Kasparov's Ultimate Moves warm-up

by Venkatachalam Saravanan
9/3/2019 – Garry Kasparov has a very steep climb ahead if he wants to get back into contention in his Champions Showdown match versus Fabiano Caruana. He arrived several days early to participate in the now traditional post-Sinquefield "Ultimate Moves" exhibition. Presumably he found some time to practice before taking on super-GM Fabiano Caruana. IM VENKATACHALAM SARAVANAN has been in St. Louis throughout, reporting all the action from the venue. | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

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

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Ultimate moves between ultimate masters

Picture this: the playoff for the Sinquefield Cup has just ended, and we all troop down from the playing hall of the Saint Louis Chess Club down to the lobby. There is a curiously equal sense of disbelief and jubilation in the air over the notion that Magnus Carlsen could actually be dethroned even in a single tournament, and that we have a new champion who, at an Elo of 2811, still needs a big victory in his career to announce his arrival.

All come to their senses quickly, as we see a fantastic spectacle in the tournament hall about half an hour after the end of the playoff.

Dr. Jeanne Sinquefield with Garry Kasparov and Vishy Anand | Photo: V. Saravanan

When we see two world champions, who fought an iconic match about 24 years ago, chatting light-heartedly, we come back to Earth: the annual show that thrills chess lovers is about to begin. The Ultimate Moves, a permanent feature during the hectic month at the Saint Louis Chess Club — along with the Blitz & Rapid and the Sinquefield Cup events — is a much looked forward event.

Rex (left) versus Randy Sinquefield before the beginning of the Ultimate Moves | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

This year, Team Rex consists of Garry Kasparov, Magnus Carlsen, Yasser Seirawan, Ding Liren, Wesley So, Sergey Karjakin and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov.

Some of the members of Team Rex | Photo: Crystal Fuller / Grand Chess Tour

Team Randy has Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura, Vishy Anand, Levon Aronian, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Anish Giri and Ian Nepomniachtchi.

Some of the members of Team Randy | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Now, Ultimate Moves is an event in which the sponsor Rex Sinquefield and his son Randy Sinquefield team up all the stars who turn up for the Grand Chess Tour events to play a six-game match against each other in a fun format. Each game is played with five minutes plus five seconds delay per move on the clock, and each player makes five moves before getting up and giving his seat to the next member of his team. The order in which the team members rotate their turn is pre-determined before each game, and is followed strictly by the arbiters.

As everyone queues up outside the foyer of the playing hall, where the final instructions to the players are given and team strategies are being formed, we feel the absence of the world champion. Carlsen, who won six consecutive classical tournaments in a row — either sole or shared — lost a tie-break match after twelve years and ten consecutive successes, and hasn't yet returned to the venue.

As we notice his absence and try to contemplate Carlsen's mood after such a crucial loss, he strides in at the last minute and takes his place next to Kasparov. Though he appears 'cool' in an extremely casual dress next to Kasparov's own beachwear, it is obvious that Carlsen is not in a cheery mood as in the previous years of the exhibition.

Magnus Carlsen and Garry Kasparov | Photo: V. Saravanan

We then look at his teammate, Ding, the man who won the crucial playoff just under an hour ago — he appears equally exhausted.

An exhausted Ding Liren | Photo: V. Saravanan

But, once the matches start and chess gets rolling, we forget about the day's history and start enjoying the moment — this is the only event in the global chess calendar when the top players of the world indulge in trash-talking during the games! Messing up the other person's mind comes up there at the top of enjoyment for chess players when it comes to playing blitz. Who among us has't done it? But it is a completely surreal feeling when you see the best of the best in the world doing it, with much sharper intellects and humour!

Curiously, it was one of the most subdued of the crowd who started it, on someone who we all think is a dangerous target — Fabiano Caruana to Garry Kasparov!

Starting up the show, Maurice Ashley asked Kasparov, "Garry, your thoughts about [Ultimate Moves] this year?" Being the no-nonsense point-hunting non-trash-talker he is, he produced his best with, "Last year I was on the losing side. This year, we have to improve...Magnus is here next to me — how can we lose?!", which was met with polite laughter. A grinning Caruana responded with, "I just want to give Garry an idea of what is going to happen next week!", referring to his future Chess960 opponent! A stunned group of players and Ashley started with an 'ooh' and then a burst of laughter and cheer. Needless to say, even after all these years, Kasparov's face was quite a picture.

Caruana messing with Kasparov's mind and getting away with it | Photo: Crystal Fuller / Grand Chess Tour

The superstar of trash-talking at Saint Louis for all these years has been Levon Aronian and the next big missile came from him, once again at a completely unexpected target — Magnus Carlsen. When Carlsen sat down for the first time across Hikaru Nakamura to play his moves — while remembering his loss to Ding just hours ago — he already faced a tricky position.

 

After a casual look, Black seems to be in trouble, as he is down a pawn and not sure how to recover it. As in the words of Aronian, "In my opinion, White is a pawn up!" And while Magnus was giving a mild grimace and contemplating his move thus indicating he was not entirely happy with the position, Aronian came up with the curve ball, "I can tell you this is the best position Magnus has had today!", and the crowd roared. Carlsen too couldn't suppress his enjoyment of the joke at his expense and grinned widely, acknowledging the ghosts of his loss to Ding Liren but being fine with it.

Levon Aronian — easily the best trash-talker in town | Photo: Crystal Fuller / Grand Chess Tour

Yasser Seirawan came up with the retort, "At least he was playing!", aimed at Aronian, who had a forgettable outing at the Sinquefield Cup and finished at the bottom of the table. The show was in full swing instantly.

A grinning Carlsen enjoying Seirawan's retort | Photo: Crystal Fuller / Grand Chess Tour

Very soon, new talents started getting identified. The following position happened.

 

Curiously, when Ding was playing his own team-mate Anand, Anish Giri came up with, "17...♞a4 is very good — Vishy feels the pressure", prompting a surprised Ashley to ponder, "You are trash-talking your own team-mate!" A bemused Anand chuckled, "Anish gets confused!", prompting Maxime Vachier-Lagrave to chip in with, "Anish doesn't know, even when he is playing, which side he is!"

Anand and MVL forced to defend against their own team-mate | Photo: Crystal Fuller / Grand Chess Tour

There were many many memorable moments, but one of the most hilarious ones came when two guys who troll each other on Twitter came face to face, and one of them just couldn't resist himself.

 

This position was handed over to Giri just as the MVL versus Kasparov cycle had ended, and he was obviously delighted to get an overwhelming advantage already, playing 26.0-0 instantly. At this precise point, Kasparov's place was taken by Carlsen, and Giri couldn't resist, "Magnus! Welcome back!", bringing the house down around him. After all, White was winning easily with 26...xe3+ 27.h1 g7 28.c7 c8 29.dxf7 h6 30.b7 xc7 31.xc7 etc.

When mutual online trolls come face to face | Photo: V. Saravanan

Giri enjoying the moment against Carlsen, and the rest of the game — Team Randy wins | Video: V. Saravanan

Chess players being chess players — especially being world champions — there were moments of rough edges too.

 

This crucial position brought the Sinquefields face to face, and the whole area was tense, as they were obviously under pressure to maintain the level of play of the rest of the crowd. Here, Rex went for 43...gxh4? when 43...g4 was winning easily. The commentary went, "An exchange of pawns, and now let us see what happens further", and the moves continued 44.xh4 for which Aronian prompted, "And now they are going for more exchanges!" It so happened that Rex Sinquefield now went for 44...xh4 45.xh4 f5?? — 45...♚h5 was winning — 46.exf5 and the game ended in a draw.

This annoyed Kasparov severely, who was extremely unhappy with the wrong 'prompting' coming from the outside, starting to protest, "He can't do that! In a crucial position like this, you cannot be commenting from outside". Needless to say, Team Randy were in splits looking at Kasparov being angry!

Vintage Kasparov is unleashed | Photo: Crystal Fuller / Grand Chess Tour

The unconcerned opposition celebrates | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

There were moments of (innocent?) digressions too. Watch as Nepomniachtchi tries one below the belt at Seirawan.

It was not just simply fun and banter. There were many memorable moments.

Camaraderie — when Levon Aronian HAD to help out team-mate Vishy Anand | Photo: V. Saravanan

When the position consumes emotions — a tense moment | Photo: V. Saravanan

When perfect gentlemen off the board — Fabiano Caruana and MVL — do not mind indulging in fun and frolic | Photo: V. Saravanan

Where else can this happen but at Saint Louis? | Photo: V Saravanan

Two world champions playing in American soil, just like they did in 1995 when they clashed for the throne. Watched by the reigning world champion, who is threatening to break all the records set by anyone on the chess board ever. And surrounded by some of the most remarkable talents, one of whom might actually occupy the throne next!


Commentary webcast

Maurice Ashley does live commentary from the action scene


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Saravanan is an IM from Chennai, the southern-most state of Tamil Nadu, India. He has been an active chess player in the Indian circuit, turning complete chess professional in 2012, actively playing and being a second to strong Indian players. He has been consistently writing on chess since late 1980s and is a correspondent to national newspapers and news channels.
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