Sunday, April 13, 2014

Birthday Greetings Garry Kasparov

There was quite some excitement in Australian chess circles earlier this year, when it was announced that the 13th World Chess Champion, Garry Kasparov, would be coming to Australia around Easter time, and would look in at Doeberl, probably to hand out prizes on the last day. For many of my generation, Kasparov is an absolute idol, taking dynamic chess to new limits while also possessing masterful technique, and the ability to play all types of position equally well. While Spassky and Fischer brought the idea of 'total chess' to the table, Karpov and Kasparov raised the limits of possibilities, and especially Kasparov was at the forefront of deeper than ever opening preparation that most of us amateurs dread.

It is, of course, a great pity that such an amazing talent as Kasparov should have retired from competitive chess and that he won't be playing in Canberra, but his mere presence will be inspiration enough for many. The only time I've previously seen Kasparov was at the 1986 London World Championship match which I visited. The aura in the playing hall was amazing. Grandmasters were in the audience along with patzers like myself, watching the two great players battle it out. I left the playing hall desperate to work at the game, and get to the highest level I could manage.

Well, a week before his trip to Canberra, it is Kasparov's 51st birthday today. Kasparov has played many memorable games, and produced many great contributions to chess opening and endgame theory as well as his magnificent attacks and combinations. The game that I vividly remember seeing and thinking, "my God, how good was that!" was his win in 1982 at the Olympiad against the USA team. He was playing on board 1 against Soviet emigre, Lev Alburt, when the following position occurred:

Kasparov, as black has played a Benko type game, and now comes up with a raidcal way of changing the nature of the game. 14..Bxb5 15.Bxb5 Qxb5!? A fantastic positional queen sacrifice which will gain a rook and minor piece for the queen, but will leave black's pieces very active, while white has both weak pawns and uncoordinated pieces to worry about. 16.axb5 Rxa1+ 17.Bc1 Nxe4:
Kasparov's queen sacrifice has brought his pieces to life, and left white with weak b and d-pawns. Black may not be theoretically better here, but just imagine the psychological blow on an opponent that such a change of game would bring. I'm going to fast forward now to the conclusion of the game. It was hard fought for the next 30 or so moves, until this position was reached.

Unfortunately, Alburt blundered here, but he had been under relentless pressure from his 19 year old opponent. The game went 50.Qc6? Rd2! [Threatening a knight fork on d4] 51.Ke3:
51..Re2! [Again with a knight fork on d4 in mind] 52.Kd3 e4+! [forcing the king to a bad square] 53.Kc4 Rc2+ 54.Nc3 Bf6 [There goes the knight] 55.Qxe4 [Actually, Alburt could have probably resigned here] 55..Rxc3+ 56.Kd5 Rc5+ 57.Kxd6 Be5+ and white did resign.
White's choices are to give up his queen for rook and bishop and being a knight down in the ending, or moving the king up the board into a mating net. 58.Ke7 Rc7+ 59.Ke8 Bf6 [threatening 60.Re7#]

I was only about 16 when I first saw this game, and things like positional queen sacrifices were mysteries that only the greatest of players could hope to achieve. I was aware of Kasparov's tactical flare, but this game seemed to be something bigger, grander and more than just a display of tactical fireworks. Perhaps it isn't Kasparov's most perfect game, but it shows his ability to change a game situation, his tenacity, and both his positional and tactical awareness, albeit at prototype level!

Happy Birthday, Garry Kasparov.

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