- The Washington Times - Friday, August 11, 2006

The news that former world champion Garry Kasparov is briefly coming out of retirement to play in a rapid-chess event in Zurich next week inspires some thoughts on how other ex-champions have fared after losing their crowns.

Some of the stories are melancholy: Austria’s titleholder Wilhelm Steinitz lost to Germany’s Emanuel Lasker in 1894, failed in a rematch and eventually was committed to an insane asylum. The great Cuban Jose Raoul Capablanca spent a dozen futile years trying to get another crack at Russian-born Alexander Alekhine after his shocking loss in a 1927 title match.

America’s two world champs, Paul Morphy and Bobby Fischer, essentially walked away from the game at the very moment they planted their flags on the mountaintop, as if afraid to tarnish their legacy by defending it.

Some, including Holland’s Max Euwe and Soviet star Vassily Smyslov, happily competed at a high level for many years after their short reigns as world champion.

Lasker, who held the title for 27 years before losing to Capablanca in 1921, had one of the more remarkable post-title careers. He played sparingly but won the fabled 1924 New York tournament ahead of Capablanca and Alekhine and, at the age of 67, finished just a half-point behind Mikhail Botvinnik (a future Soviet world champ himself) and Salo Flohr of Czechoslovakia in the great Moscow invitational of 1935.

“He may lose a game, but he never loses his head,” German great Siegbert Tarrasch once said of Lasker, a master psychologist at the board. Lasker was chess’s greatest poker player.

His win over Soviet star Ilya Kan in the first round in Moscow is classic Lasker, luring his young opponent into an ill-fated sortie, surviving a scary-looking attack and collecting the point when his king finally finds shelter deep on the queen-side.

The strategic battle here revolves around the battle to advance the White and Black e-pawns. A classic Lasker sequence occurs on 30. Bb1 e5 (Black actually gets his push in first) 31. Qg3 Qe6!?, an iffy move that has the subtle virtue of tempting Kan to overreach.

Thus: 32. e4 exd4 33. exf5 Qf6 34. Re6? (see diagram; White’s move looks powerful, but Black now turns the tables; safer was 34. Nd1, though Black still has good play on 32…Nc5 33. fxg6 Nb3! 34. gxh7+ Kh8, when 35. Nf2 [Rc2 d3] Nxd2 38. Ng4 Qg5 39. h4 Rxb2! 40. hxg5 Rxb1+ 41. Re1 [Kh2 Nf1+; or 41. Kf2 Rf1 mate] Rxe1+ 42. Qxe1 Rb1 wins for Black) dxc3!! 35. Rxf6 cxd2.

Black’s king appears abandoned after 36. Rxg6+ hxg6 37. Qxg6+, but Lasker calmly exits stage right, keeping his critical passed d-pawn in reserve. White misses a last chance (44. Qe7+ Ka6 45. Qc5!, when Black’s win isn’t clear after 45…Re8 46. Kf2 d1=Q 47. Bxd1 Rxb2+ 48. Kf1 Re6 49. Qd4), and Black’s king finally reaches safe harbor on 50. Qc5+ Ka4.

White has no hope in lines like 51. Ba6 Qd2! (Rxa6?? 52. Qb4 mate) 52. Qd6 Rc2 53. Qg3 Qxg2+ 54. Qxg4 Rxg2+ 55. Kxg2 Rxa6, and Kan resigned.

Russian Anatoly Karpov failed in repeated bids to win back the crown he lost to Kasparov in 1985, but he also boasts perhaps the best ex-champion’s resume in history. His crushing 11-2 triumph at the 1994 grandmaster invitational in Linares, Spain, besting second-place Kasparov by 21/2 points, is every bit the equal of Lasker’s New York and Moscow performances.

Karpov is known for his positional style. His best game at Linares featured three rook sacrifices against young Bulgarian GM Veselin Topalov, who holds the FIDE world title. White shows his deep understanding of the game with the surprising 10. Bf4! Nh5 11. e3!!, giving up the bishop and accepting doubled pawns for open lines and central control.

Black’s 14. Rfe1 g6?!, meant to stave off the already dangerous 15. f5, only creates more defensive holes, and Topalov’s effort to solve his positional woes with tactical tricks is punished severely.

Thus: 18. Nc5! dxc5?! (White also gets the edge on 18…Qc5 19. Nxd7 or 19. N5e4) 19. Qxd7 Rc8, hoping for 20. Bxc6? Ra7 21. Qxd3 Rxc6 22. cxb5 c4! 23. Qe4 Rc8 24. bxa6 Qxb2, with equality.

But Karpov blows up Black’s game instead with 20. Rxe6!! Ra7 (fxe6 21. Bxc6 Ra7 [Rxc6 22. Qxc6 Qc8 23. Qe4 Kg7 24. cxb5 axb5 25. Nxb5] 22. Qxe6+ Kg7 23. Bd7! wins material) 21. Rxg6+! (this rook offer can’t be declined) fxg6 22. Qe6+ Kg7 23. Bxc6 Rd8.

As Black desperately tries to cover up, Karpov surrenders his other rook to knock out a critical Black defender: 28. Rxd4!! Rxd4 29. Qf6+ Kg8 (Kh7 30. Ng5+ Kh6 31. Qh8+ Rh7 32. Qxh7 mate) 30. Qxg6+ Kf8 31. Qe8+ Kg7 32. Qe5+ Kg8 33. Nf6+ Kf7 34. Be8+ Kf8 35. Qxc5+, and one of Black’s rooks must fall.

White’s rampage has netted him five pawns and a bishop for a rook, and Topalov could have packed it in with dignity about now. After 38. b3 Rb2 39. Kg2, the White bishop wards off any queen checks, and White will just march his unchallenged pawns down the board. Black resigned.

Moscow International Tournament, Moscow, 1935


1. d4d526. Rde1g6

2. c4c627. Rd1Rb8

3. cxd5cxd528. Qe1Rdb7

4. Nc3Nc629. Rdd2Nd7

5. Nf3Nf630. Bb1e5

6. Bf4Bf531. Qg3Qe6

7. Qb3Na532. e4exd4

8. Qa4+Bd733. exf5Qf6

9. Qc2Rc834. Re6dxc3

10. e3b535. Rxf6cxd2

11. a3e636. Rxg6+hxg6

12. Bd3Be737. Qxg6+Kf8

13. Ne5Nc438. Qd6+Ke8

14. Qe20-039. Bc2Rb6

15. 0-0Be840. f6Kd8

16. Rac1Nd741. f7Kc8

17. Nxc4bxc442. f8=Q+Nxf8

18. Bb1f543. Qxf8+Kb7

19. f3Nb644. Qf6Ka6

20. Bc2Bd645. Qd6Re8

21. Bxd6Qxd646. h4Re1+

22. Rcd1Bd747. Kh2Rc1

23. Qd2Bc648. Bf5d1=Q

24. Rfe1Rcd849. Bc8+Ka5

25. Re2Rd750. Qc5+Ka4

White resigns

12th Linares Chess Tournament, Linares, Spain, 1994


1. d4Nf621. Rxg6+fxg6

2. c4c522. Qe6+Kg7

3. Nf3cxd423. Bxc6Rd8

4. Nxd4e624. cxb5Bf6

5. g3Nc625. Ne4Bd4

6. Bg2Bc526. bxa6Qb6

7. Nb3Be727. Rd1Qxa6

8. Nc30-028. Rxd4Rxd4

9. 0-0d629. Qf6+Kg8

10. Bf4Nh530. Qxg6+Kf8

11. e3Nxf431. Qe8+Kg7

12. exf4Bd732. Qe5+Kg8

13. Qd2Qb833. Nf6+Kf7

14. Rfe1g634. Be8+Kf8

15. h4a635. Qxc5+Qd6

16. h5b536. Qxa7Qxf6

17. hxg6hxg637. Bh5Rd2

18. Nc5dxc538. b3Rb2

19. Qxd7Rc839. Kg2Black

20. Rxe6Ra7resigns

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by e-mail at dsands@washington times.com.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide