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

Master Class Vol.7: Garry Kasparov Master Class Vol.7: Garry Kasparov

On this DVD a team of experts gets to the bottom of Kasparov's play. In over 8 hours of video running time the authors Rogozenko, Marin, Reeh and Müller cast light on four important aspects of Kasparov's play: opening, strategy, tactics and endgame.


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...

How to play the Najdorf Vol. 1

A great moment when the world's leading expert shares all the secrets in his favourite opening. The Najdorf system in the Sicilian Defence has a legendary reputation as a defensive weapon for Black. In part one Garry Kasparov introduces the various sub-systems of the Najdorf, including the central “Poisoned Pawn” variation.


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.


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register