Throwback Thursday: Kasparov wins Linares, retires

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
11/6/2020 – After twenty years as the world’s highest-rated player, Garry Kasparov decided to quit chess and go into politics in March 2005. His last event was the now legendary Linares Tournament. Kasparov had a one-point lead over Veselin Topalov going into their direct encounter in the last round — Topalov won that game, but Kasparov nonetheless won the tournament, as he had a better tiebreak score (more wins with black). | Photos: Nadja Wittmann

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A shocking announcement

Garry KasparovAfter twenty years as the world’s highest-rated player, Garry Kasparov decided to quit chess and go into politics in March 2005. His last event was the now legendary Linares Tournament. Kasparov had a one-point lead over Veselin Topalov going into their direct encounter in the last round — Topalov won that game, but Kasparov nonetheless won the tournament, as he had a better tiebreak score (more wins with black).

As Viswanathan Anand mentioned in an interview for Indian Express, “there wasn’t any clue that he would do so”. The Russian’s announcement was a shock for the chess world, and at the time there was a lot of talk about whether he would eventually come out of retirement or not. Many years later, Kasparov did play a couple of official rapid tournaments in Saint Louis, but he never actually played competitively again.

When he announced his retirement on March 10, Kasparov was 42 years old, and it had been a little less than 20 years since he became world champion on November 9, 1985. The Russian grandmaster had spent practically half his life as the strongest chess player in the world.

Jon Speelman, in his column on The Guardian, pointed out that “Kasparov’s position as the unchallenged world number one [had] gradually come under question”, especially after his defeat against Vladimir Kramnik in 2000. The key word here is unchallenged, as by all measures he was still the strongest in the world. Anand, for example, thought he had become the greatest of all time in 1999:

For most who followed the game, he was No. 1. But I thought it was after 1999 that Kasparov ruled. Prior to that, it was Bobby Fischer — although you cannot compare both. Fischer’s environment was not very conducive to the then existing scenario while Kasparov had an amazing record as far as statistics went and equally reassuring support.

Of course, Magnus Carlsen must now be included in the discussion, but Anand’s answer goes to show how respected Kasparov actually was at the time. As reported by Mig Greengard in his Daily Dirt Chess Blog, a 17-year-old Hikaru Nakamura then told the Financial Times that chess was dead due to Kasparov’s retirement. 

Curiously, the same entry in Greengard’s blog mentions Kasparov naming Sergey Karjakin and Magnus Carlsen as his most likely successors. Carlsen was 14 years old at the time.

Kasparov told Greengard, who still works as the former world champion’s aide-de-camp and co-author:

I’m a man of goals, what else can I accomplish? There is no match and there will be no match. It has to be the real thing and that doesn’t exist. I proved maybe not for others but for myself that I’m still the best. Everything else is just repetition. Twenty years as number one on the rating list is good enough.

The Russian’s strong character took him to the heights of the royal game, but also factored in his decision to step aside from his professional career as a chess player.

Garry Kasparov, Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam, Leontxo Garcia

Garry Kasparov talking to Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam after announcing his retirement — journalists Leontxo García (left), Agel Asensio and Arturo Xicotentatl (right) also walk along 

The tournament

The 22nd edition of the Linares Tournament was a 7-player double round robin and took place from February 23 until March 17. Defending champion Vladimir Kramnik was not in the lineup. ‘Big Vlad’ was the fourth highest-rated player in the world at the time, and the only player from the top 6 not to take part in the supertournament. Kasparov (#1), Anand (#2), Topalov (#3), Peter Leko (#5) and Michael Adams (#6) were joined by local star Francisco Vallejo and Rustam Kasimdzhanov, who had recently won the FIDE World Championship Tournament (Knockout) in 2004.

Kasparov beat Vallejo and Adams in the first half of the event, getting a half point lead over Anand and Topalov. Three consecutive wins over Kasimdzhanov, Vallejo and Adams left him one and a half points ahead of Anand and Topalov with two rounds to go.

His victory with black over Adams out of a Sicilian was remarkable:


Jon Speelman annotated here: “Kasparov now settled down for a very long think before producing an admirably calm move which requires excellent nerves and understanding in such a tense position” — 19...Ba8. Although Kasparov called this “a great move”, engines nowadays think White is clearly better. The sharpness of the position, however, favoured Kasparov’s excellent tactical vision. The game continued 20.Bg5 Be5 21.gxh7+ Kxh7, and that is when Adams erred with 22.Nb3:


Speelman: “Seeing no good way to continue his attack, Adams panicked and blundered”. 22.Be3 was the best response for white. 

Kasparov found 22...Nxc2 and the game continued 23.Nxc5 Na3+ 24.Ka2 Qxc5 25.Na4:


25...Nc2, as 26.Nxc4 would be responded by 26...Rxb2#. Adams went for 26.Kb1 and resigned after 26...Qa3 — 27.Qxc2 Rfc8 28.Qxc8 Rxb2+! (Speelman).

Garry Kasparov, Michael Adams

Garry Kasparov, Michael Adams

It was certainly the most explosive game of the day

Kasparov understandably drew Anand with white in the penultimate round, while Topalov defeated Vallejo. The Bulgarian was a full point behind the leader and was paired up against him in what would turn out to be the last classical game of Kasparov’s career. Topalov won that game with the white pieces to catch up with the Russian, but officially finished in second place on tiebreaks (number of wins with black). The players shared 175,000 euros in prize money nonetheless.

After the game, Kasparov made the big announcement:

All games by Kasparov - Linares 2005



Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.


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fixpont fixpont 11/8/2020 01:43
Davidx1: computers are the great equalizers, it is much harder today to gain advantage especially in the opening
Gerald C Gerald C 11/7/2020 07:30
Garry, the greatest ! With him, the show and the beauty of the game were there. He has done more than any champion to popularize the game and his books are marvelous. Long life to him !
amarpan amarpan 11/7/2020 01:46
Before the computer era, players from the Soviet bloc enjoyed an advantage that made it difficult for outsiders to reach the top level. Bobby Fischer, Jan Timman, Ulf Andersson, Vishwanathan Anand etc need to be recognized for having achieved this.
IntensityInsanity IntensityInsanity 11/6/2020 11:31
I’m a fan of Kasparov. So I say this with most respect, and while still holding to the position that he was the best of all time. I am in agreement with Davidx1’s position. However, at some point, any great player reaches the max or max age, and starts going downhill. It happens gradually and it sneaks up on you. Kasparov wanted to quit while he was ahead. Not after he began losing to weaker GMs. Kasparov wanted to preserve his legacy. I believe that was the main reason he quit. I think it was a good choice, considering the above logic.
Jarman Jarman 11/6/2020 09:00
Although it is probably true that he didn't have much else to prove or achieve in chess, it seems that by sticking to it he would still have got way more than he did in politics. I enjoy reading his articles in the press, but I enjoyed his recent win against Firouzja even more.