Twelve years after trading chess for politics, Garry Kasparov proved on Monday that time hadn’t dulled his edge as he battled to a draw three times with a fellow Russian half his age in the opening game of a keenly anticipated comeback.
The 54-year-old Kasparov, whose genius has left a wide mark on the history of chess, has briefly come out of retirement “kicking and fighting” to compete this week at the Rapid and Blitz tournament in St. Louis.
It remains to be seen whether he can beat a new generation of players or if he will instead pass the torch.
In a fitting turn of events, his first encounter against compatriot Sergey Karjakin had shades of Kasparov’s own breakthrough moment in 1985 when, aged 22, he defeated the legendary Russian grandmaster Anatoli Karpov to become the youngest champion in history.
This time around, it was Kasparov who represented the old guard against Karjakin the young pretender, who narrowly lost last year’s world championship to Magnus Carlsen, the top-ranked player who is not in St Louis this week.
Three games of speed chase between Kasparov and Karjakin ended in a draw each time.
“I’m quite pleased. The plan was to survive to day one. I had to adjust myself to this new reality, to this atmosphere. I’m happy with these draws. I will be more aggressive tomorrow,” Kasparov said.
Center of attention
Spectators were thrilled. “It was a wonderful game. Kasparov has been showing confidence, he has been very dramatic,” said 33-year-old Christopher Doty, a longtime Kasparov fan who traveled here from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to see his hero.
“Will he win? Of course not. But if Kasparov beats these kids, it will be an embarrassment for them.”
Since his March 2005 withdrawal from a tournament in Linares, Spain, Kasparov’s absence from the game has left many chess fanatics feeling orphaned.
So there was considerable surprise when he agreed to play in the event in St Louis, which follows closely after the annual Sinquefield Cup competition, a major stop on the world tour, in the same city on the Mississippi River.
The years have grayed his temples, but Kasparov still exudes the aura of a winner -- and the trademark gestures that defined his heyday in the 1980s and 1990s were all present on Monday.