30 years ago: Kasparov vs. Short in London

by Dagobert Kohlmeyer
9/18/2023 – Thirty years ago, the World Championship match between Garry Kasaprov and Nigel Short was played in London. The match was not organized by FIDE and divided the chess world in two. The match was very one-sided. Dagobert Kohlmeyer was there. | Photos: Dagobert Kohlmeyer

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Two matches in 1993 (pt. 2): London

See part 1:  Two World Championship matches in the same year

Thirty years ago, on 7 September 1993, London became an epicentre of the chess world due to the start of the World Championship match between Garry Kasparov and Nigel Short. In the other duel in the Netherlands, Anatoly Karpov and Jan Timman were already sitting at the board. The history of the London duel was turbulent, since both finalists had parted ways with the world federation (FIDE) six months earlier and decided to market their duel on their own.

After Kasparov’s preferred venue, Los Angeles, had dropped out and other venues such as Manchester, which had been considered by FIDE, could not raise the prize fund he and Short wanted, they went looking for sponsors themselves. They finally found a renowned sponsor in the London Times. The famous paper was prepared to offer a World Cup purse of 1.7 million pounds (about three million dollars at the time).

Both grandmasters had known each other since the 1980 World Youth Championship in Dortmund, when Garry Kasparov won and Nigel Short came second. They were never real friends, but now they formed an alliance of convenience to promote their interests. They founded the Professional Chess Association (PCA). Number of members: 2! Later, many chess professionals joined it to improve their earning potential.

Kasparov was considered the heavy favourite for the World Championship, but Short had done great things on his way to the final, eliminating Jonathan Speelman, Boris Gelfand, Anatoly Karpov and Jan Timman in the Candidates’ matches. His surprising victory over living legend Karpov was noted with admiration by the public. Nevertheless, the reigning World Champion Garry Kasparov was naturally given the very best chance of defending his title.

Garry Kasparov in London

Before the match, the chess czar flexed his muscles as usual and declared:

The match will be short. My opponent will fall like the Berlin Wall.

At the time, the Amber Tournament was taking place in Monte Carlo, where the Englishman was playing. He was no match for Kasparov’s pithy statements.

You don’t kill the pieces, you kill the opponent. My job is to crawl inside Kasparov's head and find his fears.

On 31 March 1993, England’s most important daily newspaper comes out with the headline “Times brings world chess championship to London”. Short studies the front-page article in the press centre at the tournament in Monaco with pleasure, where the prize money of 1.7 million pounds is also mentioned. So business is worthwhile for both of them, but the price is high: they are disqualified by FIDE, Kasparov loses his official title and the other rebel loses the right to be an official challenger.

But they don’t give a damn, and Kasparov explains: “FIDE is making a fool of itself. Everyone knows who is number 1”. And Short lets it slip that for him the money is now a priority.

The one-sided match

On September 7, chess lovers flock to Charing Cross, the geographical centre of London. Even as Kasparov and Short arrive, hundreds of fans are waiting in the narrow street outside the venue, the famous Savoy Theatre.

The playing hall is also full after the organisers lowered the ticket prices at the last minute. The cheapest seat now costs 20 pounds. Almost 300 journalists are accredited, more than twice as many as at the FIDE match in Holland. The photographers are lined up in rows of four in front of the stage. They want to capture the start of the match between the Russian champion and the first Western challenger since Bobby Fischer.

The World Championship theatre

From 3.30 p.m. local time, the pieces will do the talking. The main referee is the legendary Yuri Averbakh, then 71 years “young”. The Russian legend has presided over many important competitions and is considered an absolute authority. Short doesn’t mind that Averbakh is a compatriot of Kasparov. The co-referee is an Englishman. The first game is symbolically opened by Grandmaster Raymond Keene. In the end, the game was extremely dramatic.

Yuri Averbakh presses the clock

Kasparov leads the white pieces at the start of the match and surprisingly opens with 1.e4. Short replies 1...e5, and the first game in London becomes a Ruy Lopez. After 25 moves the time trouble phase is reached, in which Kasparov later makes a mistake. His draw offer on move 38 is rejected by Short, who has an extra pawn and hopes for winning chances in the endgame. But shortly afterwards, Averbakh stops the clock and declares Kasparov the winner.

What happened? The Englishman exceeded the time limit on his 39th move in a position that was favourable for him. A few seconds later, his opponent would have done the same. There is general confusion in the room until everyone has seen the result. Afterwards, Kasparov admits to having won unattractively. But a point is a point.

The second game ends in a draw after another time-draw battle. In the third game, Short launches an attack, which Kasparov fends off and wins. The next game also goes to the World Champion. He now leads 3½:½, and the commentators are already talking about an easy win.

Games 5 and 6 end in draws. In the seventh game, Kasparov wins again and extends his lead. Then the news leaks out that Short has parted company with his chief second Lubomir Kavalek. Now only Robert Hübner and Jonathan Speelman are working for him. But that doesn’t stop Nigel from creating a real work of art with Garry in the next game.

Nigel Short in London

The pearl of London

September 23 sees the most exciting game of this World Championship. The eighth game will long remain in the memory of the chess world, as both finalists create a brilliant game in which a breathtaking tactical battle takes place on the board. After Short’s spirited attack and an amazing sequence of blows and counterblows, the game enters the time trouble phase. On his 38th move, White misses the win and overlooks Kasparov’s saving perpetual check. Shortly afterwards, the great game ends in a draw.

The chess world saw a little “immortal”. Kasparov says afterwards: "That was combative chess, the kind the public loves. The game will go down in chess history."

On the next match day, Garry Kasparov wins again and now has a 7:2 lead. Three drawn games follow, so that the score is 8½:3½ at the halfway point of the competition. The champion can be more than satisfied with that.

London impressions

At the start of the second half of the match, I arrive in London on time. Now that the first half of the other World Championship in Holland is history, I can see Garry and Nigel, the other mismatched pair, in action.

The press centre is to the left of the Savoy Hotel in the famous restaurant Simpson’s-in-the-Strand. This was the most important chess establishment in London in the mid-19th century, then known as Simpson’s Divan and Tavern. Anderssen played his “Immortals” against Kieseritzky there. In the days of the PCA match, the dignified pub provides a worthy ambience for the World Championship press centre and the analysis rooms. Everything is better equipped than the rooms in Zwolle, Arnhem or Amsterdam, there are more journalists on site, but the number of photographers has decreased, so I can take pictures of the two chess stars without any problems.

Before the 13th game

If a game ends in a draw, both players come on stage for the press conference; in the case of a decisive game, only the winner shows up. It is usually Kasparov, since Short has not won a single game so far. On the 13th and 14th days of competition we see two more drawn games until Kasparov wins again in the 15th game. He now leads 10½:4½.

The 16th game brings Nigel Short’s first and only win of the match. The Englishman has White and in the Sicilian Game benefits from Kasparov overestimating his chances and allowing himself several mistakes. After a beautiful knight manoeuvre by Short, Kasparov resigns on move 38. At last, the challenger has resolutely seized a winning opportunity that is well worth seeing. The audience in the Savoy Theatre is enthusiastic and gives a thunderous applause. It's a pity that Short’s consolation goal comes so late.

The Times, permanently at the entrance to the press centre every day, celebrates Short’s victory accordingly. In the 17th game, Nigel’s advantage after winning a pawn is not enough to win, and after three more drawn games, in which Kasparov twice had the better position, the defending champion has an unassailable lead.

In the end, after 20 games, Kasparov has won early by a 12½:7½ score. He has 6 wins to his credit and has allowed 13 draws, while Short has only scored 1 win. 

The Times, as the organiser, added an exhibition to the programme to generate some extra income. For the remaining days, a duel in rapid chess over four games takes place, which Kasparov wins 4:0. In addition, three thematic games are played, in which the first four moves are drawn beforehand. Short wins this duel 2:1. He fought fearlessly in London and did not hide. In the end, Nigel still collects three-eighths of the prize money. Never before has an English chess player won the proud sum of 650,000 pounds.

Kasparov's night excursions

As always, there are unexpected events in the course of a World Chess Championship. On Thursday, 21 October 1993, Kasparov and Short play their last World Championship game. Suddenly, the security curtain goes down on the stage. The cause: a bomb threat. Players and audience are asked to leave the hall. Fortunately, everything later turns out to be a false alarm. “Error of a fire alarm” is the laconic explanation of the organisers.

Another anecdote is contributed by Garry Kasparov himself. The World Champion loves to go for a walk in Regent’s Park in London with his seconds Alexander Beliavsky and Zurab Asmaiparashvili after gruelling games against Short. Which almost becomes his undoing. During these nocturnal rambles near his World Championship quarters, police officers twice detained and questioned him. In the headlights of a police limousine, Kasparov is first questioned about his identity. Even after the officials know who they are dealing with, they insist on the law. An ancient ordinance from the 19th century forbids entering public parks after dark. Kasparov, of course, does not know it and sees no reason to act on it. The next evening, when he and his companion try to leave through the last open gate, he is picked up again by the same patrol and told that if he does it again, he can expect to be arrested. But he doesn’t take the chance. The nice story makes its rounds in the media, and when Kasparov is asked in the press conference after the 15th game what he will do at midnight, he responds: “I’ll walk around the park this time!”

So much for the impressions of this World Championship match. In hindsight, of course, some nostalgic thoughts come up. Thirty years ago, Kasparov and Short (as well as Karpov and Timman in Holland) played with the good old clocks. Bobby Fischer’s electronic innovation had not yet caught on.

My photos were not yet digital, the reports to newspapers were faxed and not sent by e-mail. Live broadcasting of the games was also still in its infancy. If you wandered through London on a day without a match, you could still meet Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson outside Buckingham Palace. I don’t know if that’s still the case. Since Brexit, the British have perhaps lost some of their well-known sense of humour. The last time I was in London was in 2008.

The author with Sherlock Holmes


Dagobert Kohlmeyer is one of the best known German chess journalists. For more than 25 years Kohlmeyer, who lives in Berlin, has been travelling all over the world to report about and to capture impressions of Chess Olympiads, World Championships, and top tournaments.