Endgame Riddle: Did Kasparov miss a chance?

by Karsten Müller
3/12/2021 – Karsten Müller once again sets out to find truth in a famous endgame. This time he looks at the 27th game of the 1st World Championship match between Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov, which is generally regarded as a fine example of Karpov's outstanding technique. But how well did Karpov and Kasparov really play the endgame in this famous game?

Endgames of the World Champions from Fischer to Carlsen Endgames of the World Champions from Fischer to Carlsen

Let endgame expert Dr Karsten Müller show and explain the finesses of the world champions. Although they had different styles each and every one of them played the endgame exceptionally well, so take the opportunity to enjoy and learn from some of the best endgames in the history of chess.


The 27th game of the 1st World Championship match 1984/1985 between defending champion Anatoly Karpov and challenger Garry Kasparov is legendary. The match began on September 10, 1984 and ended on February 13, 1985, the winner was to be the first to win six games, draws did not count. But after only nine games Karpov was already leading 4-0 and the match seemed to be decided. However, then followed a series of 17 draws, some of them very short and boring, until Karpov finally managed to win the 27th game, which gave him a 5-0 lead.

But in the next 21 games Karpov was unable to win another game and to win the match, and after 48 games the match was aborted without a winner though Karpov still led 5-3.

The second World Championship match between Karpov and Kasparov began six months later, on September3, 1985. This match went over 24 games and Kasparov won 13-11 to become new World Champion.

However, the 27th game of the 1st match between these two great rivals is not only legendary because it was Karpov's last victory in the 1st World Championship match, but also because Karpov seemed to demonstrate his great technical skills in this game. After surprising Kasparov in the opening, Karpov managed to outplay his opponent in a seemingly equal and rather harmless position and eventually gained material and won a pawn. Particularly stunning was Karpov's paradoxical 17th move (17.Rfc1): White put his rook on the c-file where it seemed to be blocked by a white pawn on c3. On first sight this rook move appeared to be senseless but it soon turned out to be quite dangerous.

Karpov's technique is legendary, and after winning the pawn he seemed to convert his advantage smoothly. But as Jan Timman reveals in his fine book The Longest Game, an insightful and gripping account of the five World Championship matches between Karpov and Kasparov, Kasparov did not think that Karpov handled the technical phase of this famous game particularly well.

So Karsten Müller decided to take a close look at this encounter and invites ChessBase readers to join his search for the truth. Is this endgame – as has been generally assumed so far – really another example of Karpov's outstanding technique or is Kasparov right when he claims that the endgame contains a number of mistakes?


Share your analyses and findings in the commentary!


Karsten Müller, born 1970, has a world-wide reputation as one of the greatest endgame experts. He has, together with Frank Lamprecht, written a book on the subject: “Fundamental Chess Endgames” in addition to other contributions such as his column on the website ChessCafe as well as in ChessBase Magazine. Müller's ChessBase-DVDs about endgames in Fritztrainer-Format are bestsellers. The PhD in mathematics lives in Hamburg, where he has also been hunting down points for the HSK in the Bundesliga for many years.
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Karsten Müller Karsten Müller 3/14/2021 08:50
albitex: OK good. Indeed it seems that Black can hold after 42.gxh3.
albitex albitex 3/13/2021 10:59
I don't think White can really win after 42. gxh3. And anyway 41 ... h3 is not the best (41 ... Rh7 better)
Karsten Müller Karsten Müller 3/13/2021 05:11
malfa: Very good question. Please check this deeper. One starting point can be Jan Timman's line: 42.gxh3 Bf5 43.Rh4 e4 44.Bd1 Ke5 (Timman). Can White win?
malfa malfa 3/13/2021 01:48
If I remember correctly, Kasparov claimed that 42.g3 is a mistake and that 42.gxh3 would have won easily, but is this true? It''s hard to imagine, given that White would have inflicted upon himself two doubled rook pawns promoting on the wrong square WRT his bishop's color, and I suppose that Karpov pushed g3 without even thinking over it.
Keshava Keshava 3/13/2021 03:05
It seems like a deliberate insult to offer an elite player the loser's share of a brilliancy prize.
albitex albitex 3/12/2021 11:18
It seems that only 40. c5 + maintains an advantage, and no other plausible moves. However it is a theoretical advantage, I think it is really difficult to turn this advantage into win. At the table game the game probably ends in a draw also after 40. c5+.
Karsten Müller Karsten Müller 3/12/2021 08:29
Albitex: Yes very good! That 40.a3? is equal is a new finding.
albitex albitex 3/12/2021 08:18
Minor inaccuracy: 37. h4 was best of 37. Ke3?! played from Karpov
albitex albitex 3/12/2021 08:04
After a quick first glance, we can surely say:
Move 40. a3? makes White lose the advantage (40. c5+ + -).
Move 45. .. Rxh2? makes Kasparov lose the game (45. Rb2 =).
Karsten Müller Karsten Müller 3/12/2021 01:37
tcbull: Is 40.a3? an error, after which it is drawn? Indeed 45...Rb2!= would have drawn.
tcbull tcbull 3/12/2021 01:05
Playing through without an engine 34.e4 from Karpov felt premature. 3...e5 from Kasparow was giving up the stable structure of the bishop and can be questioned. 40.a3 control move seemed to be strange at that special moment. But the real turn of events I foundlater just with the help of an engine. It was when Kasparow was missing 45.Rb2! Anyway I like the game showing the fighting spirit. I do not like the idea to offer Garry a fraction of the price.
Karsten Müller Karsten Müller 3/12/2021 11:09
More new insights into this fascinating game can be found in Johannes Fischer's interview with Adrian Mikhalchishin, who was one of Karpov's seconds: