Garry Kasparov, now aged 58 and for many still the all-time No 1 player, will make a rare cameo comeback next month when the 2021 over-the-board Grand Tour, which was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic, reaches Zagreb in Croatia.
Kasparov will play 18 games in the five-minute blitz section on 10-11 July, when his leading opponent will be the current world title challenger, Ian Nepomniachtchi, who is not playing the full Tour but is competing in Zagreb as a wildcard.
The first five rounds of the opening Tour event, the Superbet Classic at Bucharest, have been marred by numerous theoretical draws, with only the two Romanian locals providing a combative approach. Just six of the 25 games were decisive, and all but one of those involved Constantin Lupulescu or Bogdan-Daniel Deac.
Lupulescu won an entertaining attack against Anish Giri after evading a vicious trap at move 32. The Romanian correctly chose 32 Re7! but would not 32 Re8 with unavoidable mate have been even better? Lupulescu spotted the snare: 32 Re8?? Rxg2+! 33 Kh1 (33 Kxg2?? Qc6+! forks king and rook, winning for Black) Rh2+! with perpetual check.
Tour regulations state: “To promote competitive play during all GCT events, it will not be permitted for players to offer or agree to a draw in any game of a 2021 GCT event.” Threefold repetition of position is the key loophole for the pacifically inclined, with hoovering off the armies down to bare kings also popular.
Recently Kasparov has relaunched his website Kasparovchess.com which he hopes will become a rival to the established major sites chess.com, chess24.com,and lichess.org.
When Kasparov made the ceremonial round one opening move at Bucharest for Teimour Radjabov, the link between them for many spectators was simply their mutual birthplace in Baku, Azerbaijan.
In 2003 after the 15-year-old Radjabov sensationally defeated the then No 1 at Linares in Spain, Kasparov erupted at the closing ceremony when the game was awarded the beauty prize, claiming that he had blundered a piece in a winning position, while later Radjabov said that he had been blocked from invitations to other tournaments due to Kasparov’s influence. So, a chance for a belated payback when Kasparov plays blitz in Zagreb? Unfortunately not. Radjabov will miss the Croatian leg of the Tour.
Radjabov has also emerged as the most blamed player for the current draw epidemic, following his four quick halves in his first set against Nepomniachtchi at the online FTX Crypto Cup, and his five bloodless halves so far at Bucharest. Two weeks ago, when the Azerbaijani was criticised on Twitter by the Wijk aan Zee winner Jorden van Foreest, Radjabov said: “I read comments of amateur chess players about our matches.” To which Van Foreest replied: “Rather be an amateur chess player than not play chess at all.”
Radjabov’s post-game interviews in Bucharest show that preserving rating points is one of the prime motivations for his cautious approach. This may hark back to his traumatic experience eight years ago in the 2013 Candidates in London, where at the time he was No 4 in the world with a lifetime rating peak of 2793. That tournament was a disaster as he finished last of eight, scoring only 4/14. Afterwards he played less for several years until his surprise win of the 2019 World Cup qualified him for the 2020 Candidates in Ekaterinburg.
Then he withdrew from the Candidates shortly before the start, citing coronavirus fears which proved prophetic when the tournament had to be suspended for a year halfway through. Radjabov continued to campaign vigorously for compensation, hinting at legal action, and last month Fide announced that the 34-year-old would be given a place in the next Candidates, to be staged in 2022. It was a solution which Carlsen had previously called “ridiculous”.
Besides Radjabov and the loser of the Carlsen v Nepomniachtchi world championship match, the 2022 Candidates will include two qualifiers each from the 2021 World Cup (Sochi, July-August), the 2021 Grand Swiss (Isle of Man, October-November) and the spring 2022 Grand Prix. Carlsen will compete in the World Cup although he does not need to qualify. He supports knockouts, and he has never won the World Cup where his last attempt in 2017 ended in a third round defeat by China’s Bu Xiangzhi. Caruana is the big loser from the new system, as he would very likely have taken the now discarded rating spot.
3727 1…Kc7! 2 Kc3 Kb7! and White resigned. 3 Kd3 Kb6 is the puzzle diagram, but this time with White to move so the WK must retreat and allow a BK entry. Both 4 Kc4 Kc6 5 Kc3 Kd5 and 4 Kc3 Kb5 5 Kd3 Kb4 6 Kc2 c4 7 bxc4 Kxc4 lead to the BK eating White’s pawns. This “distant opposition” technique is well known to strong players, so White resigned as soon as it was clear that Black was aware of it.