantage was gone.

Kasparov dutifully came downstairs for an on-air interview, but the club went to extraordinary lengths not even afforded GM Magnus Carlsen to shield Kasparov from fans and the press. He spent the short break between rounds in a closed-door office, and entered by a back door.

In round two, organizers may have sensed the crowd was on to them. They produced a novelty: After Kasparov exited the playing hall via a back fire escape, Kasparov entered the club via a second, different back door.

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GM Garry Kasparov paces while waiting to be let in the back door. Chess.com/Mike Klein.

Following his stint on the commentary, Kasparov left the club for good via a hidden egress leading from the club's basement. With no media interviews granted by the club prior to the tournament, the three questions from the press at the opening ceremony comprise the entirety of Kasparov's interaction with independent media.

Chess fans can look past that at a full day of highlights from other players. Round one's most scintillating moment came from a Grand Chess Tour first-timer. Le was an alternate in the 2013 Sinquefield Cup, but otherwise had never played a high-level event at the St. Louis Chess Club despite going to college at Webster University a few miles away.

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The new college graduate GM Le Quang Liem, under the radar no longer. Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.

The 2013 world blitz champion went from a computer evaluation of around -6 to checkmating Caruana, all in one quick, time-dwindling series.

"Somehow he missed this 49. Rd7 idea, which gave me some counterplay," Le said. "I would be happy with a draw."

As it turns out, the game loosely reminded of Caruana's loss to GM Varuzhan Akobian in the same room at the 2017 U.S. Championship -- completely winning, then getting his king bottled up.

"I was very lucky," Le told Chess.com. "I must be losing. This is a very lucky win."

He said the luck continued in round three in a precise endgame with Nakamura. In yet another bishop-battling-pawn endgame, this time Nakamura had the defensive task, but made a late slip after recovering at one point from a lost ending. Once again, the king direction was the key.

Besides Le's adventurous endgames, other flashy contests came from Aronian. In the opening game, his opponent pretty much made him sacrifice.

"It's clear that if I remove the knight (on move 19), then Black is just fine," Aronian said. "I was searching for a way to sacrifice the knight...Probably in a long game I would think for much longer."

"Levon’s wearing a very colorful shirt and he’s playing a very colorful game," GM Robert Hess said. 

In round two, Aronian tried another blistering kingside attack but it failed, giving Nepomniachtchi his lone win. Still, Aronian came back to win in round three as Ashley called him an "artist."

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GM Levon Aronian's must be trying to emulate his French friend by riding a full beard to the top. Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.

Despite the multiple piece offerings in the first round, Aronian was chatting about his second win more. Was it a compliment or a dig at the recent Sinquefield Cup champ?

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Open up the magazine. Maybe your name will be in it! Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.

Caruana recovered from his opening-round debacle to win the last two games. First he beat the luckless GM David Navara in round two, then he demolished Karjakin in round three.

This wasn't much of a struggle -- Caruana brought his pieces over to the black king while the a-file counterplay was punchless and ineffectual.

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Graphics courtesy Spectrum Studios.

Kasparov's card tomorrow features two leaders: Aronian, Nepomniachtchi, and GM Viswanathan Anand.

Aronian told Chess.com that he agreed with Nakamura -- it's better to play Kasparov later in the event.

"It's clear that Garry hasn't played in a while and you want to see what he's prepared in his openings," Aronian said.

You can follow the games live at Chess.com/Live and watch the live broadcast at Chess.com/TV with commentary by GM Yasser Seirawan, GM Maurice Ashley and WGM Jennifer Shahade. Games start every day at 1 p.m. local time (11 a.m. Pacific, 2 p.m. Eastern, 8 p.m. CET).

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Games from TWIC.


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