Riddle solved: Kasparov could have drawn

by Karsten Müller
3/23/2021 – Karsten Müller once again asked our readers for help to solve an endgame riddle. This time, he looked at the 27th game of the first World Championship match between Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov. Was Kasparov right when he claimed that the endgame contains a number of mistakes? Turns out he was as, after all, he could have held the draw!

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A legendary rivalry is born

Garry KasparovThe first World Championship match between Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov began on 10 September 1984 and ended on 13 February 1985. 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.

The 27th game is not only memorable because it was Karpov’s last victory in the match, but also because Karpov seemed to demonstrate his great technical skills. After surprising Kasparov in the opening, Karpov managed to outplay his opponent in a seemingly equal and rather harmless position and eventually gained material. 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.

After winning the pawn, Karpov seemed to convert his advantage smoothly. But, as Jan Timman reveals in his fine book The Longest Game, Kasparov did not think that Karpov handled the technical phase of this famous game particularly well.

We took a close look at this encounter, with the help of ChessBase readers who joined the search for the truth. It turns out Kasparov could have drawn after the time control. The readers made the new discovery that Karpov’s 40.a3? was a mistake.

As usual, Zoran Petronijevic  sent in the best solution. His main conclusions are:

  1. The initial position is lost.
  2. 37.Ke3?! is not precise and makes the win very deep and difficult. 37.h4, which was also mentioned by Karpov, is better.
  3. 40.a3? was a mistake, after which the position is drawn. Only 40.c5+! wins. This is a new discovery. Probably the 7-men tablebases were needed for the engines to be sure here.
  4. The last mistake was the greedy 45...Rxh2? as 45...Rb2! defends.

Master Class Vol.6: Anatoly Karpov

On this DVD a team of experts looks closely at the secrets of Karpov's games. In more than 7 hours of video, the authors examine four essential aspects of Karpov's superb play.


Karsten Müller is considered to be one of the greatest endgame experts in the world. His books on the endgame - among them "Fundamentals of Chess Endings", co-authored with Frank Lamprecht, that helped to improve Magnus Carlsen's endgame knowledge - and his endgame columns for the ChessCafe website and the ChessBase Magazine helped to establish and to confirm this reputation. Karsten's Fritztrainer DVDs on the endgame are bestsellers. The mathematician with a PhD lives in Hamburg, and for more than 25 years he has been scoring points for the Hamburger Schachklub (HSK) in the Bundesliga.


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Aurelio Agosti Aurelio Agosti 3/30/2021 03:43
Well, wouldn't it better that Zoran Petronijevic uses his extraordinary computer-like talent to flourish in the 2021 world championship? ;)
nirvana1963 nirvana1963 3/24/2021 06:04
@Vinodkumar Poduval, Kasparov didn't lose the match 5-0, it was 5-3 after 48 games. Actually he didn't lose the match at all because it was ended without result by FIDE president Campomanes. Kasparov won games 47 and 48 and his chances to win the match had increased considerably. It was all set up, Campomanes (also known as 'Karpomanes') didn't want Kasparov to win the match. I remember the press conference where Campomanes announced the termination of the match. No word from Karpov but Kasparov was furious because he wanted to continue the match, which was hardly surprising.
malfa malfa 3/24/2021 04:22
I definitely share your view: frankly I see no point in giving tons of computer-generated lines without providing the slightest hint of plans, ideas, tactical points etc. My personal idea of what a decent game analysis is is a completely different one and after following a couple or more of these "riddles" I feel I am really fed up with them.
chessgod0 chessgod0 3/24/2021 03:22

An excellent comment that really needed to be said.
bbrodinsky bbrodinsky 3/24/2021 11:21
I understand the desire to use computers in the modern day to find the "final truth" of these positions. It leads to fascinating lines of play.

What is not fair is labeling a game "mistake prone" just because the human was not lucky enough to find the same move a computer found working at 50 ply. And that's all it is, is luck (or cheating). If the players were to play this endgame perfectly, it would just have been luck, not skill to have mimicked a computer, since it is impossible for it to be skill. It's meaningless to judge a game, especially an endgame, by comparing the moves with an engine at this point.
dumkof dumkof 3/24/2021 08:52
@Vinodkumar Poduval, I'm a Karpov fan myself.
Showing possible lines to draw against Karpov, with the help of best grandmasters and chess engines, after almost 40 years, doesn't belittle Karpov's strength and games at all. In contrary, it shows how deep and untouchable he was.
Gerald C Gerald C 3/24/2021 06:48
Great analysis, thank you !
Vinodkumar Poduval Vinodkumar Poduval 3/24/2021 04:15
There has been constant efforts to show that Karpov's games are of inferior ones and he is an average chess player, but the fact is the so- called chess genius Kasparov and his teams are not free from the shock the 5-0 result of Karpov match gave them, even after all these years and it haunts them, enjoy the 5-0 loss, enjoy.
Karsten Müller Karsten Müller 3/23/2021 10:01
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: