The unofficial world chess hub of Saint Louis in the US Midwest has staged some remarkable and imaginative events over the past few years thanks to Rex Sinquefield and his dedicated staff, but perhaps their biggest coup yet was the dramatic announcement yesterday that ex-world champion Garry Kasparov is set to come out of retirement with the offer of a Grand Chess Tour wildcard spot to play in a new Rapid and Blitz tournament next month.
Kasparov returns in a double header that immediately follows the Sinquefield Cup at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis (CCSCSL) that runs Aug. 2-12, which again has an all-star line-up headed by current world champion and tour leader Magnus Carlsen, and also includes Hikaru Nakamura, Wesley So, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Fabiano Caruana, Levon Aronian, Sergey Karjakin, Viswanathan Anand, Ian Nepomniachtchi and wildcard Peter Svidler, the 7-time Russian champion.
Although Carlsen and So, having already played in Paris and Leuven - and thus already played in their allocated two rapid and blitz tour events - automatically have to sit out the new Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz competition Aug. 14-19, the field is nevertheless impressive, most notably now with the added media and fan buzz with the inclusion of an unrated Kasparov who, at 54, joked [he] immediately raises the average age of the field whilst at the same time lowering the average rating! The full line-up includes tour regulars Hikaru Nakamura, Fabiano Caruana, Levon Aronian, Sergey Karjakin, Viswanathan Anand, Ian Nepomniachtchi, and the four wildcards of David Navara, Le Quang Liem, Lenier Dominguez and Garry Kasparov.
Kasparov was “The Beast from Baku” who dominated the chess scene for two decades, and arguably the greatest-ever player the game has ever seen before hanging up his pawns for politics as a human rights campaigner (a fervent critic of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin) and writer. It’s 12-years since Kasparov surprised everyone with his shock retirement announcement at the conclusion of the Spanish super-tournament in Linares in 2005 - but he did say then he would never say never, and wouldn’t rule out making some one-off appearances in speed events.
"It's a thrill to officially be returning to the game, and certainly not something I would have anticipated more than a decade after my retirement," said ex-World Champion Kasparov. "Coming back to the board in Saint Louis is truly an honor – I wouldn't want to commemorate this moment anywhere else."
Last year, also in Saint Louis, Kasparov made an unofficial return by competing in the unrated Ultimate Blitz Challenge at the CCSCSL to face the top US trio of Wesley So, Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura - and he showed then that he was still a force to reckon with, scoring 9½/18 to finish in third place just half a point behind So in second, and 1½ points behind Nakamura who won the fun event.
GM Garry Kasparov - GM Hikaru Nakamura
Ultimate Blitz Challenge 2016, (5)
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 Kasparov's favourite Scotch Game! If anything, Kasparov single-handedly is responsible for rehabilitating this venerable old opening, which laid dormant at elite-level for nearly 100 years before Kasparov sprang it on a surprised Anatoly Karpov during their 1990 World Championship match, scoring 1½/2 with it. After that, the Scotch became universally popular at elite-level once again and always remained a big weapon in Kasparov's arsenal. 3...exd4 4.Nxd4 Bc5 Nakamura opts for a steady sideline rather than testing his opponent's knowledge in the mainline of 4...Nf6 5.Nxc6 bxc6 6.e5 Qe7 7.Qe2 Nd5 8.c4 Ba6 that became a feature of many Kasparov games - and indeed, a couple of rounds later, in round 7, big Scotch thinker Kasparov demolished Wesley So with this line. 5.Be3 Qf6 6.c3 Nge7 7.Bc4 Ne5 8.Bb3 d6 9.0-0 0-0 10.f3 N7c6 11.Kh1 Prophylaxis pure and simple. This may well be a blitz game, but Kasparov shows he still has the clarity of mind to avoid any nasty tricks from Nakamura by simply removing his king from the bishop pin. 11...Bb6 12.Na3 Kh8 13.Qd2 Na5 14.Ndb5 Bxe3 15.Qxe3 Qe7 You might think that Nakamura is being widely optimistic here by keeping pieces on the board, but capturing first on b3 came with another set of issues, as after the forcing sequence 15...Nxb3 16.axb3 Qe7 17.Nxa7! Be6 18.N7b5 Bxb3 19.c4 Ba4 20.b3 Bxb5 21.Nxb5 White has a nice little advantage to work on. 16.Bc2 a6 17.Nd4 c5 This is a committal move as it comes with the price of compromising Black's d6 pawn - but Nakamura really has to shift Kasparov's dominant knight on d4 if he is to get his bishop into the game. 18.Ne2 Nac4 19.Nxc4 Nxc4 20.Qc1 f5 21.b3 Nb6 If 21...Ne5 White can easily hone in on the d6 weakness with 22.Qd2 fxe4 23.Bxe4 Be6 24.Nf4! where White has total control of the all-important d5 square, and can quickly build-up pressure on d6 with Rad1 and Rfe1. 22.c4! Kasparov put's the big clamp on d5 - and from here on in, he has a total grip on the game, and shows that he still has the old magic as he ruthlessly presses home his advantage by exploiting the big weakness of the backward pawn on d6. 22...fxe4 23.Bxe4 Bf5 24.Ng3 Bxe4 25.Nxe4 Rad8 If Nakamura can get in ...d5 without losing his c5-pawn, this would go a long way to saving the game - but Kasparov isn't going to allow this. 26.Re1 Rfe8 27.Qd2 Qf8 28.Ng5! The knight becomes a bone stuck in Nakamura's throat, as Kasparov exploits the back-rank mating threats in the Black camp. 28...Qf6 29.Rxe8+ Rxe8 30.Re1! Rxe1+ 31.Qxe1 Nd7 32.Qe8+ Nf8 33.h3! Nakamura's own back-rank predicament allows Kasparov the time to create his own little escape route for his king. 33...Kg8 There's no time for 33...h6 as after 34.Ne4 Qf4 35.Qe7! d6 is going to fall. It may fall anyway, but at least Nakamura will have his king closer to the center that might offer up greater resistance if it goes down to a knight and pawn ending. 34.Ne4 Qf4 35.Qe7! The d6-pawn is the obvious target - but can Nakamura escape with a timely repetition? 35...Qc1+ 36.Kh2 Qf4+ 37.Kg1 Qc1+ 38.Kf2 No! Kasparov, even in a tight blitz countdown with one's of the modern game's greatest speed mavens, calmly and coolly finds the correct defense to avoid any chance of letting his opponent escape with a draw. 38...Qb2+ 39.Kg3 h5 There's no time for 39...Qxa2 as 40.Ng5! leads to a quick kill. 40.Nxd6 h4+ 41.Qxh4 Ng6 42.Qe4 Qf6 43.Nf5 Qg5+ 44.Kh2 Nf4 45.g3 Nh5 46.f4 Qd8 47.Qd5+! With the queens exchanged, Kasparov easily wins the game now as there's no stopping White's kingside pawns rapidly pushing up the board. 47...Qxd5 48.Ne7+ Kf7 49.Nxd5 1-0