Battle of the Legends (1/2)

by ChessBase
4/26/2015 – Those pursed lips. The extended chin. That familiar furrowed brow. All of this recognizable before the clocks had even started. It was a match between two of the best players in history. Garry Kasparov took his seat and played as if time had not touched him. Nigel Short put up his best resistance, with a myriad of defensive resources in every game, but alas the Beast from Baku leads.

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Day One

by Brian Jerauld

After 10 long years of retirement, the 13th World Champion of Chess Garry Kasparov returned to his old black-and-white stomping grounds Saturday afternoon -- reappearing with a style so familiar, one could question if he had left the game only yesterday. At the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, Kasparov took sides for only the fourth time since 2005, re-emerging for the Battle of the Legends match against his famous foe-turned-friend counterpart, famed English Grandmaster Nigel Short.

"Can I take notes?" "No, Nigel, you may not..."

Dueling through one Rapid game of chess followed by four Blitz contests, Kasparov fell right back into his animated groove of play -- tossing cursory glances into the air, then feverishly pressing his face through his hands -- and to the fans’ delight, returning to his memorable aggression on the board. Kasparov took a 3.5-1.5 lead over Short in the two-day, ten-game Battle of the Legends match, first settling with a wonderfully fought draw in the Rapid control, then smashing through with victories in three of the four Blitz.

“It’s easy for me to play the sharp game, where I see the straight lines,” Kasparov said. “But when you’re out of practice, it is extremely difficult to play a slow maneuvering game. Nigel was right dragging me into positions where the lack of practice helps -- and you could see that in game three.”

Garry with an initiative in game one of the blitz

That third game, the second Blitz contest of the afternoon, perhaps revealed the only sign of rust given from Kasparov’s retirement: Neglecting his old, ticking friend. Intensely focused on seeing through a balanced position, Kasparov simply ignored his dwindling clock -- later revealing he felt “disconnected” from it -- and let his final seconds run out to provide Short his only win of the day. Kasparov rebounded with two victories to close the afternoon, however, including the day’s only win with the white pieces in Game 5.

“To be honest, I’ve never played with a delay in my life -- never, in any sort of important game,” Short said of the 5-minute, 3-second delay Blitz time control. “I haven’t quite got the hang of that. Also, I tried a little bit to exploit Garry’s lack of practice, put a little bit of clock pressure on him. It was a conscious idea, but I missed a lot of things. I was disappointed.”

For his part, Short defended wonderfully in the match’s opening Rapid round. In a Bogo-Indian, Short’s early 4...c5 slowed Kasparov for a moment of recall, finally deciding on 5. a3 to earn the bishop pair but a delay in development. He worked his way through, however, with the nifty 10. Nb5.

And by 19. Qg3 and 20. f4, the legendary Kasparov was once again on the attack. Short tried to add complications, centralizing with 20...Nd4 and attacking the white rook with 21...Bc4, but Kasparov ignored the attack, accepting the exchange while continuing to peck away at Black’s castle. Short’s clock fell below 7 minutes before finding 23...Kh8 and, worse, his opponent had found a familiar stance: Intently and aggressively leaning across the board.

England’s former child prodigy held his own down the stretch, however, finding all the right moves in a sharp position that required them. He removed white’s menacing white knight by returning the exchange with 24...Rxd5, then confidently played 26...fxe5 to challenge Kasparov’s dangerously forcing back-rank threat. White fully destroyed black’s castle protection, forcing the black king to cower in the corner, but the bishop pair could not help the queen break through black’s last line of defense. With 41. Qd8+, Kasparov entered into threefold repetition.

[Event "Legends Rapid Match 2015"] [Site "Saint Louis USA"] [Date "2015.04.25"] [Round "1"] [White "Kasparov, Garry"] [Black "Short, Nigel D"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "E11"] [WhiteElo "2812"] [BlackElo "2664"] [Annotator "Ramirez Alvarez,Alejandro"] [PlyCount "86"] [EventDate "2015.04.25"] [SourceDate "2015.02.07"] 1. d4 e6 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. c4 Bb4+ 4. Nbd2 {A typical Bogo-Indian situation. The move Nbd2 has become more popular in the past years, basically replacing Bd2.} c5 5. a3 Bxd2+ 6. Qxd2 cxd4 7. Nxd4 O-O 8. e3 (8. g3 d5 9. cxd5 Qxd5 {is a little awkward for White.}) 8... d5 9. cxd5 Qxd5 10. Nb5 {White in the long run has the advantage of the two bishops. Black is trying to be solid and keep his counterplay chances alive. For this reason Short does not want to trade queens as there would be no way to increase the pressure on White's position.} Qc6 (10... Qxd2+ 11. Bxd2 Nc6 12. f3 $14 {and it feels White is slightly better.}) 11. f3 a6 12. Nc3 (12. Nd4 Qc7 {allows e5 in the near future and the white knight has no good retreat.}) 12... e5 13. e4 Nbd7 (13... Be6 {was a little more flexible. In some lines the knight might want to go to c6 instead of d7.}) 14. Qf2 Nc5 15. Be3 Nb3 16. Rd1 Be6 17. Be2 {The pair of bishops are leaving their mark. It's not even easy to get rid of them with Bc4 without leaving a weakness on d5.} Rfd8 18. O-O Ne8 $6 {An unfortunate move. The knight wants to reroute, this is true, but it wasn't the time to do so. As Kasparov also pointed in the postmortem, the knight on b3 looks pretty, but it doesn't do much... there are no pieces on the queenside!} 19. Qg3 $5 f6 20. f4 $1 {Breaking through on the kingside while the knight is away on b3 and dormant on e8.} Nd4 21. Bh5 $1 {Preserving the bishop.} (21. fxe5 $6 Nxe2+ ( 21... Qxc3 {is cute but does not work.} 22. Bxd4 (22. bxc3 $4 Nxe2+ 23. Kf2 Nxg3 $19) 22... Qxg3 23. hxg3 {and White has an extra pawn plus the pair of bishops.}) 22. Nxe2 Rxd1 23. Rxd1 Qxe4 $14) 21... Bc4 22. fxe5 $1 {An excellent sacrifice! White's attack on the kingside is well worth the exchange, and the tempi are important.} Bxf1 {never suffer for free. Short at least gets some material compensation.} 23. Rxf1 Kh8 24. Nd5 {Natural but imprecise.} (24. Qh4 $1 {With the very strong threat of Bg6 was excellent. It also removes the ideas of Qxc3 followed by Ne2+ in case the bishop on h5 moves.}) 24... Rxd5 25. exd5 Qxd5 26. Qf2 $6 (26. Qh3 $1 Qxe5 27. Bg6 h6 28. Bxh6 {was definitely strong, but difficult to see.}) 26... fxe5 27. Qf8+ Qg8 28. Qe7 Nf6 29. Rxf6 $1 gxf6 30. Bh6 Nf5 31. Qxf6+ Ng7 32. Qxe5 {It feels like White has a very strong advantage, but crashing through is far from easy. He has some problems with his king also, and any queen trade is bad. Furthermore it is not trivial to reorganize the bishops into attacking anything. Black is nearly paralyzed, but his rook can still play.} Rc8 33. Bf3 Qf7 34. h3 b5 35. Be4 $6 (35. Bd2 $1 {Re arranging the bishop to the c3-h8 diagonal seems strongest to me.}) 35... Re8 36. Qd4 Qe7 37. b4 Qe5 {Black is not worse now.} 38. Qd7 Qa1+ (38... Re7 $1 39. Qc8+ Ne8 {and suddenly Black has some chances of gaining an initiative!}) 39. Kh2 Rxe4 {Forcing the draw after a crazy game.} 40. Bxg7+ Qxg7 41. Qd8+ Qg8 42. Qf6+ Qg7 43. Qd8+ Qg8 {And a draw by perpetual check. A crazy an entertaining game, for sure! Kasparov had his chances, but Short defended like a magician and somehow survived.} 1/2-1/2

Despite applause from the surrounding fans, Kasparov leapt from the board and looked exasperated to not have found the way to win.

“People always ask me if I still play,” he said. “I ask them ‘What do you mean by play?’ For me, playing chess is being fully engaged. You find yourself at a chess set, watched by a lot of people not just here in Saint Louis, but worldwide - there is some pressure.”

Garry sacrificed a pawn in the style that made him famous

He looked comfortably fine when he returned to his seat for Saturday’s first Blitz game, delivering a fine attacking victory with the Black pieces out of a symmetrical English. After castling, Short found himself up a pawn but in an extremely unhappy position - worse after giving up his best piece, the white squared bishop with 17. Bxc6. Kasparov revealed his not-subtle intentions with 20...f5 and by 30...Be5, white was ready to collapse under the pressure.

The end of a great battle

[Event "Legends Blitz Match 2015"] [Site "Saint Louis USA"] [Date "2015.04.25"] [Round "1"] [White "Short, Nigel D"] [Black "Kasparov, Garry"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A36"] [WhiteElo "2664"] [BlackElo "2812"] [Annotator "Ramirez Alvarez,Alejandro"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "4r3/6bk/q5pp/5p2/3p1N1P/1P1PrRP1/P5Q1/5RK1 b - - 0 30"] [PlyCount "13"] [EventDate "2015.04.25"] [SourceDate "2015.02.07"] 30... Be5 {Black's been down a pawn for almost the entire game, but he also has had incredible amount of pressure. With his last move Garry makes a mistake, letting Nigel off the hook.} 31. h5 $2 {With the clock ticking Nigel opens up the kingside... but the g-file simply opens up on his own king!} (31. Nd5 $1 Qxd3 (31... Rxd3 32. Qe2 {is a deadly pin down the e2-a6 diagonal.}) 32. Nxe3 dxe3 33. Re1 {is not winning for White but it's difficult to believe he can be worse.}) 31... Bxf4 32. hxg6+ $2 (32. Rxf4 $13) 32... Qxg6 $1 33. gxf4 Qh5 {And there is no defense! Rg8 is coming, pinning the queen to the king and that is all she wrote.} 34. Rxe3 dxe3 35. Qh2 (35. Re1 Rg8 36. Qxg8+ Kxg8 37. Rxe3 Qg4+ {is easily winning.}) 35... Rg8+ 36. Kh1 e2 {A beautiful finishing touch. The rook cannot keep an eye on the e2 pawn and on the f3 square at the same time.} 0-1

Deep in thought at all times

The final Blitz game of Saturday left the afternoon with a thrilling cap, seeing Short make a last-second error in a queening race and an otherwise book draw. Kasparov as white found himself with a precarious looking position out of the opening, offering a queen trade with 13. Qxf4 that left him with the bishop pair but also a horribly ugly pawn structure.

A pawn exchange on d4 let the lethal bishop pair loose, and Kasparov’s emphasized 24. Rd6 ushered in a nifty exchange on c6 to hurtle toward the endgame. Short soon found himself up a pawn, but was only allowed play that made him feel like he was down a full piece -- realized with 44...Nxe7, sacrificing the knight to eliminate white’s impending queening threat.

At this point, Kasparov was below 15 seconds on his clock, while Short enjoyed a full minute -- though it was the Englishman who folded in time pressure.

[Event "Legends Blitz Match 2015"] [Site "Saint Louis USA"] [Date "2015.04.25"] [Round "4"] [White "Kasparov, Garry"] [Black "Short, Nigel D"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D02"] [WhiteElo "2812"] [BlackElo "2664"] [Annotator "Ramirez Alvarez,Alejandro"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "4r3/3RP1Bp/2k1K3/2p2n2/p6P/8/8/8 w - - 0 44"] [PlyCount "43"] [EventDate "2015.04.25"] [SourceDate "2015.02.07"] 44. Bf6 {A crazy endgame after a very hard-fought game. Black must sacrifice for the e7 pawn, but will his a4 and c5 passers compensate for the missing piece?} Nxe7 (44... Rxe7+ $5 45. Rxe7 (45. Bxe7 Ng7+ 46. Kf7 Kxd7 47. Bxc5 {is just a draw.}) 45... Nxe7 46. Bxe7 {should somehow be winning for White.}) 45. Bxe7 Ra8 46. Rd6+ $6 (46. Rd8 $1 {With the seconds ticking away Kasparov misses this nice shot. The rook trade looks hopeless, while keeping the rooks is not an option.} Ra7 47. Bd6 $1 (47. Rc8+ Kb7 48. Rxc5 a3 49. Bf6 a2 50. Ba1 {is perhaps not as clear.}) 47... a3 48. Rc8+ Kb5 49. Kd5 $1 a2 50. Rb8+ $1 Ka5 51. Be5 {and Black will lose the a2 pawn sooner or later.}) 46... Kb5 47. Rd5 Rc8 48. Rd3 Ra8 49. Rc3 (49. Rd5 $1) 49... c4 50. Kf7 Ra7 $1 {Delaying White from capturing the h7 pawn.} 51. h5 Rd7 (51... Rxe7+ $1 52. Kxe7 Kb4 53. Rc1 c3 54. h6 Kb3 55. Kf7 Kb2 56. Rg1 c2 57. Kg7 a3 58. Kxh7 a2 59. Kg7 c1=Q 60. Rxc1 Kxc1 $11 {Try calculating that with five seconds on your clock.}) 52. h6 Rd3 53. Rc1 $1 a3 (53... Rd7 $1 54. Kf8 $1 $18) 54. Kg8 a2 55. Bf6 c3 56. Kxh7 Kc4 57. Kg8 $6 Rg3+ 58. Bg7 $4 {Surprisingly, this move draws! Black is able to escape into a known drawn endgame.} (58. Kf7 $1 Rh3 59. Kg6 Rg3+ 60. Bg5 Rxg5+ 61. Kxg5 Kb3 62. h7 Kb2 63. Rxc3 $1 a1=Q 64. h8=Q {and because of the discovered check possibilities, Black has no good check of his own.}) 58... Kb3 59. h7 Kb2 60. Rh1 Rxg7+ $1 {The point.} 61. Kxg7 c2 $4 {Followed by a horrendous blunder. The simple} (61... a1=Q 62. Rxa1 Kxa1 63. h8=Q c2 {reaches a known endgame. the c-pawn on the 7th rank will draw against a queen as long as the king is far away, and the king is very very far away.}) 62. h8=Q c1=Q 63. Kf7+ {Now it's hopeless.} Qc3 64. Rh2+ Kb3 65. Qxc3+ {Anything can happen in blitz!} 1-0

Nigel certainly disappointed with the last round of the day

Sunday afternoon will bring the exciting conclusion to the Battle of the Legends: Kasparov vs. Short, with one more Rapid game and four additional Blitz games to begin at 2:00 p.m. CDT. The games can be viewed live on, with commentary from Grandmasters Maurice Ashley and Alejandro Ramirez set to begin 10 minutes before the first move.

Photos by Austin Fuller

Replay All Games

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Format: two rapid and eight blitz games. Time Control: Rapid - 25 minutes, plus a 10-second delay per move; Blitz - 5 minutes, with a 3-second delay. For example, if the delay is five seconds, the clock waits for five seconds before counting down. Schedule:

Date Time Event
April 24 2:45 PM Opening Ceremony & Chess Tour 2015 Press Conference
  4:00 PM Simultaneous Exhibition by Garry & Nigel
April 25 2:00 PM Rapid Round 1, Blitz Rounds 1-4
April 26 2:00 PM Rapid Round 2, Blitz Rounds 5-8
  5:00 PM Autograph Session with Garry & Nigel

All times are local to Saint Louis, MO, USA (CDT). The rapid games start at 2:00 p.m. = 21:00h CEST – here is the time in your location.  Both match days for Battle of the Legends will be streamed live on U.S. Chess Champs, featuring world-class commentary from International Grandmasters Maurice Ashley and Alejandro Ramirez, as well as post-game interviews and analysis with Kasparov and Short.


The games will be broadcast live on the official web site and on the chess server If you are not a member you can download a free Playchess client and get immediate access. You can also use ChessBase 12 or any of our Fritz compatible chess programs.

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