A few reflections more (and a cocktail of Caissists)

by Jonathan Speelman
7/4/2021 – Star columnist Jon Speelman reactivates his “mirror”, a potent if imaginary artefact intended to reflect the best chess players ever. This week, a couple of games by Garry Kasparov, “an (un)caged tiger who revels in violent conflict”. | Pictured: Kasparov with ChessBase’s Matthias Wüllenweber

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Volcanic energy

[Note that Jon Speelman also looks at the content of the article in video format, here embedded at the end of the article.]

A fortnight ago, I activated my “mirror”, a potent if imaginary artefact intended to reflect the best chess players ever. It has more work to do today, and first I must thank readers for a very lively and interesting discussion in the comments afterwards.

As I mentioned in those comments, I didn’t have a very strong opinion myself as to who was/is the best of the best, which is partly why I asked. People seem to divide into roughly four different camps: Fischer adherents; those who advance the claims of other recent top players; a few shouts for Lasker, Capablanca and Alekhine; and some mentions of the great players of the past who can’t be directly compared to the modern crop but were way ahead of their time — Morphy, Philidor and even El Greco.

Of course, I know most of you only through your handles, but I was very pleased that my old friend Yasser Seirawan gave his opinion: Kasparov, Karpov, Fischer, Carlsen and Anand — and am very happy to exchange virtual fist bumps.

Yasser Seirawan

Yasser Seirawan at the Hoogeven tournament 1980 | Photo: Fernando Pereira / Anefo / CC0

As an aside, I hope I’m not being impolite by reviving the memory of St John New Brunswick (where the Candidates matches were held in 1988 and I beat Yasser), and in particular the chess-player-themed cocktails which were served in a bar there. These came up recently when I had lunch with my son Lawrence and discovered to my surprise that I’d never mentioned them to him before. I can’t for the life of me remember the names (possibly Speelman’s Surprise, the Benko Bomber?) let alone the ingredients. And  I was hoping that Yasser or maybe some other reader might have better memories than me (or indeed my second in St John, Will Watson).

Garry KasparovBack to business, and this week a couple of games by Garry Kasparov. I should add that the fact that I had just one game each by Fischer and Karpov wasn’t a value judgement just kicking things off — I may well come back to them, and I’d be more than happy if readers made suggestions.

Following the meteor that was Fischer and Karpov’s decade-long reign, Kasparov was the next magnificent player to dominate the chess firmament.

It wasn’t an easy transition, as the two played an epic series of matches, with Kasparov first learning a vast amount from Karpov in the heat of battle before he finally overcame and arguably surpassed him.

Karpov liked/likes order (or rather his version of order) on the chessboard, and my first stab at an epithet last week was “deft control”. In complete contrast, Kasparov was/is an (un)caged tiger who revels in violent conflict. I tried “volcanic energy” last time, and in the comments readers suggested “brute force” and “power in action”.   

I’d already said that I’d look at his Nxg7 game against Predrag Nikolic, and I’m very grateful to reader MeisterZinger for reminding me of the wonderful king hunt against Veselin Topalov, which follows it.


Select an entry from the list to switch between games

How I became World Champion Vol.1 1973-1985

Garry Kasparov's rise to the top was meteoric and at his very first attempt he managed to become World Champion, the youngest of all time. In over six hours of video, he gives a first hand account of crucial events from recent chess history, you can improve your chess understanding and enjoy explanations and comments from a unique and outstanding personality on and off the chess board.


Jonathan Speelman, born in 1956, studied mathematics but became a professional chess player in 1977. He was a member of the English Olympic team from 1980–2006 and three times British Champion. He played twice in Candidates Tournaments, reaching the semi-final in 1989. He twice seconded a World Championship challenger: Nigel Short and then Viswanathan Anand against Garry Kasparov in London 1993 and New York 1995.
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excalibur2 excalibur2 7/18/2021 07:40

Which peers did Fischer face? Some of his "peers" were old enough to be Fischer's dad.

And how long did he dominate them for? For 4 or 5 tournaments and matches from 1970-1972?

Which sport is a player the GOAT in which he dominated only older men and was on top for only 3 years?
Yasser Seirawan Yasser Seirawan 7/6/2021 10:28
Dear Vidmar, Yes! Indeed. Unabashedly I'll state that Vishy is better than Capa or Alekhine. Consider that Vishy won the FIDE World Championship in classical chess five times ... And who stopped him from winning it many other times? Why only Kasparov, number one on my list ... and Karpov number two on my list ... and Carlsen number four on my list, who stopped him twice. If we were to suggest that Vishy won against Kasparov in 1995 ... Continued to win the WC titles that he did ... Consider how long his reign could have been. If Vishy had won his first match against Magnus, I'd have no difficulties putting him as the 4th greatest player ever. Bests, Yasser
saturn23 saturn23 7/6/2021 06:32
It's amazing to me how people try to determine the best or the greatest chess players ever without mentioning what criteria they use to compare players. There's no way to order a list of items without a way of comparing them. Here is a list of possible criteria for determining the best/greatest chess player ever: absolute strength (hard to determine), strength relative to peers (hard to determine), tournaments and matches won (easy to determine), Elo (hard to determine over a long period of time), percentage of games won (easy to determine), numbers of years as World Champion or number 1 (easy to determine), accuracy of play (hard to determine but there were efforts to do this with the help of computers), etc. Establishing the criteria is not enough. You also need to determine the weight of each criterion.

For me the strength relative to the peers is the most important criterion. That's why I think Fischer is the greatest.
Frits Fritschy Frits Fritschy 7/6/2021 01:28
Denix, DM 2800 is about € 2200 today. Still not bad. No offence to the Philippines, but the DM might be a bit more reliable.
Vidmar Vidmar 7/5/2021 07:26
So Yasser believes Anand is better than Capa or Alekhine ? Oh come now )
Denix Denix 7/5/2021 04:43
The Brilliancy prize of PHP 50000 then is now about 3350 Euros in today's money.
CMPonCB CMPonCB 7/5/2021 01:36
Regarding the cocktails from St. John, John Nunn (for BCM) mentions ...

The Christiansen Combo, The Karpov Connector, The Short Nip, The Speelman Special, and the Kasparov Express, the last three being the correspondent's favourites in the sampling.

There were however a few others that he felt should have been offered ...

"The Andersson Anaesthetic, Portisch Preparation, or Hjartarson on the Rocks. Even a Nunn Knockout would have been welcome."
Theochessman Theochessman 7/5/2021 12:48
Yasser in his early days, that is such an awesome picture!
Mr. Sierawan is the truest gentleman of Chess and has written many great books on Chess too.