Garry Kasparov will make a rare cameo appearance when the legend, now aged 57, takes on the reigning champion, Magnus Carlsen, in the 10-player Champions Showdown invitation organised by St Louis from 11-13 September.
This will be an historic clash, even though it is only online random chess. The two world champions, widely considered the best players of all time, have faced each other in only one previous official event. That was at rapid and blitz chess in 2004 in Reykjavik, when Carlsen was aged 13 and Kasparov 41, a year before his retirement.
There is more history between the two icons of modern chess. In summer 2009 the Russian briefly became the Norwegian’s coach but owing to a personality clash between Carlsen’s laid-back attitude and Kasparov’s intensity they soon parted ways. They played several informal blitz games then, which were ultra-competitive. As Carlsen put it: “Neither of us likes losing, him especially.”
Since 2017 the 1985-2000 world champion has taken part only in games using FischerRandom, also known as Chess960 or Chess9LX, where a computer makes a random choice of the back row starting array.
Besides Kasparov and Carlsen, the field includes America’s world No 2, Fabiano Caruana, who defeated Kasparov 5-1 at blitz in 2019, the US champion, Hikaru Nakamura, whose match with Carlsen last week drew record audiences, and the prodigy Alireza Firouzja, 17, who Kasparov has never met.
China, the 2018 Olympiad double gold medallists and tournament favourites for the current 163-nation online version, were knocked out 7-6 by Ukraine on Thursday after a match that will leave their team selectors with some serious questions to answer in Beijing.
The knockout format was a double round six board match where a 6-6 tie would be broken by a single Armageddon game. China were lucky to score 3-3 in the first round where Natalia Zhukova drew by perpetual check in a winning position against the world woman champion, Ju Wenjun.
For the second round China dropped both Ju and the world No 1, Hou Yifan, their replacements scored only half a point, the match went to 6-6 and Ukraine won the Armageddon game. Earlier, Hungary v Germany also went to Armageddon and the German lost on time with the Hungarian having just three seconds left. In Armageddon, White has five minutes on the clock to Black’s four but a draw on the board counts as a win for Black in the scores.
Results: Hungary 7-6 Germany. Ukraine 7-6 China, Armenia 8-4 Greece, Poland 7.5-4.5 Bulgaria. Friday’s quarter-finals: Russia v Hungary, United States v Ukraine, India v Armenia, Azerbaijan v Poland.
England were at full strength and scored a shock win over the strong Armenians, but finished only sixth in their group as they lost 5-1 to Russia, Bulgaria and Croatia while struggling to beat weaker teams. The women’s boards did well, though three of the four juniors had minus scores overall while the normally reliable Michael Adams and Luke McShane dropped points in critical matches.
Some of the best Olympiad moments have been where strong grandmasters won elegantly against lesser lights. One such creative performance came from Alexey Shirov, author of the classic Fire on Board, who qualified for a world title match with Kasparov in 1998 but missed out due to lack of financial support. Shirov’s attacking play is a pleasure to watch.
Wolfgang Uhlmann, who died on Monday aged 85, was the former East Germany’s best player and a world title candidate in 1971. His opening repertoire was strikingly narrow for a top grandmaster. As Black, he almost always used the French 1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 and the King’s Indian Nf6 g6 and Bg7.
A vintage Uhlmann performance came in 1958 when the biennial Olympiad was held in Munich, then in West Germany, and Uhlmann led his young GDR team to a 3.5-0.5 victory over the host nation. I was present in the playing hall that day and remember the stunned silence from the large patriotic audience. True to himself, Uhlmann won against Wolfgang Unzicker with a classically styled King’s Indian.
3686 1...Re1+ 2 Kf2 Qh4+ 3 g3 Qxh3 4 Rxe1 Qh2+ 5 Kf1 Qh1+ 6 Qg1 Rxe1+ and wins.