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Nepomniachtchi Beats Kasparov, Leads After Day 2

Nepomniachtchi Beats Kasparov, Leads After Day 2

While some of his colleagues are impressed by his play, GM Garry Kasparov himself has mixed feelings. The 54-year-old chess legend can definitely still compete with the current top players, as his draws with Levon Aronian and Viswanathan Anand demonstrated. But he lost to Ian Nepomniachtchi, who is in clear first place after day two at the Saint Louis Rapid tournament.

Lead photo: Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.

"I am very impressed! He's playing very well."

Vishy Anand's praise of Kasparov's play over the first six rounds was both honest and revealing. Nobody was really sure (but very curious) how the 13th world champion would do in St. Louis—and that included both his old and new colleagues.

Well, he's doing OK.

Getting good positions in most games, and playing five draws against some of the best players in the world, is indeed not bad at all for someone who hasn't played a serious game for 12 years. Even so, many fans will be disappointed about that one loss against Nepomniachtchi, which put Kasparov, nicknamed "Beast from Baku" in his heyday, on minus-one.

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Five draws and a loss for Kasparov after day two. | Photo: Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.

Levon Aronian's words, at the end of the day, were encouraging: "I am sure that he will win a couple of games because I could see that today he's more aggressive."

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Kasparov arriving in the playing hall for round four against Aronian. | Photo: Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.

It was the Armenian grandmaster who faced Kasparov in the first round of the day, and the fourth of the tournament. It was only the second time that these players met over the board, 13 years after a blitz game in Reykjavik (won by Aronian) that never made it to the databases.

For this special game, Aronian "committed a sin" he had only done once before (in a blitz game in 2015 against Peter Svidler): the London System, with 1.d4 Nf6 2.Bf4. "I promised on different occasions never to play this," he said afterward.

It was definitely an attempt to avoid Kasparov's preparation, which used to be feared in the old days, and is still on a very high level.

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Aronian's 2.Bf4 didn't impress Kasparov much. | Photo: Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.

Aronian felt he was doing OK out of the opening, but then he "forgot about" 12...Qg6. Kasparov got some initiative, which lasted beyond the trade of queens.

In the endgame, Aronian decided to play on a bit, mostly because of his opponent's time deficit. It's a recurring theme in Kasparov's games so far: getting low on time.

Around move 30, Kasparov had about half a minute left on his clock, plus the delay of 10 seconds for each move. Aronian seemed in control but overlooked something. Kasparov: "I managed to create some chances and then he just blundered this pin."

This was about his rook on e5 "positionally pinning" the knight on d5 because taking the rook on c5 would spoil White's structure. That's what happened and shortly after reaching the knight endgame Aronian lost his c5-pawn. "Despite his terrible use of time, Garry's come out pretty as a rose," commentator GM Yasser Seirawan said.

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For a moment it looked like Kasparov was going to win his first game. | Photo: Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.

But then Kasparov allowed the tricky 41.h3+!, which came as a big blow. He shook his head, leaned back, and then smiled. If he had seen this nasty check, he would definitely have played 40...h6 first. Aronian felt it was still a draw; Kasparov said it was winning.

Amazingly, even after 41...Kxh3 42.Nxg5 Black could still try 42...Kg4! 43.Nxh7 b5! trapping the white knight, but that was too much for anyone in the time trouble Kasparov was in (and it's a draw as well).

Aronian to Chess.com about this game: "I played terrible."

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Kasparov was hugely disappointed for missing his chance in this game. | Photo: Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.

Kasparov next faced Ian Nepomniachtchi, who said, "It feels great to play Garry." (The Russian GM also revealed that he played Kasparov online a few times about a decade ago when The Boss played on an anonymous account but "everybody knew it was him.")

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Nepomniachtchi finally got an opportunity to play Kasparov over the board and even won. | Photo: Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.

Demonstrating that he's been following the latest theory, Kasparov went for 5.h4!? against the Grünfeld, to the joy of GM Simon Williams and many other fans.

"As I promised, I played more aggressively. I even played 5.h4 with Nepomniachtchi," Kasparov said at the end of day two. "So, you know, I wanted a big fight. I wanted to entertain everybody."

"Clearly he has something for every game," Nepomniachtchi said to Chess.com about Kasparov's prep, adding that 5.h4 is a line he has analyzed thoroughly for White as well. In fact, he was the one to bring the novelty with 7...Be6, where 7...b5 is normal and played in e.g. Nepomniachtchi(!)-Giri, Beijing 2013.

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Kasparov pondering in one of the sharpest middlegames so far. | Photo: Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.

The critical moment came on move 22, where Kasparov could take on d7 with bishop or pawn. He chose pawn but quickly started regretting it. 

"I hope I can sleep tonight," said Kasparov. "With this d7 square... How could I give up my pawn on e6? The pawn that would have decided the game otherwise."

Naturally, Nepomniachtchi was less pessimistic about Black's chances. Right after the game, when the two players escaped towards the corridor next to the resting area, they exchanged variations in Russian so loudly that arbiter Chris Bird had to close the door. (In his interview with Chess.com, Nepomniachtchi described 22.Bxd7 Nb6 as "very double-edged.")

After that, it was equal but easier to play for Black. Again low on time, and realizing he missed a chance, Kasparov started to play inaccurately and then blundered Black's killing move 35....Re3!.

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A tough blow for Kasparov after missing a chance in the middlegame. | Photo: Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.

Chess.com's interview with Nepomniachtchi, mostly about his win vs Kasparov.

Kasparov's third game, against Vishy Anand, was the most anticipated encounter of the day. After all, the two played a match for the PCA world championship in New York in 1995, and met for the first time in an official game since Kasparov's last tournament, in 2005 in Linares.

He hadn't been upstairs yet, but for this special occasion Polish GM Grzegorz Gajewski, Anand's second, joined his boss in the playing hall. And, also for the first time, Kasparov arrived at the board later than all the other players, only seconds before the start of the round. "I thought I wouldn't be able to play the last game," he said.

Meeting his old rival, Kasparov gave a look that Anand remembered from the past. To Chess.com, the Indian GM described it as an "unfriendly look," but then felt this was too strong. He rephrased: "It was like old times. Like he was saying: 'this is serious, we're not having fun.'"

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Kasparov reminded Anand that this game was as serious as ever. | Photo: Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.

Instead of his usual 6.h3 Najdorf, Anand played 3.Bb5+. "I tried to play a scheme he might not be too familiar with but he held on pretty well."

Twitter went wild when Kasparov played the typical pawn break 19...d5!. Chess photographer David Llada's "Kasparov breaking on d5 like if it's 1995..." was probably referring to the 13th match game in New York.

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22 years later, Anand was no longer the underdog. | Photo: Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.

Again low on time, Kasparov again missed a chance in this game. He admitted he should have played 22...Rc6. "White is in a hell of trouble." He pointed out that White's queen can't go to c3 anymore. "It's highly unpleasant for White. Look at that bishop on e1."

As it went, there were a lot of exchanges, after which White's extra pawn was of no value. A weird situation occurred when the players agreed to a draw (and started whispering variations) when the arbiter forced them to continue the game because they hadn't reached move 30 yet. Rules are rules, even for two living legends.

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On the second attempt, the players reached move 30 and a dead drawn endgame. | Photo: Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.

"It was a nice game," said Anand. "It was the chatting I had missed. We sat and discussed the game, I think 5-10 minutes. He was complaining about his other misses, and so on. It was nice," he told Chess.com. (He had already used up a better quote in his interview with Maurice Ashley: "In the end, we chatted like some World War One veterans.")

Especially on this second day, older chess fans saw much of the Kasparov they knew: his agitated looks, the head shaking after a mistake, the watch that he takes off during play (and tends to put back on when his position is winning). He also tends to look at his opponent a lot, playing the psychological game. It's something today's top players do sometimes, but not as often.

Another thing we have now seen a few times: Kasparov making a move, holding on to the piece, moving it back to the initial square, letting go, thinking for a while, and then making the same move, or another (with the same piece).

He did this for example with 31...Rd7 against Aronian, where, after putting back the rook to d8, he was analyzing with his finger at one point, moving it around quickly from square to square like you might count children at school.

Against Nepomniachtchi, Kasparov was doing what you might call "mouth calisthenics" at move 19, moving his jaw and lips all around.

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Kasparov is as expressive as ever in St. Louis. | Photo: Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.

As said, Aronian is one of the experts who believe that Kasparov might do better tomorrow. "All he needs to do is make his opponents believe he is very slow. That will work."

His argument about Kasparov for doing even better in the blitz: "He will be forced to play faster."

There's a group of three players chasing tournament leader Nepomniachtchi. One of them is Fabiano Caruana, who scored all three possible results in a roller coaster today. 

As always, his game with compatriot Hikaru Nakamura was a great fight. Caruana admitted that he was much worse before his exchange sacrifice on move 56. After lots of adventures and mutual mistakes, the players drew on move 92, making it the longest game of the tournament so far.

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Another great fight between Nakamura and Caruana. | Photo: Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.

Caruana was fortunate in his game with Leinier Dominguez, where he ended up with rook and two pawns vs rook and three pawns. Instead of drawing that, he even got to win it. Chess.com asked him if that made up for not pulling a win in round one. Caruana: "Kind of, yeah."

Another player just behind the leader is Le Quang Liem, a St. Louis resident, and a Webster graduate. (He's playing in one of his first tournaments as a professional since finishing college in May of this year.) Today the Vietnamese grandmaster beat none other than Levon Aronian, who chose the rare-at-this-level Czech Benoni.

The middlegame position became rather crazy, and Le said he wasn't sure who was playing for a win. "When I got a rook on the g-file, I thought I must have some tactic to win the game." There was indeed a nice tactic on move 35.

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A good win for Le vs Aronian. | Photo: Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.

Hikaru Nakamura is also among the players trailing Nepomniachtchi. His win vs David Navara was important for not falling behind too much, assuming he'll be doing well in the blitz.

One critical moment was the tactic on move 14, which yielded Nakamura three pawns for a piece, and later four. The American GM later avoided a move repetition in a tricky position and got rewarded for his fighting. Eventually, Navara lost on time, as the first player to do that in this tournament.

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Nakamura got quite a few pawns for his piece. | Photo: Chess.com/Maria Emelianova.

It was another hot day of chess, with Kasparov in the house. Literally, in fact. Due to some issues with the air conditioning, spectators couldn't stay in the playing hall for long, as the temperature was getting too high.

Whatever happens, chess fans are going to enjoy the remaining three days. As for Kasparov himself: "I'm going to have fun and just hopefully...if I would get a winning position, I would not blunder again."

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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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FM Mike Klein contributed to this report.


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