Monday, November 24, 2014

Kasparov on Kasparov part 3

The newest book of Kasparov arrived and... it is a small disappointment. Pity that I have to start the review in this way, but I really was expecting him to discuss the worlchampionships after the Karpov-area and now it seems there are barely 10 pages per WC (Short, Anand and Kramnik). Kasparov went in such depth in his games with Karpov that I assumed a similar approach would be used for his other WC-matches. Kasparov managed to make the long string of draws in the first match to look interesting. But about each non-Karpov match only 2 games are shown, e.g. of the match with Kramnik only 2 games and 2 fragments. And that while - a.f.a.i.k. - the match against Short was the most spectacular of all the matches which he played. Beautiful openings and middlegames, a Western challenger, some arguing outside the playingroom, a good coverage by the BBC, in brief finally a match with some spirit - a big contrast with the matches against Karpov which mainly took place on the board and produced marvelous chess. The attractiveness of those matches was solely depending of Kasparov.

A global minus-point is that the book only counts 3 + 1 chapter. For a book of 501 pages this is too little. The first chapter (pages 7 - 170) treats immediately already “Short, Anand and Las Palmas”, which is a reflection of the brief coverage of those WC-matches (Short 24 pages, Anand 17 pages). This is a gigantic cut compared with the attention given to the matches from 1986 and 1987 against Karpov ( a full book!) and a forecast of the mix WC/ tournament-chess in this and the next chapter. This mix isn't good for the structure of the book - it would have been much better if the World-championships were covered in separate chapters and in between the often very successful tournament-results. With the chosen approach the chapters are too big and they don't form a unit in time nor theme. So why was this classification chosen? At the end of chapter 1 Kasparov calls the tournament of Las Palmas 1996 the modern variant of the AVRO-tournament of 1938 - the new and old topplayer (Aljechin/ Kasparov and Capablanca/Karpov) against the youth. The end of an era - since then Kasparov plays against the new generation. It is a valid argument (which does not absolve that the chapter was better split in several smaller parts). 

Chapter 2 (Second Peak) covers Linares 1997 (page 171) till the lost match with Kramnik (page 330). Also here I can agree with the end of the chapter but not with the size.

Chapter 3 (Life after Death, pages 331-460) lasts till his final tournament-game (against Topalov in Linares 2005). Also logical. That chapter 4, the fourth wheel on a tricycle is pity, but it is what it is.

What I notice at the content is that it looks he could only prepare well on Karpov in a match-situation. Short and Kramnik surprised him completely with their openings and also by extra chess-worries those matches clearly kept a bad aftertaste in Kasparov's mouth. This also generates the impression that Kasparov poorly prepared himself and that it was not him steering the situation but the opponents. Here not "Kasparov the Great" was playing but just Kasparov the super-grandmaster. About those moments he clearly doesn't like to write. Fortunately for the match with Kramnik we can use the detailed description of Bareev in the book “From London to Elista” (no idea if books of such level are available about the Short and Anand match).

On the other hand it is only a semi-disappointment as the tournament-chess which he played since 1993, is very well explained. Not fantastically but good till very good. Good because the keygames are well covered and now explained by the analysis of "the master". Kasparov played so many model-games that even summarizing them in this short review is a bit too much.

My personal favorite is Shirov-Kasparov (a model-example for everybody playing the Svechnikov with black), but this time I use the opportunity to show a "normal"game of Kasparov. Nikolic was for a long period just not top 10, but he was a regular customer in top-tournaments in the 90-ties. Nevertheless Kasparov scored 13,5/16 against Nikolic. In this game Kasparov sacrifices temporarily a knight to complicate Nikolic's task but Nikolic plays well. As a consequence this is in fact a very high class game, the analysis can easily resist the engines of today. Only due to timetrouble-errors black lost the game. The game is covered over 6 pages with comments - not only moves - i copied the comments of Kasparov on move 9, 13 and 15. The annotations are from Kasparov.
[Event "Horgen CS"] [Site "Horgen"] [Date "1994"] [Round "7"] [White "Kasparov, Garry"] [Black "Nikolic, Predrag"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C18"] [WhiteElo "2805"] [BlackElo "2655"] [Annotator "HK5000"] [PlyCount "77"] 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e5 c5 5. a3 Bxc3 6. bxc3 Ne7 7. Qg4 Kf8 8. h4 Qc7 9. Qd1 $1 {I was not able to invent something better than sacrificing the d-pawn. If 9.Kd1 then 9...h5 is annoying while the gambit of the pawn with 9.Bd2 cxd4 10.cxd4 Qxc2 seems not to give much prospects of an advantage: 11.Rc1 Qe4 12.Qxe4 dxe4 or 11...Qa4!? (Ponkratof-Fedoseev, Taranrog 2011).} cxd4 10. cxd4 Qc3 11. Bd2 Qxd4 12. Nf3 Qe4 13. Be2 {Here I was already more at ease; the position is rather open, the black king is misplaced, white has excellent compensation for the gambit. Now it is blacks turn to think how do I neutralize whites growing initiative?} b6 $1 14. O-O Ba6 15. c4 $1 {Pawns are not important anymore - it is more relevant to open files to attack (and at the same time white also solves his weaknesses). Now a very interesting tactical phase starts.} Nbc6 16. Ng5 Qxe5 $1 17. Re1 Qf6 18. Bh5 $1 g6 19. cxd5 $1 exd5 20. Bg4 h6 $6 21. Ne6 $1 fxe6 22. Rxe6 Qf7 23. Qa4 $6 Bc4 $1 24. Rxc6 Nxc6 25. Qxc6 Re8 26. Bd7 $1 Kg7 $1 27. Bc3 Kh7 28. h5 $5 Rhf8 29. hxg6 Qxg6 30. Bxe8 Qxe8 $1 31. Qd6 $1 Qf7 32. Bd4 Re8 33. Rc1 Re4 34. Be5 $1 Rg4 $6 35. Rc3 Rg6 $2 36. Qd8 $1 Rg8 37. Qh4 Rg5 $2 38. f4 Rh5 39. Qd8 1-0
It becomes clear from the analyses that Kasparov refreshed the analysis with an engine afterwards. At move 16 he shows an improvement on his analysis by using a computer in 2012. The level of the analysis is high and gives a good image of the rest of the games in the book (comparable with the analysis of the other books). The next game (Kasparov-Shirov from the same tournament in Horgen 1994) is by the way once called " the game of the 21st century". Kasparovs rook-sacrifice against the bishop of b7 is still not found by engines today (see a previous article on this site). If the analysis are of excellent quality and readable (not a jungle as Hubner) then the attached comments are often colored. If Kasparov wins then it was almost against all odds. If he loses then he was a bit sick, his mind absent or just a bad day. Apparently a healthy Kasparov never lost.

And still I can't call the collection of games fantastic as a number of games are only fragments - sometimes of only 1 move. Then it is a bit of a delusion to announce the book as a collection of 100 best games after the matches with Karpov. I expect at least 100 complete games. And I am sure that Kasparov can present more stuff, considering his oeuvre - it would improve a lot the empathy with the covered tournaments.

For sake of clarity, there are more than 100 games, but the + 100 games are in chapter 4 with the simul-games, rapid and blitzgames. This chapter goes through the complete chronology (which is a bit pity - it is a missed chance to get some variety with the 440 pages of Kasparov the Great), but it is nothing more than a collection "best of" less important games. The games in that chapter averagely get 2 pages - a clear difference with the "real" games of the first 3 chapters.

Kasparov touches very briefly his usage of the first Chessbase release - again a half missed opportunity to discuss this. Kasparov also chose not to show any tournament-tables which saves space but it interrupts less the text. It is one big, long text - and the number of anecdotes fall a bit short too - apparently Kasparov doesn't like to gossip about colleagues. He does discuss the incident in Linares with Polgar, when he did/ didn't release the piece and made another move with the knight. According to Kasparov nothing happened - or what did you expect?

At the end he hints clearly that no WC-match is granted anymore to him (probably because of his political ambitions in Russia) but also the other players treat him more like a has-been, somebody to free space to the new generation. Remark that Kasparov till the end of his career was the number 1 at the world-ranking! Personally I think that he stopped far too early; the fact that he still pops up at large events clearly indicates that he will never give up chess. His losses are not only against the world-top, but now also against lesser gods (e.g. Huzman). However Kasparov does show generosity by commenting his last official game (a loss against Topalov in Linares).

Once I made the remark that Kasparov after his predecessors and his own chess-biography could also write about his successors (see bookreview). However now that I read this book, I hope he doesn't. It became clear to me that for Kasparov it is only about himself. He seems not capable of writing in objective praise about what happened after him in chess.

On one side too bad, it would be interesting to get his view about the 10 years after his departure - of tournament chess to be understood (on chess-politics I don't have any illusions - and his criticism that chess is now hidden in remote places like Khanty-Mansyisk or Elista, instead of the forefront like London or New York is very justified). Especially the break-through of the new generation, which Kasparov barely knew (Carlsen, Caruana, Nakamura) would be interesting to get his views upon. However taking into account my previous critiques, namely Kasparov considering himself as the culminating point of chess-evolution, the chances are that his comments won't be so objective.

Maybe the game hasn't changed much since Kasparov and we had to wait till Carlsen won everything, often without sophisticated openings, the trademark (but later also the self-created weakness) of Kasparov. But chess is now more than ever alive, only unfortunately without Kasparov as he could have continued surely 10 years at the top. However the pain of the lost image was too big and in fact he stopped just like Fischer (and Judit Polgar) when he was still at his best. It is not a coincidence  that he often mentions the total-score against other top-players - which are often heavily in his favor. Only Kramnik, Lautier (only standard chess) and Gulko (3/8) have a plus-score (over multiple games) against Kasparov. Probably very few players can show such dominance.

And now that we are talking about engines - almost not a word about the games and matches Kasparov played. Deep Blue gets a half line (!), the other matches are not even mentioned at all and I could not find the game against the world - for sure a gap in the mixed bag of chapter 4.

I conclude that Kasparov better split the book in 2 to at least discuss the WC-matches completely, to expand the fragments to full games and to protect the chronology (the only reason to put rapid and simul-games in chapter 4 seems to be that the 100 best games since 1993 should be together). This would also offer the chance to get the book more organized.

Why is it not done? Tiredness of the project or was 5 books predecessors, 4 books Karpov and 3 books about himself sufficient?

Finally some small remarks. A glance at the index behind - which seems a bit mangled (the alphabetic ordered references to the games are neither time-ordered, neither page-ordered) - shows that Kasparov was mainly playing against the world-top - his preparation against familiar opponents was half of the work. That is why the book consists of 90% games against approximately the top 10 players of the world and only rarely against a lesser god. A remarkable name of these "lesser gods" is by the way our Russian-Belgian player Chuchelov, which Kasparov promotes as a good grandmaster (he is now by the way the second of Caruana). Concerning chapter 4, this is a little minuspoint: other opponents or shorter time-controls produce often interesting games too. And the linguistic mistake "an historic tournament" keeps popping up as in his previous books.

All in all I would give this book 3 out of 5 - it is maybe the worst from the series. This sounds negative, but the other books were also of a very high quality.


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