Chess: Kasparov and Carlsen undone by internet glitches following 55-move draw

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Following their evocative 55-move draw last week in their first official game since 2004, both Garry Kasparov and Magnus Carlsen suffered separate internet glitches in a reminder that the booming pursuit of online chess has its own peculiar hazards to which even the greatest legends are not immune.

Kasparov met Fabiano Caruana in round four of the $150,000 Champions Showdown aware that he had been crushed 5-1 by the American world No 2 the previous year. This time Kasparov was ready, had a clear edge at move 34, and planned a queen trade by Qe4-c2. A mouse slip landed the queen on d3, and the computer interpreted his attempted correction as a pre-move which blundered a bishop.

That disaster spoiled the tournament for Kasparov, who halved out on the final day and said “computers hate me”, which was also a reference to his Deep Blue disaster in 1997. He finished the Champions Showdown eighth out of 10 with 3.5/9, which would have been much better but for the fateful second day when he scored a draw and two losses from three favourable positions. The 1985-2000 world champion had played a training match with Peter Svidler beforehand whose 16 games may soon be made public.

Carlsen’s glitch came in round two of the $250,000 Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz taking place from Tuesday to Saturday of this week. In a level position against Russia’s Ian Nepomniachtchi, the world champion disconnected with 35 seconds left and could not get back to the game before flagfall.

Carlsen said the next day: “I was obviously very upset. Losing because of something that’s a little bit out of my control … My main prep today was just making sure there were backups, backups and more backups in terms of internet.”

The speed event has 27 rounds, nine rapid and 18 blitz, so plenty of time to recover, and by round six on Wednesday night Carlsen was already the sole leader, with a crushing win against Levon Aronian.

St Louis is not part of the Carlsen Tour, where the rules have changed to allow more time for a disconnected player to get back online. Perhaps elite internet tournaments should have a procedure akin to tennis challenges or cricket reviews, whereby a player has two or three opportunities in an event to ask the arbiter for a technical glitch like a mouse slip or an accidental pre-move to be retracted.

Last Friday’s game between the two legendary world champions, their first official encounter since 2004, remains a talking point. Carlsen was beating Kasparov, but over-finessed and allowed the former champion to escape in a rook and pawn ending resource echoing a famous 1962 game where Mikhail Botvinnik similarly drew against Bobby Fischer on the only occasion these two greats met across the board.

The resemblance is strong. In both cases Black had rook plus a, b and g pawns while the key drawing move was White’s h4-h5! Kasparov himself remembered the parallel during the game, as did two watching elite GMs. The memory also came to me when I saw White’s h4-h5, for special reasons.

I was at the Varna Olympiad in 1962 with the England team and witnessed the final moves of Botvinnik v Fischer. Chess Life, the USCF magazine, wanted commented games so I offered $50 for his annotation. The next day Boris Spassky took the top board for the USSR, while Botvinnik wrote his analysis which Peter Clarke translated. It was mailed to New York together with a photo of the game in progress, and Chess Life published it as the front page for the next issue.

During our discussions Botvinnik told me Fischer had spoken only three words to him in his life. When they were introduced at the previous Olympiad in Leipzig 1960, Fischer pointed to himself and said “Fischer”. As they sat down to play at Varna they accidentally bumped heads and Fischer said “sorry”, and at the end of the game he said “draw”.

Fischer’s classic book My 60 Memorable Games included the Botvinnik draw with a massive analysis of the critical position at move 51, where Fischer’s blunder b6-b5? allowed the h4-h5! drawing reply. The resource, incidentally, had been found during the US team’s overnight analysis by the endgame specialist Pal Benko, but Fischer was not on speaking terms with Benko following a dispute during the Curaçao Candidates that summer and refused to look at his teammate’s analysis.

My 60 Memorable Games showed a winning line to refute Botvinnik’s claim that even the better 51…Kd5 would have only drawn, and so it rested until 1976 when Kasparov, then aged 13 and Botvinnik’s star pupil, came up with still deeper analysis to restore the draw verdict. So it is easy to understand he found h4-h5! against Carlsen.

Germany’s Schachbundesliga is the strongest in Europe. Its 16-team season has been replaced for 2020 by an eight-team final this week in Karlsruhe. The squads are still very strong, and the reigning champions Baden-Baden are led by the world title candidates Caruana and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. England’s No 1, Michael Adams, also plays for them, and the Cornishman scored in the opening match with a fine victory over Germany’s rising star Vincent Keymer, 15.

3689: 1…Qc4+! 2 Bxc4 Rxh2 and White must give up queen, rook and bishop to stop Rh1 mate. Instead the immediate 1…Rxh2?? loses to 2 Qxf8+! Kxf8 3 Re8 mate, so Black had to start by diverting White’s b5 bishop.



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