GM Magnus Carlsen failed to take revenge for his loss in 2004 vs. GM Garry Kasparov. 16 years after they played for the first time, Carlsen spoiled a winning endgame and let his legendary opponent off the hook in the second round of the online Chess9LX tournament.
Carlsen leads after three rounds together with GM Leinier Dominguez. Like the world champion, the Cuban-born American player scored an excellent 2.5/3 on the first day.
Round 3 standings
The tournament is an online version of the annual Chess960 event organized by the Saint Louis Chess Club. In Chess960, the pieces on the first and eighth rows are placed semi-randomly, with the king always in between rooks, two bishops of opposite colors, and Black copying the setup of White.
Apart from the classical RNBQKBNR, 959 other starting positions are possible. In this tournament, the players are given the new position three minutes before the start of their game, making opening preparation impossible.
Unlike last year, when Kasparov only faced GM Fabiano Caruana in a match, he plays all nine opponents in a round-robin this year. His game with Carlsen happened in the second round.
Before that, Kasparov had thrilled the many fans he still has by beating the 40 years younger GM Alireza Firouzja. The Iranian prodigy had a breakthrough year in 2019 but has been less successful in recent online events. Or perhaps he was somewhat star-struck in this very special game. Who can blame him for that?
“The first game was a tough one,” said Kasparov. “I think I was in trouble but I created a lot of counterplay and I was quite pleased that I was up on time and I tricked him at the end. Considering the 40 years age difference I did well!”
After that, it was time for the Big Clash. It wasn’t classical chess and it wasn’t over the board, but seeing Carlsen and Kasparov playing an official game, part of an official tournament with prize money and all, was definitely something historic. (And in fact, the starting position they got was pretty close to classical chess!)
During the game, the commentators were surprised that Kasparov went for an early queen trade as Carlsen excels in endgames while The Boss was famous for his mastery of complicated positions. Afterward, Kasparov said he had already erred before that.
“I made a terrible move, I think it was move five, 5.Nc3. This is what you do automatically when instead 5.Qc2 stop Black’s whole idea of …c5. I made a mistake and I was kicking myself in my head.”
Later in the interview, he pointed out something instructive about this, in Chess960 games: “It’s always a challenge how to place your pieces in the opening. I’m upset that intuitively I made this stupid move on move five, instinctively playing a Queen’s Gambit, not recognizing that you have to start with the queen. The trickiest thing in this game is how you position your queen. Having a queen ideally located could give you an advantage.”
The endgame was about equal until Kasparov played the over-optimistic 15.g4, trying to create some play on the kingside. He had completely missed Carlsen’s reply 15…Ba5.
Kasparov: “I wanted to play g4-g2.”
Carlsen was nicely maneuvering and with lots of healthy moves his advantage grew into a winning position. However, practically speaking, it wasn’t over just yet and with 31…Rf7, played after four and a half minutes, he blew most of his advantage.
The position where Carlsen played 31…Rf7.
Kasparov said that if his opponent had played 31…Rd8+ 32.Ke1 Rd3 here, he would have resigned straight away. That was overstating it a bit but based on the fact that the 13th world champion thought the pawn ending was lost.
“If he was intending to resign there, that would be pretty dumb,” said Carlsen with a smile. He then pointed out that the pawn endgame after 33.Rxd3 Bxd3 34.fxe5 Bxe2 35.Kxe2 Kxe5 is actually a draw and 34…Kxe5 35.Pc3 Kf4 36.h4 Kg4 37.Kd2 allows White to fight on.
“In the rook ending I already have some chances,” said Kasparov. “Probably it’s still lost but he definitely got nervous. I created this counterplay and I remembered the game Botvinnik-Fischer, creating these chances, pushing the pawn…”
Kasparov referenced the famous game between his former trainer, the sixth world champion Mikhail Botvinnik, and the later world champion Bobby Fischer, at the 1962 Varna Olympiad—a game Kasparov also extensively describes in his My Great Predecessors IV.
In short, Fischer refuted Botvinnik’s preparation behind the board, got a winning advantage but fell into a trap and lost his advantage. During the adjournment, Botvinnik and his team managed to find the narrow path to the draw.
The similarity with the rook endgame in Kasparov-Carlsen is striking. Also here, the younger player lets the older, ex-world champion escape with a draw.
“That was a really, really bad game,” said Carlsen. “What can I say. He started defending very tenaciously at some point. I was just overthinking when I went for this 31…Rf7 idea. I was trying to be hyper-accurate when there was really no reason for that. That was really really poor.”
Kasparov ended up finishing his first day on a 50 percent score has he lost in the third round to GM Peter Svidler, himself a bit of a Chess960 specialist. There was one moment where Kasparov missed a chance, after which he was soundly outplayed:
“I’m happy to have won a game, but probably not my choice of who I would have wanted to have beaten,” Svidler commented after the game.
“I thought I was getting outplayed at some point in the middle game so I decided just to make the position a bit simpler,” said Carlsen. “This exchange sac was all in the same style. I just thought, after this, I have very few practical difficulties and it should be just easier for me to play. I didn’t expect it to go as easily as in the game but nevertheless I think White just has the easier position to play and very little risk.”
The Chess9LX tournament is played September 11-13 on lichess for a $150,000 prize fund. The time control is 20 minutes plus a 10-second increment.
Chess9LX, Day 1 | All games