Monday, January 22, 2007

Kasparov, Karpov Clash in NYC

Every so often in one's life, an event will happen that makes time stand still. The first half of the 1990 world championship match in New York City was such an occurrence. For one month, the world turned upside-down as chess reigned supreme.

The Hudson Theater, where the games were played, reminded me of my hometown moviehouse. Only instead of a motion picture on a giant screen, there was a projection of a chessboard and pieces on a much smaller screen, suspended from the ceiling. Beneath it was a stage on which there was a slightly upraised wooden platform that supported a table and two chairs. Upon the table were the board, pieces, clock, and scoresheets.

Next door at the Macklowe Hotel, grandmasters lectured in three conference rooms on the fifth floor and in the press area on the eighth floor. Grandmasters Seirawan, Christiansen, Wolff, Rohde, Benjamin, Fedorowicz, Dzindzichasvili, and Bisguier were there as analysts. On the elevators and in the halls, grandmasters abounded by the dozen: Spassky, Tal, Korchnoi, Geller, Najdorf, Portisch, Henley, Byrne, Benko, Reshevsky, DeFirmian, Dlugy, and others too numerous to mention.

For me, the match broke down into three distinct phases. During the first five games or so, I frequented the press room. This was the place to go for serious analysis. I heard Yasser Seirawan, Larry Christiansen, and Patrick Wolff take turns at giving in-depth explanations of strategy and tactics.

For roughly the next four games, I haunted the lecture rooms on the fifth floor. Here Dzindzichasvili was an added attraction. Roman's Regulars were a loyal bunch, filling Dzindzi's room to capacity, night after night. Dzindzi combined hard analysis with stand-up comedy, and was always entertaining.

Finally, the last three games were the best of all. These I observed from the press balcony in the theater itself, enjoying headphone analysis from Wolff, Benjamin, and Rohde, as well as color commentary by Bruce Pandolfini. Watching Kasparov and Karpov play chess was the ultimate spectator's dream. Not only could I see the players "live" on stage, but a pair of closed-circuit TV monitors showed close-ups of their faces as well.

Anatoly Karpov had a familiar routine. When it was his move, he sat with eyes lowered to the board and muttered to himself. All the while, Anatoly's head moved up and down slowly. Next his usually expressionless face would light up for a moment, and then he would give a final emphatic shake of his head. Sitting in the audience, I knew that I had just seen him analyze a complicated subvariation and arrive at a conclusion, whether favorable or not. Lastly, Karpov's eyelids always flicked upward. For a split second, his eyes would focus squarely on Kasparov, almost as if his gaze could penetrate Garry's skull. And I sensed that Karpov was trying to catch a glimpse of what his opponent might be thinking.

Garry Kasparov, for his part, sat there with palms cupped over his nose while he seemingly breathed in his own exhalations, like a man trying to keep himself from hyperventilating. Whenever Karpov gave him that from-down-under glare, Kasparov invariably raised his line of vision to a point above Karpov's head, trying to avoid making eye contact and perhaps giving away his thoughts. At times Garry would stare at the wall or the ceiling, as though seeking inspiration there. If not for the streaks of gray in his hair, he resembled a college student taking a difficult exam, straining to remember his homework.

When the twelfth game concluded suddenly with a handshake, I didn't want it to end yet. Driving home that night, I felt the sadness of personal loss. Probably never again would I have the chance to attend a world championship match. I wanted nothing more than to return to New York for game thirteen.


This game left many questions unanswered. Why did Karpov find fault with his chair, after play was already in progress? Did Anatoly miss a win on his 22nd move, as Deep Thought later claimed? And before the game started, the parking attendant in the garage across the street wanted to know: "If it's the world championship, how come Bobby Fischer isn't playing?"

Karpov almost always plays 5.Nf3 against the King's Indian Defense; so his choice of 5.f3 was quite a surprise. Chuck Adelman spotted Ron Henley, one of Karpov's seconds, in the pressroom and immediately asked him, "C'mon, Ron, tell me the truth, 5.f3 was your idea, wasn't it?" Henley replied, "No, I believe it was Samisch's."

Karpov - Kasparov

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.f3 O-O 6.Be3 c6 7.Bd3 a6 8.Nge2 b5 9.O-O Nbd7 10.Rc1 e5 11.a3 exd4 12.Nxd4 Bb7 13.cxb5 cxb5 14.Re1 Ne5 15.Bf1 Re8 16.Bf2 d5 17.exd5 Nxd5 18.Nxd5 Qxd5 19.a4 Bh6 20.Ra1 Nc4 21.axb5 axb5 22.Rxa8 Rxa8 23.Qb3 Bc6 24.Bd3 Nd6 25.Qxd5 Bxd5 26.Nxb5 Nxb5 27.Bxb5 Bg7 28.b4 Bc3 29.Rd1 Bb3 30.Rb1 Ba2, draw.


From 25.Bh6 on, this game resembled one of those countless Morphy vs. Amateur contests, especially in the subvariations that were never played. That Kasparov could have engineered such a coup against a defensive player of Karpov's ability was all the more remarkable. When Karpov played 24...Ng8, retreating his third minor piece to its original square, Christiansen brought down the house in the press room by commenting, "I think Karpov is setting up the pieces for the next game."

Kasparov - Karpov

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.O-O Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 O-O 9.h3 Bb7 10.d4 Re8 11.Nbd2 Bf8 12.a4 h6 13.Bc2 exd4 14.cxd4 Nb4 15.Bb1 bxa4 16.Rxa4 a5 17.Ra3 Ra6 18.Nh2 g6 19.f3 Qd7 20.Nc4 Qb5 21.Rc3 Bc8 22.Be3 Kh7 23.Qc1 c6 24.Ng4 Ng8 25.Bxh6 Bxh6 26.Nxh6 Nxh6 27.Nxd6 Qb6 28.Nxe8 Qxd4+ 29.Kh1 Qd8 30.Rd1 Qxe8 31.Qg5 Ra7 32.Rd8 Qe6 33.f4 Ba6 34.f5 Qe7 35.Qd2 Qe5 36.Qf2 Qe7 37.Qd4 Ng8 38.e5 Nd5 39.fxg6+ fxg6 40.Rxc6 Qxd8 41.Qxa7+ Nde7 42.Rxa6 Qd1+ 43.Qg1 Qd2 44.Qf1, Black resigns.


Having played the King's Indian Defense for years, I know how difficult it can be psychologically. The second player often has to cede White not only an advantage in space but also the initiative, in the hope that his opponent will overextend himself and Black can swing over to a decisive counterattack. So when Kasparov sacrificed first an exchange and then his queen for two minor pieces - in each case garnering an extra pawn - he seemed almost to be rewriting the book on this opening.

It was a stunning reversal of roles, with the black pieces in command throughout. Garry's play here reminded me of an expression once used by a reporter to describe a Fischer brilliancy: "arrogance on the chessboard."

Karpov - Kasparov

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 O-O 6.Be2 e5 7.Be3 Qe7 8.dxe5 dxe5 9.Nd5 Qd8 10.Bc5 Nxe4 11.Be7 Qd7 12.Bxf8 Kxf8 13.Qc2 Nc5 14.Rd1 Nc6 15.O-O Ne6 16.Nb6 axb6 17.Rxd7 Bxd7 18.Qd2 Be8 19.b3 e4 20.Ne1 f5 21.Bd1 Ne5 22.Nc2 Rxa2 23.Qd5 Ke7 24.Nb4 c6 25.Qxe6+ Kxe6 26.Nxa2 Nf7 27.Be2 Nd6 28.Nb4 Bc3 29.Nc2 f4 30.Rd1 h5 31.f3 e3 32.g3 g5 33.Bd3 h4 34.Kf1 c5 35.Ke2 b5 36.cxb5 Nxb5 37.Bc4+ Ke7 38.Rd5 Bf6 39.Rxc5 Nc3+ 40.Kf1 Bg6 41.Ne1 Kd6 42.Ra5 fxg3 43.hxg3 hxg3 44.Ng2 b5 45.Ra6+ Ke7 46.Ra7+ Ke8 47.Ra8+ Bd8 48.Nxe3 bxc4 49.Nxc4 g4 50.Kg2 Ne2 51.Ne5 gxf3+ 52.Kxf3 g2 53.Rxd8+, draw.


"Blue smoke and mirrors" is how one strong player on the eighth floor characterized Kasparov's play in this tactical melee. Byrne expressed pretty much the same opinion when he told Seirawan, who was analyzing for the press, that White had "gone out of control" with 23.Re6?!. According to DeFirmian, Garry's 20.Nf6+ and 21.Bd2 followed a line suggested by IM Alexander Ivanov. What everyone except Karpov overlooked was that 22...Bf7, rather than Ivanov's 22...Bxf3, casts a cloud upon the entire variation.

Kasparov struggled valiantly by sacrificing the exchange as well as his queenside pawns, but in the end it was the clock that saved him. With his flag hanging, Karpov erred with 39...Qf7, allowing perpetual check. After the game, Najdorf and Spassky demonstrated in the press area - amidst a crush of players and journalists - that Karpov missed 39...d4 winning!

Kasparov - Karpov

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.O-O Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 O-O 9.h3 Bb7 10.d4 Re8 11.Nbd2 Bf8 12.a4 h6 13.Bc2 exd4 14.cxd4 Nb4 15.Bb1 c5 16.d5 Nd7 17.Ra3 f5 18.exf5 Nf6 19.Ne4 Bxd5 20.Nxf6+ Qxf6 21.Bd2 Qxb2 22.Bxb4 Bf7 23.Re6 Qxb4 24.Rb3 Qxa4 25.Bc2 Rad8 26.Rbe3 Qb4 27.g3 a5 28.Nh4 d5 29.Qe2 Qc4 30.Bd3 Qc1+ 31.Kg2 c4 32.Bc2 Bxe6 33.Rxe6 Rxe6 34.Qxe6+ Kh8 35.Ng6+ Kh7 36.Qe2 Qg5 37.f6 Qxf6 38.Nxf8+ Kg8 39.Ng6 Qf7 40.Ne7+ Kf8 41.Ng6+, draw.


The players' contrasting approaches to the game of chess were reflected in their different chairs. Karpov's was a swivel chair on wheels - the kind one often sees behind the desk of a business executive. It afforded a comfortable position. On the other side of the table, Kasparov's was a nondescript straight-legged variety. I would describe it as inflexible and demanding, much like Garry's uncompromising style.

At the start of each game, I stood in front of the stage in the photographers area to take pictures. Shortly before game five began, a stagehand could be seen polishing the two chairs. A photographer called up to him, asking why Kasparov had selected such an ordinary chair. The stagehand replied, "He didn't want a comfortable chair. He said if it gets too comfortable, he falls asleep."

Karpov - Kasparov

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 O-O 6.Be2 e5 7.Be3 Na6 8.O-O c6 9.dxe5 dxe5 10.Qxd8 Rxd8 11.Rfd1 Re8 12.h3 Bf8 13.Nd2 b6 14.a3 Nc5 15.b4 Ne6 16.Nb3 Ba6 17.f3 Nh5 18.Bf2 Red8 19.Bf1 Nhf4 20.g3 Nh5 21.Kg2 f5 22.Rab1 Rac8 23.Rxd8 Rxd8 24.Rd1 Rxd1 25.Nxd1 fxe4 26.fxe4 c5 27.bxc5 Nxc5 28.Nxc5 Bxc5 29.Bxc5 bxc5 30.Nc3 Nf6 31.Kf3 Bb7 32.Bd3 Kf8 33.h4 h6 34.Bc2 Ke7 35.Ba4 a6 36.Ke3, draw.


On moves seventeen and eighteen, Kasparov chose to develop both his knights to their respective rook files, a tendency he had also exhibited in games five and seven. Garry's pawn sacrifice on his 25th move changed the complexion of this game from a positional battle on the queenside to a kingside mating attack for White. By move 32, Karpov was under such tremendous pressure that he reached to move his king to h7, hovered his hand for a few seconds, withdrew it before touching the piece, and then finally made the move. It was a rare display of indecisiveness on Anatoly's part.

Kasparov - Karpov

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.O-O Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 O-O 9.h3 Nd7 10.d4 Bf6 11.a4 Bb7 12.axb5 axb5 13.Rxa8 Qxa8 14.d5 Na5 15.Bc2 Nc4 16.b3 Ncb6 17.Na3 Ba6 18.Nh2 c6 19.dxc6 Qxc6 20.Bd2 Be7 21.Ng4 Ra8 22.Ne3 Nf6 23.Nf5 Bf8 24.Bg5 Nbd7 25.c4 bxc4 26.bxc4 Bxc4 27.Nxc4 Qxc4 28.Bb3 Qc3 29.Kh2 h6 30.Bxf6 Nxf6 31.Re3 Qc7 32.Rf3 Kh7 33.Ne3 Qe7 34.Nd5 Nxd5 35.Bxd5 Ra7 36.Qb3 f6 37.Qb8 g6 38.Rc3 h5 39.g4 Kh6 40.gxh5 Kxh5 41.Rc8 Bg7 42.Re8, draw.


As a colossal blunder at the world championship level, Kasparov's 27th move in this game must rank alongside Fischer's infamous grab of the h-pawn in game one versus Spassky. Rohde instantly branded 27...Qa5 "by far the worst move I've ever seen Kasparov play." From a player of Kasparov's caliber, the error was inexplicable, unless perhaps Garry's chair had gotten too comfortable.

Karpov - Kasparov

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 O-O 6.Be2 e5 7.Be3 Na6 8.O-O Ng4 9.Bg5 f6 10.Bc1 Kh8 11.h3 Nh6 12.dxe5 fxe5 13.Be3 Nf7 14.Qd2 Nc5 15.Ng5 Nxg5 16.Bxg5 Bf6 17.Be3 Ne6 18.Bg4 h5 19.Bxe6 Bxe6 20.Nd5 Bh4 21.Rac1 Kh7 22.Rc3 Rf7 23.b3 c6 24.Nb4 Rd7 25.Rcc1 Bf6 26.f4 exf4 27.Bxf4 Qa5 28.Nd5 Qc5+ 29.Kh1 Bxd5 30.cxd5 Qd4 31.dxc6 bxc6 32.Rxc6 Re8 33.Rc4 Qxd2 34.Bxd2 Be5 35.Be3 Bg3 36.Rf3 h4 37.Bf2 Bxf2 38.Rxf2 Rde7 39.Rf4 g5 40.Rf6 Rxe4 41.Rxe4 Rxe4 42.Rxd6 Re7 43.Ra6 Kg7 44.Kg1, Black resigns.


This game was a grueling ten-hour struggle that took two evenings to complete. Before the first playing session, I handed my camera up to referee Geurt Gijssen of Holland and asked him if he would take pictures of the board for me. To my surprise, he invited me onto the stage where I photographed the board myself, to a chorus of jealous howls from the professional cameramen. For a few Walter Mittyish seconds, I knew how it felt to be playing for the world championship, on that stage, in that theater.

At the adjournment, Karpov was a pawn up, and most chess experts were of the opinion that he would win rather easily. Consequently attendance was sparse for the second session. Apparently those who stayed home made the right decision, but for the wrong reason. Anatoly soon frittered away his advantage, and the game seemed to drag on forever. The low point came when Karpov spent more than thirty minutes on a move that was virtually forced. Dzindzi summed up everyone's feelings about the latter portion of this game when he complained, "It bored me to death."

Kasparov - Karpov

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.O-O Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 O-O 9.h3 Nd7 10.d4 Bf6 11.a4 Bb7 12.Be3 Na5 13.Bc2 Nc4 14.Bc1 d5 15.dxe5 Ndxe5 16.Nxe5 Nxe5 17.axb5 axb5 18.Rxa8 Qxa8 19.f4 Ng6 20.e5 Bh4 21.Rf1 Be7 22.Nd2 Bc5+ 23.Kh2 d4 24.Qe2 dxc3 25.bxc3 Rd8 26.Ne4 Ba3 27.Bxa3 Bxe4 28.Qxe4 Qxa3 29.f5 Ne7 30.Qh4 f6 31.Qg3 Kf8 32.Kh1 Qc5 33.exf6 gxf6 34.Bb3 Nd5 35.Qh4 Kg7 36.Rd1 c6 37.Rd4 Qc3 38.Rg4+ Kh8 39.Bxd5 Qa1+ 40.Kh2 Qe5+ 41.Rg3 cxd5 42.Qg4 Qc7 43.Qd4 Qd6 44.Kh1 Re8 45.Qg4 Qd7 46.Rd3 Re1+ 47.Kh2 Re4 48.Qg3 Re5 49.Ra3 Re8 50.Qf4 Qb7 51.Kh1 Qb8 52.Qh4 Qb6 53.Qb4 d4 54.Rg3 Qc7 55.Rd3 Qc1+ 56.Kh2 Qf4+ 57.Kg1 Qc1+ 58.Kh2 Qf4+ 59.Kg1 Rc8 60.Rd1 Rd8 61.Qxb5 Qe3+ 62.Kh1 d3 63.Qa5 Qd4 64.Qa1 Qb6 65.Qa2 Kg7 66.Qd2 Qc5 67.Rf1 Rd4 68.Rf3 Qd6 69.Re3 Ra4 70.Re1 h5 71.Rb1 Qd7 72.Qd1 Kh6 73.Qd2+ Kg7 74.Qe3 h4 75.Qf3 Kh6 76.Qe3+ Kg7 77.Qf3 d2 78.Qh5 Qf7 79.Qxf7+ Kxf7 80.Rd1 Rd4 81.Kg1 Rd5 82.Kf2 Rxf5+ 83.Ke2 Rg5 84.Kf2, draw.


Under ordinary circumstances, either player might have requested a postponement after the 84-move marathon. However, each had already used one of his three alloted time-outs. So, in games nine and ten, the contestants did the next best thing by playing black defenses that were less demanding than their usual ones.

Here Kasparov chose the Grunfeld over the King's Indian and offered an exchange of queens as early as move ten. In the queenless endgame that followed, Karpov pressed slowly but surely for the win, achieving a considerable positional advantage until he played 32.Bd2? blundering his d-pawn. Both players showed signs of fatigue in this game.

Karpov - Kasparov

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nxc3 6.bxc3 Bg7 7.Be3 c5 8.Qd2 cxd4 9.cxd4 Nc6 10.Rd1 Qa5 11.Qxa5 Nxa5 12.Nf3 O-O 13.Be2 Bd7 14.Bd2 b6 15.O-O Rfd8 16.Rc1 Bg4 17.d5 Nb7 18.h3 Bxf3 19.Bxf3 Nc5 20.Be3 Rac8 21.Bg4 Rb8 22.Rc4 h5 23.Bf3 e6 24.Rd1 exd5 25.exd5 Be5 26.g4 hxg4 27.hxg4 Nb7 28.Ra4 Na5 29.g5 Rbc8 30.Be2 Bd6 31.Kg2 Bc5 32.Bd2 Rxd5 33.Bf3 Rdd8 34.Bxa5, draw.


This was the only disappointing game of the match, an 18-move "grandmaster draw". The biggest excitement occurred when booth commentator Patrick Wolff noted at one point that Karpov's elapsed time was 44 minutes, and Bruce Pandolfini responded, "44. Reggie Jackson's old number." People with headphones in the audience laughed, and the "Silence Please" warning flashed on the screen.

Kasparov - Karpov

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.d4 exd4 4.e5 Ne4 5.Qxd4 d5 6.exd6 Nxd6 7.Nc3 Nc6 8.Qf4 Nf5 9.Bb5 Bd6 10.Qe4+ Qe7 11.Bg5 f6 12.Bd2 Bd7 13.O-O-O Qxe4 14.Nxe4 Be7 15.g4 a6 16.Bc4 Nd6 17.Nxd6+ Bxd6 18.Rde1+, draw.


Kasparov's exchange sacrifice on move 13 drew a collective gasp from the crowd. Except for his victory in game two, this was Garry's best tactical performance. Both games were undoubtedly the result of home preparation.

In the booth, Pandolfini found time to ask Patrick Wolff about when he first learned the game of chess. Wolff's story fascinated me. It turns out that Patrick was four years old when he came across his father sitting in front of the television, moving pieces on a chessboard. The year was 1972, and the TV program was a broadcast of the Spassky-Fischer match.

Perhaps a generation from now, some future grandmaster will say that he first learned the moves during the 1990 Kasparov-Karpov match.


1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nf3 O-O 6.Be2 e5 7.Be3 exd4 8.Nxd4 Re8 9.f3 c6 10.Qd2 d5 11.exd5 cxd5 12.O-O Nc6 13.c5 Rxe3 14.Qxe3 Qf8 15.Nxc6 bxc6 16.Kh1 Rb8 17.Na4 Rb4 18.b3 Be6 19.Nb2 Nh5 20.Nd3 Rh4 21.Qf2 Qe7 22.g4 Bd4 23.Qxd4 Rxh2+ 24.Kxh2 Qh4+, draw.


Every chess player knows the dreaded feeling of time pressure. What this game taught me is that experiencing it from the audience can be even more unbearable. Karpov seemed to be inviting time trouble, all match long. This final game in New York was no exception. When Kasparov offered the draw, Anatoly had only two minutes for his remaining four moves, and the position was still complicated enough to have me sitting on the edge of my chair. Karpov calmly accepted the offer with a handshake, and Garry arose at once and strode offstage to a burst of handclapping.

Anatoly sat at the board for a minute or two longer, ostensibly signing his scoresheet. But I suspect he was savoring the moment, having played his heavily favored opponent to a 6-6 dead heat. When Karpov finally left the stage, the applause was loud and heartfelt for this tenacious fighter.

Kasparov - Karpov

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.O-O Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 O-O 9.h3 Nd7 10.d4 Bf6 11.a4 Bb7 12.Na3 exd4 13.cxd4 Na5 14.Ba2 b4 15.Nc4 Nxc4 16.Bxc4 Re8 17.Qb3 Rxe4 18.Bxf7+ Kh8 19.Be3 Re7 20.Bd5 c6 21.Be6 Nf8 22.Bg4 a5 23.Rac1 Ng6 24.Bh5 Rc8 25.Bg4 Rb8 26.Qc2 Rc7 27.Qf5 Ne7 28.Qd3 Nd5 29.Bd2 c5 30.Be6 Nb6 31.dxc5 dxc5 32.Qxd8+ Rxd8 33.Bf4 Re7 34.Ng5 Bd5 35.Bxd5 Rxd5 36.Rxe7 Bxe7 37.Re1, draw.

{This article originally appeared in Atlantic Chess News in 1991}