Kasparov in St. Louis: a closer look

by Marco Baldauf
8/24/2017 – In 2005 Garry Kasparov, World Champion from 1985 to 2000 and arguably the best player of all times, withdrew from tournament chess. At the Grand Chess Tour Rapid- and Blitz Tournament in Saint Louis in August 2017 he dared a comeback and played a serious tournament again. His final score of 13.0/27 indicates that he was not as dominant as he used to be - but how good did he play, how good was his opening repertoire and did he miss chances? Let's take a closer look. | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Beyond the numbers

Garry Kasparov's return to the tournament arena was not a complete success: in the Rapid Tournament he scored 4.0/9 and in the Blitz Tournament he scored 9.0/18. In both tournaments he finished in the middle of the field and never had a serious chance to become first or finish at the very top.

Garry Kasparov during his comeback

But the numbers require an interpretation. After all, the most interesting question was not whether Kasparov would win the tournament but whether Kasparov could still compete with some of the world's best players after his long absence from tournament chess. Here are some observations and reflections.

Theoretically on the highest level

When Kasparov was still active Vishy Anand was one of his great rivals. In 1995 Anand lost a World Championship match against Kasparov - it was played in New York on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center. Before the tournament in St. Louis Anand said that Garry would not come empty-handed to St. Louis. Anand was right.

Kasparov did not shy away from theoretical duels - markedly so in the rapid games. With White he often went for the main lines of the Classical Nimzo-Indian (4.Qc2). In the very first he already indicated his ambitions:


Against the main move 4...0-0 Kasparov played 5.a3 and went for the main line in which he came up with 9.h4!? - a crazy novelty which he tried in no less than three blitz games.


Vishy Anand, Levon Aronian and Hikaru Nakamura all had to face Kasparov's 9.h4.

Kasparov's novelty proved successful: in all three games Kasparov secured an advantage. He might have been particularly pleased with the way in which the opening went against Hikaru Nakamura. After the provocative 11.h5 h6 Kasparov had the chance to push the g-pawn ahead too:


Playing against 1.e4 with Black Kasparov trusted his old weapon, the Najdorf Sicilian. But most of his opponents seemed to be unwilling to discuss the sharp main lines of this opening: in both of his games with White Anand opted for 3.Bb5+ and Caruana even went for the closed Sicilian which he had already tried against Nepomniachtchi in the third round of the Sinquefield Cup. The Open Sicilian occurred only in three games by Kasparov.


After all, the MegaBase 2017 contains only one game in which Kasparov was confronted with 6.h3. When Kasparov was still playing tournament chess this seemingly modest move was not considered a real option, but today one can almost see it as one of the main lines.

In both of his games against 6.h3 Kasparov went for 6...e6. Against Navara Kasparov played ultra-aggressively, not shying away from sacrifices, against Dominguez Perez he chose a strategic option which brought him a fine victory - more about this later...



With Black Kasparov was faithful to his old favorites, the Najdorf and the Grünfeld, but with White his repertoire was more flexible. In his 14 games with White he opened seven times with 1.d4, six times with 1.e4 and once with 1.c4. After 1.d4 he stuck to the lines of his choice, particularly so in regard to the Nimzo-Indian with 4.Qc2 which he played in six games. When he opened with 1.e4 he showed more variety. Against Caruana's French he opted for the main line, against Navara's Caro-Kann he played the aggressive Shirov-System.

The beginning of one of the most turbulent games of Kasparov, in which...


Below you will find an analysis of this game, which, however, unfortunately falls into the category of "missed chances".


Playing the aggressive 5.g4 against Navara was typical for Kasparov's play in the tournament. With White and with Black he remained faithful to his style and as early as possible went full speed ahead. More examples:


One could almost believe Kasparov wanted to prove the truth of Aronian's ironic statement "Play h4 whenever you can".

In his blitz-game against Karjakin Kasparov paid tribute to the opening play of the romantics:


Kasparov seems to be full of unbridled energy while Karjakin seems to be hesitant. The turbulent game finally ended in a draw.

Missed chances

Unfortunately Kasparov contributed more than once to this category. The most drastic case was his rapid game against David Navara, mentioned above.


Kasparov also missed a good chance in his rapid game against Aronian:


Tournament winner Levon Aronian narrowly escaped against Kasparov..

A good position against Anand brought only a draw. Kasparov cannot hide his discontent.


Kasparov's lack of practice first of all showed in his handling of the clock. In almost all his rapid games he soon had less time on the clock than his opponents. In the first round he even invested no less than eleven minutes on a relatively uncomplicated move when the middlegame was about to start.


Time-trouble was the reason why Kasparov often came under pressure. Again and again the former World Champion had only a few minutes left to navigate the intricacies of the middlegame while his opponents had three, four or five times as many minutes on the clock.

The clock was Kasparov's enemy

Kasparov's masterpiece

Kasparov's best game was his win against Leinier Dominguez in the penultimate round of the blitz tournament. In a Najdorf he early on decided to block the black squares, a strategy that turned out to be a resounding success. Of course, blitz games are only rarely without mistakes but it is a pleasure to see how Black's pieces dominate more and more.


All games by Kasparov


Garry Kasparov's final interview | Source: CCSCSL on YouTube

All photos: Lennart Ootes (Grand Chess Tour)
Translation from German: Johannes Fischer


Marco Baldauf, born 1990, has been playing since he was eight. In 2000 and 2002 he became German Junior Champion, in 2014 he became International Master. He plays for SF Berlin in the Bundesliga.
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Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 8/24/2017 11:06
I note two points : 1) Kasparov finished the tournament ahead of Anand, who is 6 years younger than Kasparov, still completely active, and, furthermore, playing at the highest level. 2) Kasparov's live rating in Blitz, after this tournament, is 2801 : it is rather incredible that a 54 years old player having retired 12 years before can have, after his first tournament after his return, a rating above 2800 ! And his results in Blitz where much better on the second day of Blitz than on the first, so, clearly, even his Blitz play didn't globally reflected his current full potential !
Aighearach Aighearach 8/24/2017 11:31
I'm not convinced that rapid and blitz count as "serious" chess; and I suspect that Kasparov agrees, or he wouldn't have played in that event!

Not a comeback.
planner99 planner99 8/24/2017 11:40
"I'm not convinced that rapid and blitz count as "serious" chess; and I suspect that Kasparov agrees, or he wouldn't have played in that event! 

Not a comeback."

They have world Rapid and Blitz championships, in what way is it not serious?
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 8/24/2017 11:58
@ Aighearach : This is only a completely subjective opinion, nothing more... And as for "I suspect that Kasparov agrees, or he wouldn't have played in that event", I would be very interested to know how you "jump" from Kasparov playing in a Rapid and Blitz competition, to Kasparov agreeing that Rapid and Blitz chess isn't "serious" chess ! The link between these two elements is nothing less than obvious... (And, by the way, Kasparov explained himself in an interview with M. Ashley why he participated in this tournament, and, of course, it hadn't anything in common with your theory...)
KrushonIrina KrushonIrina 8/24/2017 03:31
If he had beaten Navara, he would have been over .500 in the event, a remarkable performance against some of the best players in the world for a guy who's been retired for more than 12 years and has a lot on his plate currently. Only by Kasparov's stratospheric standards can this be viewed as disappointing.
sbkracer100 sbkracer100 8/24/2017 04:51
About the game Kasparov-Karjakin the article says "In the first round he even invested no less than eleven minutes on a relatively uncomplicated move when the middlegame was about to start." Actually I think Kasparov did not invest that on a "relatively uncomplicated move e3" but rather he was probably calculating the consequences of e4, which would led to a very complicated position.
skipmate skipmate 8/24/2017 08:12
@planner99, Nothing serious doesn't mean the typical meaning you are trying to imply here. Nothing "serious" refers to the belief that games with classical time controls are the ones that can be considered "serious".

Now if you're questioning in philosophical level whether anything non-classical should be considered serious or semantically serious, you have to qualify what you mean by "serious".
Logos Logos 8/24/2017 09:33
@ Petrarlsen

Well-said regarding your first comment. I could not agree more.
KevinC KevinC 8/25/2017 03:48
From what I saw, Kasparov still understands chess better than anyone he played that tournament. What he no longer can do is out-calculate everyone, but a great part of that is inactivity. I think he could still give Magnus a run for his money if he played all the time.
fgkdjlkag fgkdjlkag 8/25/2017 05:06
"Maybe if we eliminated opening theory..." Kasparov

Just what Bobby Fischer said! I think chess960 is the future. Every year theory increases, at some point in the future chess960 will be attractive enough to replace chess.
imdvb_8793 imdvb_8793 8/25/2017 06:24
"Actually I think Kasparov did not invest that on a "relatively uncomplicated move e3" but rather he was probably calculating the consequences of e4, which would led to a very complicated position."

He even said as much in the interview with Maurice Ashley (I think it was the post-day 1 interview.) That he was calculating e4. It was pretty obvious. The more important point here is that a practical player (which is a quality that ONLY comes with playing often and a lot) would NEVER have taken even half the time he did on that decision. He would've thought about the clock and made some sort of evaluation at some point, not tried to calculate lines 10-ply deep perfectly, or whatever Garry was trying to do, like he was in an analysis session and not playing with a time limit. (An error he had pretty much fully corrected by the last of the five days of play.)

"From what I saw, Kasparov still understands chess better than anyone he played that tournament. What he no longer can do is out-calculate everyone, but a great part of that is inactivity. I think he could still give Magnus a run for his money if he played all the time."

As I've said before, I more than agree with all of this. But Magnus would win now, I'll give his fans that - the age thing is too big, Garry could never calculate as well as he did back in the day, no matter how much he played in the run up to such a match, plus he'd inevitably get way tired by the end of a classical game and start blundering too often. But, in his heyday, he would've beaten Magnus. Maybe not in the landslide I once thought - my opinion of Carlsen has gone up somewhat since then, though I still don't think he's top 3 all-time -, but I still have little to no doubt Carlsen wouldn't be able to win a match against Kasparov, 2001 version, let's say, even from three attempts, no matter how close the scores came in each match. Karpov never could - he might've finished the job in '84, but we can never know. Kramnik did, but by then Garry was almost 40. Plus, he had to lose at some point... and does anybody really think he would've lost a rematch? Subsequent results between the two strongly suggest otherwise.

I think Carlsen is, at best, slightly better than 1980's Karpov, and is definitely not much better. Really, Carlsen might not win a match against Garry in five attempts, either, because once you've lost 1-2 matches against the same person, the level of psychological domination thus reached is close to impossible to overcome. Conditions have to change. That also goes for losing 1-2 games against the same person - you have to be both better than them AND be extremely strong mentally to stage any kind of a comeback. Carlsen is probably enough of the latter, but is nowhere near being the former, in my opinion, compared to peak Garry. He's not MUCH weaker, for sure, but, at best, he's DEFINITELY not better, is what I mean...

SPOILER: these are all just my opinions. I'd welcome an irrefutable scientific study that proved me either right or wrong, and settled the matter once and for all. No such study exists that I know of, so opinions, more or less informed, are all we have. (The many well-known engine-analysis studies are all far from scientifically irrefutable - and they don't all say the same thing, anyway, plus I'm not sure any of them show a statistically relevant move-quality difference between the games of peak Kasparov and peak Carlsen. I could be wrong on this last point.)
Igor Freiberger Igor Freiberger 8/25/2017 06:26
Petrarlsen already pointed and I just want to bold it: Kasparov played far better in the last blitz rounds. He clearly got rhythm through the tournament. Although I was willing a better result, it was amazing to see Garry playing again. Hope he play some other rapid or blitz events in future. I also would like to see this kind of matter more frequently in ChessBase: analysis not limited to results nor focused only in winners. Congratulations to Mr. Baldauf.
lajosarpad lajosarpad 8/25/2017 09:14
Garry played great chess. He is obviously rusty, so he is not able to capitalize on all of his chances at this point, but 2-3 more tournaments and we will see his real potential. I do not know his maximum these days, it is probably not the same as when he retired, probably smaller, but not necessarily.
maxharmonist maxharmonist 8/25/2017 11:30
"I still have little to no doubt Carlsen wouldn't be able to win a match against Kasparov, 2001 version, let's say, even from three attempts, no matter how close the scores came in each match. Karpov never could - he might've finished the job in '84, but we can never know. Kramnik did, but by then Garry was almost 40"

So if Kramnik could beat Kasparov in 2000 because the latter was almost 40, you have little to no doubt Carlsen could beat the older version even in three attempts? Do you rank Kramnik as that much stronger than Carlsen? Carlsen has after all been sole #1 for more than 7 years while Kramnik never was, and if you compare their results as World Champions I think Carlsen has done better.
imdvb_8793 imdvb_8793 8/25/2017 11:19
"So if Kramnik could beat Kasparov in 2000 because the latter was almost 40, you have little to no doubt Carlsen could beat the older version even in three attempts?"

Correct - I miscalculated that one. :) My bad! Let's say Carlsen today vs. Kasparov 1995, instead! That seems like a reasonable age. (In any case, taking into account all results apart from their actual match, Kasparov was clearly better than Kramnik both before and after 2000. Of course, Kramnik was never an outstanding tournament player, compared to other 2800's, let's say... Still, one has to imagine he would've been a big favorite to lose a rematch, although psychological domination, again, could have come into play. Hard one to judge!)
imdvb_8793 imdvb_8793 8/25/2017 11:20
And I do rate peak Kramnik better than peak Carlsen, but not by too much, of course.
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 8/26/2017 01:47
(1/2) All this is matter of opinion, and I think that it is very difficult to compare two players who have never been active at the same period, as Kasparov and Carlsen (except if Kasparov continues playing, after this last tournament, but the age difference is so great that this could only be a significant comparison if Kasparov proved being better today than Carlsen ; the opposite wouldn't obviously mean anything), and the great difference between them in terms of playing style doesn't make this comparison easier !...

My personal opinion is that Carlsen wasn't at his peak for a long time (around 2013 - 2014 ; I think that, since, his level has declined significantly, not only for his rating, but also for the content of his games ; they are, in my opinion, much less inventive and original now than in 2013 - 2014), but, in this short period, he was really a "monster" (I don't know exactly what it amounted to, compared to Kasparov, but completely "from another planet", compared to his direct opponents of the time).

Two elements in this direction (apart from the obvious difference in ratings with the other players, at this time : a 67 points in May 2014 with the World n° 2, Aronian) :

I) His 6 - 1 "overall victory" (not counting draws) in his two World Championship matches against Anand. Anand has been undisputed champion from 2007 to 2014 ; he is unquestionably a great champion, and I don't think that Anand's level was so much weaker in 2013 - 2014, compared, for example, to 2007.

About Anand's level in 2007 and 2014, I have two arguments :

1) His ratings : a) His rating was exactly the same - 2792 - for the World Championship 2007 and for the World Championship 2014) ; b) His "low points", year by year, for the period 2008 - 2010, where : 2783 in 2008, 2783 in 2009, and 2787 in 2010, so, his 2792 rating of the 2014 World Championship was higher than some of his previous ratings from the time of his first undisputed titles ; c) For every World Championship match (or tournament - the 2007 World Championship) in the 2007 - 2014 period, Anand was below the 2800 points mark. So his ratings didn't slump considerably in the 2007 - 2014 period.
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 8/26/2017 01:48
(2/2) 2) The comparison between the 2014 Candidates tournament, and the 2007 World Championship Tournament (as I already wrote a comment on this subject the 1st of July 2017, I will simply repost what I wrote at the time) :

"A comparison with the 2007 World Championship Tournament is very instructive. Yes, the 2007 Tournament was a World Championship and not the 2014 Candidates, but, apart from the tournament's designation, these two events are quite comparable.

And the apparent difference that, in a Candidates event, the World Champion isn't participating hadn't a real impact in this case, because, for different reasons, in both of these events, the world's highest ranked player besides Anand didn't participate, in the 2007 tournament, because only the winner of the 2006 World Championship match could participate (and, as Topalov lost this match, even if, in September 2007, he was the best ranked player besides Anand, he couldn't participate in the World Championship Tournament), and in the 2014 tournament, because the best ranked player besides Anand was Carlsen - who was World N° 1 at the time -, and that, as the World Champion, he couldn't participate in the Candidates Tournament.

And Anand results in 2007 are quite similar to his results in 2014 : for example, Anand was the only undefeated player in both tournaments, and he won with a full-point margin. In 2007, Anand won one more game than every one else (4 victories against 3 for Kramnik, Gelfand, and Morozevich), which wasn't the case in 2014, but in 2014, he didn't lost any game while each one of his rivals lost at least 2 games (for Karjakin and Andreikin) - in 2007, Kramnik and Gelfand lost only 1 game (Anand being undefeated in the tournament).

The only significant difference, and this difference is in favor of the Anand of 2014 and not the Anand of 2007, is that, in the 2014 tournament, he won the event with a one-day margin (in 2007, he won the last day).

So, in 2014 as in 2017, Anand demonstrated that, in a tournament where the best-ranked player besides him wasn't participating, he could quite convincingly dominate the whole field."

In the light of these two arguments about the evolution of Anand's level between 2007 and 2014, the 6 - 1 domination by Carlsen over Anand is really impressive and quite significant, in my opinion.

II) Unfortunately, this element is rather imprecise (because I don't remember the exact results of my researches on this subject !...), but what I do remember was that, in a period going approximately from 2011 to 2013 or 2014, Carlsen's results against the "absolute elite" (...for this "category", I took the 2800+ GMs and added the 2750+ GMs who had been above 2800 before, AND had been either World n° 1 - Topalov - or World Champion - Anand and Kramnik...) were absolutely outstanding : in something like 60 classical games, he didn't lose ONE SINGLE GAME against any of these players, and won SEVERAL games against each one of these players, for a total of perhaps a dozen of victories, for zero defeats ; quite impressive, in fact...

It is obvious that, in 2017, Carlsen would be very far from having such results against the very best players, but I think that, in his "peak period" (around 2013 - 2014), he was really an outstanding champion. (Will he be again at this level ? Obviously, this is possible - he is still quite young -, but, personally, I rather don't think that this is probable...)
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 8/26/2017 02:59
One interesting fact : the result of the 1995 match between Kasparov and Anand was a 4 - 1 in 18 games ; the cumulative result of the 2013 and 2014 match between Carlsen and Anand was a 6 - 1 in 21 games. These results would be compatible with a comparable level between Kasparov and Carlsen.

In 1995, Kasparov wasn't probably very far from his peak.

As for Anand, as I explained before, I don't think that he lost much level between 2007 and 2014. And in 1995 ? Anand was World n° 4 at the moment of the 1995 match ; he was only World n° 6 at the time of the 2014 match, but this lower ranking wasn't obviously an effect of his age, because, afterwards, from July to September 2015, he was World n° 2 - a better ranking than his ranking at the time of the 1995 match.

So I think that this comparison has at least a certain degree of significance ; and this would mean that Kasparov and Carlsen are rather comparable in level, at their respective peaks (...but, obviously, Kasparov's peak was VERY long, while, for the moment, Carlsen was only at his "peak level" for a rather short period of time...).
ashperov ashperov 8/26/2017 06:14
No doubt if he came back he would be among the top ten or 15 in the world. But a serious come back. Sadly we won't see that.
Resistance Resistance 8/26/2017 10:37
I agree that discussions of this sort are always a matter of opinion, since as long as we don't have the facts to corroborate them, there is nothing else we can do except speculating about the best possible outcomes (--the most rational ones; the most believable ones--). Still, as such, having discussions about topics of this sort is perfectly rational (--What Ifs; what if Kasparov and Carlsen had the same age and they played a macth; what if Fischer and Kasparov had the same age and they played a match; what if all the World Champions had the same age and they all played a match each against each other in order to define the World Champion of World Champions!!?? Etc, etc--).

Kasparov agaisnt Carlsen for the title of Classical World Chess Champion (both same age). I would go for Kasparov, but it's a tough call. If they had the same age during the 80's, definetely Kasparov. If they had the same age today, I'm not sure. Players today are better at defending (or more tenacious, if you will), so it would've not been easy for a young Kasparov to break Carlsen's tough shell down... I don't know (--maybe he, Kasparov, would've lured Magnus into wild complications... tough to say: it is a subject that requires much more thought--).

As for Anand 2014 being as strong as Anand 2007, as Petrarlsen suggests, I disagree. After his victory over Topalov, in 2010, Anand's game went down a couple of notches pretty quickly. Just recall his match against Gelfand in 2012 (--he was clearly not the same guy from previous years--). That he won the 2014 Candidates is big, yes, but that I think had more to do with his (outstanding) preparation and his opponents' inconsistencies during the tournament and their (in general) irregular form, than to sheer strength from Anand's part (--you cannot seriously expect to regain your WC crown by playing the Berlin Defense in the last decisive game of a WC Match. The Anand of old would've never picked such a spineless opening at such a decisive moment--). Mexico 2007, on the other hand, was a completely different affair: the field there was astounding, with many of the participants playing at their best (--many great games were played at that tournament, and Anand's victory, as well as his games, were simply phenomenal--).

Regarding Magnus, I think his huge natural talents get him out of many, many a trouble, but that against tough, steady opposition he is not that effective (--witness: his match against Karjakin from 2016--). Yet, in my opinion, he (Magnus) can still reach for new heights; it will all depend on his will and determination...
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 8/26/2017 12:37
@ Resistance :

I don't think that you answered convincingly to the arguments that I developed, about the level of Anand in 2007 and 2014.

- You cite the match against Gelfand : this can only serve to highlight the fact that Anand had ups and downs ; how a (comparatively) bad result could negate a very good result obtained at a completely different moment ?? (Not even the same year !)

- The role of preparation : it is indeed quite possible that Anand's preparation was an important factor in his overall victory, but chess is about results ! If you win, you win, be it by preparation, or by any other means ! It was up to Anand's opponents to demonstrate that their own preparation was sufficient to win the tournament (...or that they could win, even with an inferior preparation...).

- About the 2007 tournament, you say : "the field there was astounding". But did you really compare the respective fields of the 2007 World Championship, and the 2014 Candidates Tournament ??

The world rankings of Anand's opponents for these two tournaments were :

2007 : Kramnik : 3 ; Morozevich : 5 ; Leko : 7 ; Aronian : 8 ; Svidler : 12 ; Gelfand : 13 ; Grischuk : 14.

2014 : Aronian : 2 ; Kramnik : 3 ; Topalov : 4 ; Karjakin : 9 ; Svidler : 11 ; Mamedyarov : 13 ; Andreikin : 42.

So, in fact, the fields of these two tournaments were completely comparable ! (At one exception : Andreikin in 2014 ; but he demonstrated that his place was well-earned by scoring 50 % in this tournament. And Anand's 6 other opponents where a little lower in the world rankings in 2007 than in 2014, so there are globally no significant differences in level between these two tournaments line-ups.)

- "(...) his opponents' (...) irregular form (...)" An overall victory in a top-level 8 players double-round robin tournament cannot be due to chance ; that Anand's seven opponents could be in excellent form in 2007 and in bad form in 2014 cannot be a convincing explanation for Anand's victory ; in such a tournament, the form of your opponents can have a small effect on the overall results, but not more. It cannot be sufficient to explain such a convincing result as Anand's victory in the 2014 Candidates tournament !

In fact, I think that your own position results from this kind of reasoning (and I think that many persons react like that about Anand) : "As it is impossible that a top-GM can keep the approximate same level after the age of 40, all arguments that go in this direction are necessarily unconvincing." And with such a starting point, it isn't surprising that you (and others) reach as a conclusion that, in fact, Anand was weaker in 2014 than in 2007 !
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 8/26/2017 07:22
@ Resistance : "Regarding Magnus, I think his huge natural talents get him out of many, many a trouble, but that against tough, steady opposition he is not that effective (--witness: his match against Karjakin from 2016--)."

I think that the results of recent competitions (as the match against Karjakin) aren't significant, as for Carlsen's potential. Yes, this match was really difficult for him, but he wasn't at all the same Carlsen that the Carlsen from 2013 and 2014.

The numbers speak by themselves, and I think that a comparison with Anand is, on this theme, very enlightening : today, Anand is 2783 ; as his peak rating was 2817, he lost, all in all, 34 points. Yes, he is already 47, but he lost only 34 points ! As for Carlsen, it isn't the same story ; between his peak rating, 2882, and his present rating, 2822, there is a 60 points difference ; nearly two times more than Anand's 34 points. Many persons regularly say that Anand should retire, but, in fact, Carlsen lost much more in playing level than Anand.

And thus, it is necessary to take into account (as I did in my previous posts on this page) Carlsen's results when he was at his peak, and not now, because, one more time, the Carlsen from 2017 isn't at all the same one as the Carlsen from 2013 - 2014, for example... He is still a very good player, but this is only because, at a time, he was a "stratospheric player", and even losing 60 points keeps him a sufficient level to still be the World n° 1. But he isn't AT ALL anymore, today, a "stratospheric player" ; he is only a sort of permanent "primus inter pares" ; nothing more for the moment...
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 8/26/2017 07:39
@ Resistance : As for Carlsen being today a "primus inter pares", on the August 2017 list, between the World n° 1, Carlsen, and the World n° 2, So, there is a 12 points gap. And, between the World n° 13, Giri, and the World n° 14, Wei Yi, there is a 19 points gap.

So the gap between Carlsen and his present nearest rival is now only quite an ordinary one ; a sort of gap that can be encountered between two other players on the Top 100 list.

In May 2014 (the month of Carlsen's best rating, 2882), it wasn't the same story : the gap between Carlsen and the World n° 2, Aronian, was a 67 points gap ! The same gap, at this time, that the gap that would have occured between Aronian and a player who would have had a 2748 rating, and a player with a 2748 rating would have been World n° 17 !

So, at this time, the gap between Carlsen and the World n° 2 was the same as the gap between the World n° 2 and the World n° 17 ! Very different from the present situation...
lajosarpad lajosarpad 8/27/2017 09:17

Before you assume that I assume that a player beyond 40 is too old and should retire I would like to clarify that I have no such assumptions. However, in the case of Anand, who previously was a guy with lightning hand, who was the king of speed chess now plays in a different style. I did not look into statistics in this matter, but as someone who looks at the games I have formed the subjective opinion that in the last few years Anand has a safety-first approach and is definitely no longer a guy with lightning speed and he is no longer the king of speed chess either. We can attribute his style change to age, or a change of focus, maybe both or even something else, but - at least based on my opinion - his style has changed. In the match versus Gelfand I think we have already seen a different Anand from the one we saw in 2010, the one, who travelled by car through Europe to reach Sofia, lost the very first game due to tiredness and then won the match from that position without any tiebreaks against a strong tactician, like Topalov. The Anand we have seen in the Tretyakov gallery was not necessarily weaker, but surely different.
Resistance Resistance 8/27/2017 10:41
@ Petrarlsen ---

Well, first, I'd like to point out that it is on the ground of my own perceptions that I'm saying that Anand 2014 is not as strong as Anand 2007; i.e., I am not saying that it is because of his age that Anand 2014 is or should be considered less strong than in 2007. Secondly, that Anand won the 2014 Candidates Tournament, albeit a significant result, does not necessarily mean that he played great chess or as well as 2007 ---it might have been that he just played better than the rest of the field. Thirdly, Elo points do not necessarily represent chess strength, and they certainly can't be taken as an absolute indicator of things to happen over the board (--Karjakin winning the 2016 Candidates Tournament is a very, very good and recent example of this--).

After the match with Topalov on 2010, and until his match with Carlsen on 2013, Anand's play wasn't that impressive. In terms of results, and apart from his win against Gelfand at the 2012 Classical World Chess Championship Match (--a sad afair, indeed, for chess followers around the globe, and also for Anand fans like me. It is those short 12-game matches that are to blame, perhaps, for such 'negative' events: you can't really take risks and play real chess when there is so little margin for error--), he wasn't that impressive either --- A good result at Wijk (2nd), at the beginning of 2011; another good one at the beginning of 2013 (Wijk - 3rd place); his victory at Grenke (2013 - his FIRST victory at classical tournament chess in many years), and that's it (--his result at the star-filled 2013 Tal Memorial, on the other hand, was simply bad--). Then you have the 2014 Candidates, which he won deservedly, and then the match against Carlsen. But we all know how that one turned out to be.
maxharmonist maxharmonist 8/27/2017 11:35
"I do rate peak Kramnik better than peak Carlsen"

I'm curious what you base that assessment on, given that Kramnik was never sole first on the rating list while Carlsen has been first for more than seven years this far and is still only 26 years old. Also, if you say that Kramnik's tournament results were not comparable to the other top players, what do you think of his match results? He is the only World Champion to have a minus score in competitive matches, with losses to Anand, Gelfand, Kamsky, Shirov, and drawn in classical against Leko, Topalov, Grischuk, Radjabov. Then of course the win against Kasparov, but that was a one off given his other match results.
Pieces in Motion Pieces in Motion 8/27/2017 12:31
Kasparov was a terrible disappointment in the tournament and considering all the hype, an embarrassment. One would have expected him to do better as he played impressively well in last year's St. Louis speed Chess tourney, even dominating the first half of the tournament. This year's tournament certainly tarnishes his legacy. At least Fischer won his '92 match against Spassky.
imdvb_8793 imdvb_8793 8/27/2017 02:38
PART 1 (apparently, it was too long...)

"I'm curious what you base that assessment on, given that Kramnik was never sole first on the rating list while Carlsen has been first for more than seven years this far and is still only 26 years old. Also, if you say that Kramnik's tournament results were not comparable to the other top players, what do you think of his match results? He is the only World Champion to have a minus score in competitive matches, with losses to Anand, Gelfand, Kamsky, Shirov, and drawn in classical against Leko, Topalov, Grischuk, Radjabov. Then of course the win against Kasparov, but that was a one off given his other match results."

Like I said about the other thing, on personal evaluations of the various pieces of evidence (and of the evidence to the contrary.) Which is all we have. In any case, perhaps I should have made this clear: I 100% meant as a match player, indeed. I'm not saying peak Kramnik would do anywhere near as well as peak Carlsen in tournaments (which is where 95% of a player's rating gains come from, so he could never outrate Carlsen had they both had their peaks at the same time), but in a direct match I think peak Kramnik would be a favorite.

The problem I see with your argument is that when you count his wins and losses in matches, you're not counting them for his peak years only. Far from it, actually. Kramnik played in candidates matches (two different cycles) as early as 1994, if I'm not mistaken. He was 18 or 19. (He also lost some of those matches you listed after having passed his peak.) He actually beat a guy (Yudasin) in one of them, before narrowly losing to Gelfand and losing clearly to Kamsky. Carlsen played one candidates match in 2007, when he was just slightly younger than Kramnik in 1994. He lost to Aronian (narrowly.) So, even their early results in matches don't look significantly better for one or the other. Also, Kramnik has won the World Cup, not having played it too often, if memory serves. Carlsen has played even less, and his best finish was a semifinal - again, in 2007. If he wins the World Cup this year (which he might), we can renew this discussion, of course. For now, it's hard to compare non-peak Carlsen to non-peak Kramnik because their playing frequencies in various formats and at various ages and stages of their careers have been very different. But, again, this is all irrelevant, because I'm only talking about a comparison between peak Kramnik and peak Carlsen.
imdvb_8793 imdvb_8793 8/27/2017 02:39

Peak Carlsen has the two match wins vs. an old Anand. Which is fair, but not THAT impressive in my book. We'll say the Karjakin match wasn't peak Carlsen. Probably true. But then we probably have to exclude the Leko match for Kramnik as well?!... Seems fair. In any case, peak Kramnik has the win vs. Kasparov, which is huge and, again, I doubt something Carlsen could achive, especially on his first attempt. We'll have to agree to disagree, I suppose. The loss against Shirov was two years earlier than the Garry match, when Kramnik was still only 23 and playing, unlike Carlsen vs. Anand, a highly uncomfortable opponent (their score was 11-7 to Shirov, plus draws - compare that to Carlsen's score vs. Anand between 2009 and 2013) - and one he actually started dominating after that! Post-1998, the score between Kramnik and Shirov became 14-5 plus draws, until 2008 (which is as far as I went with the count.) In 2000 and 2001, for example, it was 4-0 plus draws. So, clearly, there is a marked difference between the (match) player Kramnik was before 1999, which is where most of his match losses you give come from, and the one he was after 2000.

And peak Kramnik also has the win vs. Topalov (peak Topalov, by the way, there's absolutely no question about this) - it was a win, let's face it! He forfeited a game and still tied the match, so it was really +1 in classical, plus the rapid win. Plus the psychological pressure put on by Toiletgate... (Carlsen had no such pressure in any of his matches.) What other matches did he play between 2000 and 2007? None that I'm aware of, apart from the Leko one, which we're writing off the same as the Karjakin match for Carlsen. So, a 2-0 win vs. Kasparov, and a +1 win vs. Topalov (more, if you count the rapid results as well.) Both most definitely at their peaks, which ratings, if nothing else, prove. To me that's definitely more impressive than two wins against the same, ageing player, that you've been dominating psychologically for a while. However great of a player he was.

So, yeah, I think I have a pretty solid case that peak Kramnik in match play might just be better (not by much, again) than peak Carlsen in match play. We'll never know, unfortunately...
imdvb_8793 imdvb_8793 8/27/2017 02:40
PART 3 (reply to Petrarlsen's comments)

Indeed, these are all opinions and we could spend days discussing them. :) There are plenty of arguments for both sides, it's far from clear-cut.

One observation I have on the 2007-2014 comparison - if, as per this comparison, we assume Anand was only slightly stronger in 2014 than in 2007 (if at all), I'd like to point out that between 1999 and 2005, when Garry retired, Vishy didn't win a single game against him in any form of chess competition, and lost seven. Many draws. If we only include their classical results in this period, it's 3-0 and 11 draws, 2-3 of them quite short, many under 40 moves (a kind of draw which, by the way, in a short match for the title, would be at least slightly less likely due to one or the other being behind and having to push.) Even if we consider all of these draws 100% relevant, this 3-11-0 score is still pretty much the same as than Carlsen's 6-14-1 in the two matches against Anand. (Percentage-wise, Carlsen's is 1-2% ahead, but, again, the short draws issue skews things somewhat, I'd say, plus, if we include rapids, I think Garry's score pulls ahead.) Vishy's ratings in this interval hovered between 2760 and 2800, never over 2800, usually around 2780+, and just under 2760 for a short period of time. Even if we consider there's absolutele NO inflation, there's still no difference between his ratings then and in the 2007-2014 period that is big enough that it can't be explained away through random variance or, for example, the absence of a 2800+ monster like Garry to suck ratings away in the latter period... So, I'd say, a purely statistical comparison doesn't seem to yield a conclusion on the 'peak Kasparov vs. peak Carlsen' debate, and it still all depends on whether you believe in the reality of inflation or not. (I famously and strongly do.) And, if anything, it probably favors Kasparov.

"In 1995, Kasparov wasn't probably very far from his peak. "

Well, technically, if you don't believe in inflation (which, again, I do), you can't claim that, because his peak was 2849/2851 in 2000-2001, and in 1995 he got nowhere near that, hovering around 2800, usually under, and never higher than 2815. Even if you do believe it, inflation wasn't quite 50 points between 1995 and 2000...

However, it's true that Vishy was only around 2720 in 1994-1995, and only started his big jump towards 2800 in late '96. Again, none of this makes a convincing statistical case, either way.

"Kasparov's peak was VERY long, while, for the moment, Carlsen was only at his "peak level" for a rather short period of time"

Indeed, this is very significant. Makes Carlsen's peak look somewhat circumstantial/form-based. Not a good comparison for him. But he still has time to prove that wrong, of course. So far, he's not doing a very good job of it.
maxharmonist maxharmonist 8/27/2017 04:56
"Carlsen played one candidates match in 2007, when he was just slightly younger than Kramnik in 1994. He lost to Aronian (narrowly.) So, even their early results in matches don't look significantly better for one or the other. Also, Kramnik has won the World Cup"

But the match against Aronian was played when Carlsen was 16 years old, and he was the lowest ranked player of the 16 in the Candidates while Aronian was ranked first. Still Carlsen drew the classical part as well as the rapid part before losing in the blitz tiebreak. I wouldn't take that as an example of Carlsen being a bad "match player" (rather the opposite). The Candidates matches Kramnik lost when considerable older and the favourite (scoring 1-7 against Kamsky, Gelfand and Shirov) were worse results. Kramnik won the World Cup but that was without playing any opponent in the top 20 and I don't think that says much. Carlsen has this far won three title matches, one of them by scoring the highest percentage in a title match in 100 years (65%). I rank him well ahead of Kramnik as as a chess player, maybe 5-7 among the greatest ever already aged 26, with Kramnik somewhere around 12-15.
imdvb_8793 imdvb_8793 8/27/2017 07:19
Like I said, their non-peak match results are irrelevant for my argument. You can keep counting them, but then you should probably find somebody else to talk to about them, because that's not what I'm talking about at all. I only went into them a little bit to point out even with those included it's not so clear. You can simply ignore that paragraph, if you don't agree. I don't care, because those aren't really part of my main point. (Also, "considerably" older, really?! 18-19 is "considerably" older than 16-17?... And I've addressed the Shirov match, which is a separate thing, for many reasons I've already outlined.)

"Carlsen has this far won three title matches, one of them by scoring the highest percentage in a title match in 100 years (65%)."

This brings nothing new to the discussion. I already compared those results to peak Kramnik's match results, and I maintain they're not as impressive. The higher overall percentage is irrelevant, since non-peak Anand clearly put up less serious resistance than peak Topalov and peak Garry. If you really think 3-0 plus X draws vs. Anand is stronger than 2-0 plus more draws vs. Garry, just because it's more by strict percentages, there's not much left to discuss. (Not saying you're right or wrong, just that I'd immediately lose interest in that part of the discussion if that was the actual argument you put forth, because I have no respect for it. Not for you - I don't know you, so I have no opinion about you, personally. But such an argument I can't take seriously.)

"Kramnik won the World Cup but that was without playing any opponent in the top 20 and I don't think that says much."

Nobody's fault Carlsen has never played it since he became a top player (unless he did and I just don't rememeber it), so he could win it too and put this to rest. (Again, maybe this year...) Also, not Kramnik's fault that his potential top 20 opponents (I'm sure there were plenty) got knocked out by non-top 20 players before having a chance to play against him in that tournament. He beat the players that beat them, which is more than enough. He couldn't do more. It's hard enough to win it that way...
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 8/28/2017 12:34
@ lajosarpad : I think we agree on what you explained in your last post.

In fact, when I said that Anand what at the approximate same level in 2014 and in 2007, I meant this essentially for classical games. He certainly didn't lose too much in Rapid and in Blitz (until the last Saint Louis tournament, he was still in the "2750 - 2800 zone" in Classical, in Rapid, and in Blitz, so the difference wasn't extremely important), but he certainly wasn't anymore either as strong as before in Rapid and in Blitz. Is it because of his age ? (But Kasparov seems to be better in Blitz than in Rapid, and he is older still than Anand.) Is it because he isn't interested anymore in Rapid and in Blitz chess ? Is it due to a "personal factor" ? (perhaps also linked simultaneously to age and to a dwindling interest to these forms of chess...) I don't really know, and I must say that I am rather surprised that Anand seems to keep quite satisfyingly, all in all, a good level in Classical chess, and, on the other side, seems to really lose his level in Rapid and Blitz (...and it must be noted that he will be under 2750 in Blitz next month, I think for the first time...).

One more clarification : I think that Anand kept indeed his 2007 level until 2014, but probably not until now. I would choose as the last moment where I think that Anand was really still approximately at his top level November 2015 : it was the last month where Anand was above 2800 points, and, as, in the 2007 - 2014 period, there where many moments where Anand was below 2800 (including for the 2007 World Championship tournament and the 2014 Candidates tournament), I think that, at this moment, he hadn't really lost anything significant in terms of level. Afterwards, I'm not sure at all ; he is still a very good player (permanently in the "2750 - 2800 zone"), but it is quite possible that he is not quite as strong as before now. But I wouldn't be surprised either if Anand regained a 2800 rating, and his top-level ; age doesn't really seems to have the same effect on him than with some other top-players, so I think it is difficult to know for sure what will happen, for Anand, in the next years...

And I think, too, that Anand's style evolved through all these years ; it is probably also a way, for him, to adapt to age... But, in my opinion, what really count are results, and if, by proceeding this way, he manages to keep his level, it is a full success for him... I much prefer him to keep his level by adapting his style, rather than keeping his style and losing his level ; I find this attitude much more logical !... Perhaps it is also the reason why he continues playing at such a high level : perhaps he tried more to adapt to age than the other players of his generation, and he is rewarded for his efforts... But this only a hypothesis, and nothing more...
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 8/28/2017 12:44
@ Resistance :

As I explained before on this page, I think that there is a whole set of elements that shows that Anand's level was approximately the same in 2014 and in 2007. And I think that to say that ALL his seven opponents, in 2014, were in bad form, and that this is the principal reason why Anand won so convincingly this tournament "is going a bit far" ; perhaps his opponents were not really completely in top form, but they were seven ! Seven of the best players in the world ! (Including the World n° 2, World n° 3, and World n° 4, so three out of the four best players in the world - besides Anand - were participating ; only Carlsen was - obviously - missing ; in the 2007 World Championship tournament, only two out of the four best players in the world besides Anand were participating : Topalov - World n° 2 - and Ivanchuk - World n° 4 - were both missing.) Against one opponent (as in a match), it is possible to argue that one of the two players wasn't in top form, but in a tournament, against seven opponents, the form of the participants can only play a marginal role in my opinion... For me, it isn't possible that two such nearly indentical results (the World Championship 2007 and the Candidates tournament 2014) could be compatible with an important difference in terms of level between these two moments, for Anand. And, furthermore, the only significant difference rather goes in favor of the Anand of 2014 : he won this tournament one day in advance - this was not the case in 2007 -, and I think that this is one of the important indicators of domination in a chess competition (be it, by the way, a tournament or a match).

And, yes, Anand had ups and downs during the 2011 - 2015 period, but, nonetheless, taking into account the evolution of his ratings between 2007 and 2015, and, more importantly, the results of the 2014 Candidates Tournament, I think that his chess potential remained intact during this period ; he didn't always played his best chess, but was still capable of really impressive results, as in the 2014 Candidates Tournament (I remember also his Black victory against Aronian - who was 2802 at the time - at the Tata Steel tournament 2013 ; in my opinion, this game would have been completely worthy of the Anand of 2007 or 2008 ; quite an impressive game ; a "demonstration", and against a 2800+ GM, not against a "standard GM"... ; I don't know the answer, but an interesting question would be to know how many times a 2800+ GM lost a game in 23 moves or less in the 10 last years - and with White, furthermore - besides this Aronian - Anand game ; not many - if any ! -, probably...).
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 8/28/2017 01:09
@ Resistance :

About the Aronian - Anand game and its length (23 moves), I remember that Giri's victory over Carlsen in 2011, also at the Tata Steel tournament, was one move shorter (22 moves). But, even if it is a subjective argument, I think it must nonetheless be pointed out that this game was much more the result of a - quite surprising... - blunder by Carlsen than the consequence of a particularly superior play by Giri...
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 8/28/2017 01:35
@ Pieces in Motion : A top-player returns to chess 12 years after his retirement, coming back more or less 15 years after the age when many top grandmasters stop playing in top-level competitions, gain a new 2801 rating in Blitz, thus re-entering directly into the "absolute elite" circle, in Blitz, and you consider that his results where a "terrible disappointment" and an "embarrassment" !!! Are you sure that you are really speaking of Kasparov ??

"At least Fischer won his '92 match against Spassky." In fact, Kasparov did the same in Saint Louis. In 1995, he beat Anand for the World Championship, and, in 2017, he, once again, finished the Saint Louis tournament ahead of Anand, this while Anand is 6 years younger, still completely active, and playing chess continually at the "absolute top" level. In 1992, Spassky wasn't anymore playing at the "absolute top" level, and it musn't be forgotten that it was Spassky who was 6 years older than Fischer, and not the opposite, so it wasn't very surprising that he lost once more against Fischer. On the contrary, the fact that Kasparov finished this tournament ahead of Anand is in my opinion a real achievement, for Kasparov. In my opinion, it is even rather hard to understand how he could finish ahead of Anand, in these circumstances, with the inactivity and age handicap...
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 8/28/2017 01:54
@ imdvb_8793 : "Peak Carlsen has the two match wins vs. an old Anand. Which is fair, but not THAT impressive in my book."

For me, it isn't the fact that Carlsen won the two matches that is impressive, but his overall 6 - 1 result in these matches. Before these two matches, I would NEVER have thought that Anand, still playing at a very high level and with an ENORMOUS match experience against all types of opponents (Kramnik, Topalov, and Gelfand represented quite of range of different playing styles) would lose against Carlsen with such a lopsided score... Until these matches, I thought that Carlsen was a very good player, but that he would probably encounter serious difficulties in match play. These matches clearly demonstrated the opposite : that, even in match, Carlsen could really be a "beast", and completely crush even the best players on the planet... Which was for me a big surprise...

And, yes, Anand wasn't anymore a young player, but he won the Candidates 2014 (against, in particular, the World n° 2, World n° 3, and World n° 4 players), and was World n° 2 behind Carlsen once more from July to September 2015, so he proved that, at this time, he could still compete with complete success against the younger top-players...
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 8/28/2017 04:24
An interesting comparison, in my opinion, between Anand's games in the 2014 Candidates Tournament, and his games against Carlsen in the 2013 and 2014 matches :

In Anand's 6 games against the top-three players in the world besides Carlsen, the World n° 2, Aronian (who had a stellar 2830 rating, at the time), the World n° 3, Kramnik (who was below 2800, but, as an ex-World Champion and the World n° 3 was nonetheless one of the indisputable top-players of the moment), and the World n° 4, Topalov (same thing as Kramnik : he was below 2800 at this moment, but as an ex-World n° 1 and World n° 4 at the time of this tournament, he was also an indisputable top-player, in my opinion), he won (globally) 2 games, drew 4 games, and didn't lost any.

In Anand's 21 games against Carlsen, he won 1 game, drew 14 games, and lost 6 games.

So, in the 21 games of the two World Championships, Anand only won 1 game, while in only 6 games against the top-three players besides Carlsen, he managed to won 2 games. This while losing a whole series of games against Carlsen (so it wasn't even that he was playing in a more defensive style). And against Aronian, Kramnik, and Topalov, he didn't lost any games, so it seems that his 2 victories against them weren't even at the cost of a more risky play ; rather the opposite, in fact, seemingly...

I think that these elements are rather self-explanatory about Carlsen's domination in 2013 and 2014 : while Anand could himself be really dominant against the other top-players, he was completely outplayed by Carlsen in their two matches (...one more time, an overall 6 - 1 is an incredibly crushing score...).
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 8/28/2017 05:07
@ imdvb_8793 : "And, if anything, it probably favors Kasparov." As for me, I don't see any sufficently significant difference between them to be meaningful...

As for Kasparov being near his peak level in 1995, I think that, at the age of 32, he couldn't be too far from it, in particular when we consider what Kasparov himself explained on this subject in "My Great Predecessors, Part III" (in the chapter on Svetozar Gligorić) : Kasparov noted that "Gligorić, on the basis of his own experience, considered the optimal age of a chess player to be 33-36.". Kasparov then added : "But today, with the appearance of powerful computers and the Internet, chess is rapidly growing younger." And, a little further in this chapter : "By contrast, the brain of a player older that thirty, tired out by the constant effort, gradually gets rid of the information that is overfilling it and increasingly, in the interests of self-preservation, suddenly switches off at the most inappropiate moment..." So, obviously, Kasparov considered that the optimal age, for a chess player, was, at the time he wrote that book (in 2004, just before Kasparov's retirement from competitive chess), under Gligorić's "33-36 zone". In view of Kasparov's opinion on this subject, I don't quite see how he could himself have been really far from his peak at the age of 32...

And, if I understood well your own posts, you rather thought yourself that 1995 was not to far from Kasparov's peak, when you said, in one of your commentaries of this same page : "Let's say Carlsen today vs. Kasparov 1995, instead! That seems like a reasonable age." Or perhaps I didn't understand quite well your meaning...

About the length of Carlsen's peak period, I think that Kasparov and him are, psychologically speaking, very different players. I don't see at all (perhaps I will be wrong ; we'll see in the following years...) Carlsen dominating chess over a very long period, like Kasparov. I think that, intrinsically, Carlsen was an incredibly gifted player (at Kasparov's level, more or less...), but hadn't the mental force to maintain his domination over a long period.

So, in my opinion, if we take the STRENGTH of Carlsen's domination over the rest of the chess word, it was comparable with Kasparov's domination (in 2013 - 2014, approximately), but, for the LENGTH of their respective domination, I think that Carlsen, at the end of his career, will be nowhere near the length of Kasparov domination. And I think that these two elements are completely different, and both quite meaningful, but differently meaningful...