by Brian Jerauld
After 10 long years of retirement, the 13th World Champion of Chess Garry Kasparov returned to his old black-and-white stomping grounds Saturday afternoon — reappearing with a style so familiar, one could question if he had left the game only yesterday. At the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, Kasparov took sides for only the fourth time since 2005, re-emerging for the Battle of the Legends match against his famous foe-turned-friend counterpart, famed English Grandmaster Nigel Short.
Dueling through one Rapid game of chess followed by four Blitz contests, Kasparov fell right back into his animated groove of play — tossing cursory glances into the air, then feverishly pressing his face through his hands — and to the fans’ delight, returning to his memorable aggression on the board. Kasparov took a 3.5-1.5 lead over Short in the two-day, ten-game Battle of the Legends match, first settling with a wonderfully fought draw in the Rapid control, then smashing through with victories in three of the four Blitz.
“I feel great, and I have to confess: I’m also surprised,” Kasparov said of his toppling victory. “I felt like it was time to play as I had played 20 or 30 years ago: Just have fun — and attack, attack. So I did it in every game, and it worked.”
That third game, the second Blitz contest of the afternoon, perhaps revealed the only sign of rust given from Kasparov’s retirement: Neglecting his old, ticking friend. Intensely focused on seeing through a balanced position, Kasparov simply ignored his dwindling clock — later revealing he felt “disconnected” from it — and let his final seconds run out to provide Short his only win of the day. Kasparov rebounded with two victories to close the afternoon, however, including the day’s only win with the white pieces in Game 5.
“To be honest, I’ve never played with a delay in my life — never, in any sort of important game,” Short said of the 5-minute, 3-second delay Blitz time control. “I haven’t quite got the hang of that. Also, I tried a little bit to exploit Garry’s lack of practice, put a little bit of clock pressure on him. It was a conscious idea, but I missed a lot of things. I was disappointed.”
For his part, Short defended wonderfully in the match’s opening Rapid round. In a Bogo-Indian, Short’s early 4…c5 slowed Kasparov for a moment of recall, finally deciding on 5. a3 to earn the bishop pair but a delay in development. He worked his way through, however, with the nifty 10. Nb5.
And by 19. Qg3 and 20. f4, the legendary Kasparov was once again on the attack. Short tried to add complications, centralizing with 20…Nd4 and attacking the white rook with 21…Bc4, but Kasparov ignored the attack, accepting the exchange while continuing to peck away at Black’s castle. Short’s clock fell below 7 minutes before finding 23…Kh8 and, worse, his opponent had found a familiar stance: Intently and aggressively leaning across the board.
England’s former child prodigy held his own down the stretch, however, finding all the right moves in a sharp position that required them. He removed white’s menacing white knight by returning the exchange with 24…Rxd5, then confidently played 26…fxe5 to challenge Kasparov’s dangerously forcing back-rank threat. White fully destroyed black’s castle protection, forcing the black king to cower in the corner, but the bishop pair could not help the queen break through black’s last line of defense. With 41. Qd8+, Kasparov entered into threefold repetition.