Reviews | December 16, 2011 22:05

Review: Garry Kasparov on Garry Kasparov Part 1: 1973-1985

Review: Garry Kasparov on Garry Kasparov Part 1: 1973-1985

Hikaru Nakamura was recently interviewed by Daniel King about his cooperation with Kasparov (which, as we now know, is already over). To my surprise, the American super grandmaster repeated the old, long refuted cliché that Kasparov’s main strength was in openings.


I mean you look at middlegames or endgames and I’m quite convinced there are other players who are better than he was, but he was able to get advantages out of the openings so that was his main strength.

Did he really say that about his respected trainer? Was it some kind of smoke-screen, or did he actually mean it? If so, Nakamura surely hasn’t yet found time to read Kasparov’s latest book, Garry Kasparov on Garry Kasparov Part 1: 1973-1985 (published by Everyman Chess). This volume contains 100 games in which Kasparov’s creative genius is displayed in all aspects – opening, middlegame and endgame. Compulsory reading for young Hikaru!

There are two possible ways for reviewers  to respond to a new book written by Kasparov: the first is to lyrically describe all those beautiful games and analyses, and be gentle on everything else he writes. The second is to ignore most of the chess and scrutinize his prose for errors, blame the editors of sloppiness and conclude that it’s all been done before, and better.  

I’ve always been in the first camp, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I cherish my autographed copies of Kasparov’s books. His latest work covers the period 1973-1985, from his early childhood games (when he was still called Weinstein) to his first match with Karpov, and again, I felt helpless against the power of Kasparov’s games and became enthusiastic already when looking at the very first game in the book.

PGN string


I remember being terribly proud of this far from obvious move. ‘It turns out that the h2-h4 advance also contained a positional threat. White unexpectedly seizes control of the d-file takes play into a highly favourable ending. (…)’ – Nikitin.

To immediately answer the critics, of which there are many: yes, this book, too, contains many and sometimes rather lengthly quotes from others, and many games were already analyzed in earlier publications such as Kasparov’s Fighting Chess, and, most conspicuously, The Test of Time. Yes, the book lacks a bibliography to check all this properly. (This is a serious omission.) And no doubt, it is probably factually incorrect when discussing the (political) context of some situations.

But all this is to a large extent missing the point. Any neutral chess lover picking up this book will be stunned and seduced with some of the best moments ever seen in chess history – and most of them are completely unrelated to opening preparation. Here’s a fragment from a game which featured the Alekhine Defense, where Kasparov was out of book as early as move 8:

PGN string


In the period of my chess youth I rarely refrained from such spectacular blows. And for a long time, under the impression of the rout which followed, I considered this move to be the shortest way to the goal. (…) But I couldn’t help thinking that it was possible to manage without ‘brilliance’.

When, on my return to Baku, I showed this game to Vladimir Andreevich Makogonov, he suddenly asked: ‘But wouldn’t it have been simpler to play h2-h4?’ Thus another solution to the position was found, one not involving any sacrifices: 23.h4! f5 24.exf6 Nxf6 25.hxg5 or 23…gxh4 24.Qh5! f5 25.exf6 Nxf6 26.Nxf6+ Rxf6 27.Nd5! exd5 28.Qxd5+ and Qxa8.

This continuation is undoubtedly more practical, but then there would not have been the fireworks with the sacrifice of both bishops, and an attack in which all (!) the white pieces participated. (…)

23…hxg5 24.Qh5 f5 25.Nxg5 Rf7

PGN string

After making this move, Palatnik unexpectedly offered a draw! I was very surprised: it is patently obvious just how strong White’s  attack is. Perhaps the tournament leader, realizing that his position was hopeless, was trying a last chance? At any event, my silent reply was a new sacrifice.


The crux of the combination. The sacrifice of the second bishop conclusively destroys the black king’s defenses. 26.d5!? Bxe5 27.Nxf7 would also have won, but the move in the game is both prettier and better. (…)

Note Kasparov’s objectiveness, which nevertheless doesn’t diminish his enthusiasm after all these years (though some would no doubt call it arrogance).  This willingness to look at these youthful games from a mature perspective is also reflected in the many corrections Kasparov has made to his earlier annotations.

A particularly striking example of this critical look is Kasparov’s analysis of his famous loss against Petrosian from 1981, where Kasparov improves on his old commentary in The Test of Time by quoting analysis work by Timman, Bologan, Zviagintsev, and Yusupov and Dvoretsky.

PGN string


This brilliant defensive move was made by Petrosian almost without thinking. White’s attack peters out, since his rooks are stuck on the queenside.


On seeing that the endgame after 37.Qxe7+ Kxe7 38.Rxa4 Rd6 39.g3 was too depressing (…), I tried to confuse matters.

PGN string


‘Petrosian is again equal to the occasion: after 37…Qxe6 38.fxe6 Bd7 39.exd7+ Rxd7 40.Rf2 White would have managed to save the game,’ I wrote in The Test of Time. But now I am not so sure: 40…Rf7! 41.Rf5 Rxf5 42.exf5 Kf7 followed by ..a5-a4-a3, …Kf6 and so on. Besides, Black is also better after 38…Bc6!? 39.Rf2 Ke7! 40.Rf7+ Kd6 41.e7 Re8 42.Rf6+ Kd7! 43.Rxc6 a4. (…)

Of course, Kasparov was also in a league of his own with regards to opening preparation. The most famous example probably being his two Botvinnik Variation games in the 13th and 14th rounds of the Soviet Championship in 1981, first against Timoshchenko and then against Dorfman. Here’s how Kasparov describes what happened after his win against Timoshchenko:

A lively analysis after the game involved not only Timoshchenko and me, but also Dorfman, and Sveshnikov, who as usual was showing where and what should have been moved. His voice resounded louder than the others and the variations he demonstrated looked convincing enough (…) and in the end the grandmaster consultation dediced that 30…e5 was the decisive mistake, and that 30…Be5 would have parried the attack. All my attempts to refute this were unsuccessful, and Sveshnikov publicly declared that he was prepared to defend the position after 30…Be5 against me in the 16th round!

On returning to the hotel, for a long time I was unable to get to sleep. Thoughts about the game just played would not leave me in peace. Was 30…Be5 really such a good move that it killed White’s entire plan?! Without interruption I analysed this position in my head, and only by two in the morning did I find peace: analysis showed irrefutably that 30…Be5 also did not save Black (I remember even that, when this happened, I said to my mother: ‘Found it!’). (…)

And sure enough, Kasparov was able to beat Dorfman the next day with his discovery:

PGN string

30…Be5 31.Rc5! Rxc5 32.Bxc5!

My night-time discovery! The fact that the quiet ‘backwards’ capture was stronger than 32.Qxc5, and that now Black has no defense, was not easy to grasp (I don’t know whether I would have found it at the board if the previous day Timoshchenko had played 30…Be5…).

And here’s another beautiful (though some would no doubt call it irritating) home-preparation example in the QGD, from his quarter-final Candidates Match against Beliavsky:

PGN string


This was the novelty we had found – the fruit of three days of preparatory work. (…) I remember how on the eve of the game Botvinnik arrived at the Azerbaijan permanent representative’s residence in Moscow, where our team was living during the match, and I showed him the main variations that were possible after 12.Bf5. Botvinnik studied the position carefully and approvingly murmured: ‘Hmm… A good idea!’

There is so much chess to enjoy that this alone is a good reason to pick up this book. But Kasparov also says interesting and personal things about his youth. I was moved by his remark that he always carried a picture of his deceased father with him. I also didn’t know (or else I’ve forgotten) that Kasparov had serious health problems in his youth. This makes his phenomenal rise to fame, documented in this book, even more impressive.

Garry Kasparov on Garry Kasparov Part 1: 1973-1985 is more than a revised edition of The Test of Time. It is a book that not only Hikaru Nakamura, but every chess lover should study. A perfect Christmas gift.


Arne Moll's picture
Author: Arne Moll


chesshire cat's picture

nice article...I never heard about these health problems...what were they, in a few words?

noyb's picture

It's very disappointing to see you write such a "going out of your way" attack on Hikaru Nakamura Arne. If you wanted to write a hatchet piece on Hikaru, you didn't have to waste a book review to do it.

I don't agree with Hikaru's assessment of Kasparov's middlegame skills at all, but Kasparov is well known for mishandling a few basic rook and pawn endgames. But I would just leave it at that, a respectful disagreement.

Niima's picture

Nakamura's comment was nonsense, and Arne has referred to it in his review to state what many think. Show the examples that you refer to and be done with it. For every "mishandling a few basic rook and pawn endgames" by Kasparov that you can show (if you can do it), I will present ten endgames that he handled like a virtuoso.

Such nonsense...and always coming from those who have not accomplished half as much.

Septimus's picture

Nakamura was talking nonsense and Arne was simply referring to the games in the book to prove this. What is the problem?

Pablo's picture

I really like to read this reviews. It's one of the things I most appreciate in this page. Keep going, Arne.

Shane's picture

Why would you write that? Nakamura was simply answering a question live in the LCC when he said that, without giving it too much thought. It probably wasn't meant to be disrespectful, and regardless, it was his opinion. But now first we have the guy in the LCC room who tried to stir sh*t with Lawrence Trent the commentator about it, and now this article. This isn't celebrity he said she said.

Anonymous's picture

If Nakamura wasn't deliberately slighting Kasparov, then he must be an idiot. I prefer to believe that Nakamura isn't an idiot. Also notice that in the last tournament they were not speaking to each other (they even avoided eye contact) so that further makes me think that the slight was deliberate. ref:

choufleur's picture

Nakamura has already made completely pointless comments about Smyslov's game ("boring" if I remember well). Well, do we have to admire only his incorrect swindling play ?

rick's picture

i cant imagine if giant past tallent born again, swindler like naka will be theown out of hundreth rank.

Anonymous's picture


victorhdiaz's picture

When you got lucky and can date the most beautiful woman on the world, and suddenly everything ends, well, you can say: i really don´t like much her; she´s not good enough for me!
What a stupid Mr.Ego!

stevefraser's picture

Nice comment!

redivivo's picture

When Nakamura says that he is convinced that other players have been stronger in the middlegame than Kasparov I can't help but wonder who those players have been and how many they are. I haven't read the reviewed book but Kasparov was an amazing middlegame player and I can't think of anyone I'd call equal to him in that respect, and it would be even harder for me to name several players that were stronger than him in that phase of the game. Nakamura and Carlsen speak very differently about Kasparov, just compare Nakamura's statements with what Carlsen is saying in for example this great interview:

Zeblakob's picture

I have read many pages of this book, and I like this concrete answer to Nakamura by Arne.
My advise to Naka: please think before talking.

Anonymous's picture

diagrams are wrong

PircAlert's picture

Wrong way to evaluate!

You must study as many number of worst games as the number of best games to evaluate a person's strength in whatever department of the game you are evaluating him. Of course you can disregard one or two worst blundersome games but studying one's bad games is necessary to know one's skills. This is because the best games can be a follow up of some prepared opening lines so not much chance is there for the player to go wrong in a familiar position and therefore those games may not be very good examples to understand one's true skills or potential.

Nice try in favor of Kasparov though! ;-)

stevefraser's picture

Nice try re the greatest player in the history of chess.

PircAlert's picture

Just looked at one of the games.. In Kasparov-Palatnik 1978, the moves that follow 26.Bxf5 are 26...Rxf5 27.Rxf5 exf5 28.Nd5 Qd8 29.Qh7+ Kf8 30.Qxf5+ Kg8 31.Qh7+ Kf8 and they are more or less forced. Now Kasparov does 32.Ra3 which is sort of dubious. Which allows black to prolong the game with 31...Nf7 32.Rf3 Bc4 33.Rxf7 Qxf7 34.Nxf7 Bxd5 35.Nd6 etc. Only the played 31...Rc8 continuation which helped end the game quickly. 32.Nc7 might have been better since it force trades queen and helps capture a8-rook with material up in simlified position. When you play sub-optimal moves without valid reason, it just indicates weakness in your calculations. If 32.Ra3 move was a result of Kasparov underestimating his opponent, this may not be a good sample game.

PircAlert's picture

Didn't spend too much time in analyzing it, so don't take it as is, and feel free to poke holes in my analysis.

chandler's picture

The Kasparov-Petrosian game was also covered in much detail in the Predecessors volume of Petrosian+Spassky. So, Arne, is there anything new about this game in this volume?

Arne Moll's picture

Unfortunately I can't check at this moment, chandler (I lended my Predecessors 3 copy to a friend but haven't received it back), but probably not a lot, since substantial additions/corrections to previous books are usually indicated in the commentary.

This again stresses the importance of a good bibliography which is strangely absent from this volume.

chandler's picture

It's weird if there's not a lot of changes; because Kaspy always refers to games in previous volumes (sometimes even to future volumes); so why waste pages duplicating a game given that you're not a habitual page-filler?

Frank van Tellingen's picture

@PircAlert - am I right in concluding that you are not much of a Kasparovfan?
Just remember Kasparov was only 15 years old in the Palatnik game and even so: I can't recall Kasparov claiming anywhere, that his games were error-free. The thing I like most about his analysis is that he shows how beautifully rich the game really is - even in seemingly hopeless positions, often some defense can be found.

Secondly - you are forgetting in your model for calculating someone's relative strength the average strength of their opponents. So I guess you can't blame Kasparov for incidentally misplaying one or two pawn endgames against, say, Karpov - who is not flawless either - but isn't that about as good as it gets?

Frank van Tellingen's picture

I guess what I wanted to say is: just shut up and be thankful that someone like Kasparov takes the trouble to open up new perspectives on already analysed games - even on his own analysis in Dva Matchva etc. As Sadler once put it: mainly, it is because Kasparov writes this or that, that you want to read it. It is about as exciting as the few pieces of post-1966 Fischer-analysis we have thanks to the recordings of Jan Timman (remember his wonderful anecdote, where Fischer analysed Ivanchuk - Kasparov in NiC)

aerodarts's picture

I am convinced that the younger generation of the GM's do not want to follow in the path of the chess GM of the past.....unless you list players from Russia etc. They seek change with the hope to grow interest in chess. If you want to see proof of this fact, just listen to Kamsky give a post game interview at the US Chess Championships in St Louis and then listen to Nakamura. One is refrained and the other speaks his mind. You want to guess who says what? I have some video's on Youtube if you want to check this out.

steve's picture
Anonymous's picture

Poor Garry. Such a nice guy. Wouldn't hurt a fly. Wouldn't offend a flea. Naka. Dammit! How could you say such a thing about Mr. Whinesteins only son?

stevefraser's picture

Once possibility explaining Naka's comment about GK is that he's a bonehead. When Naka becomes world champ, we can revisit his comments.

Arvin's picture

The opening is as important as middlegame and endgame. You cannot win a chess game, let alone win the world chess crown, without excelling in middlegame and endgame. So to say that Kasparov, a former world chess champion who has won against formidable opponents in Karpov, Short and Anand, and other supper grandmasters and former world champions, is inferior in middlegame and endgame is unfounded and disrespectful. This book and many other books will attest that Naka's claim is not true. Kasparov should be given due respect for his great contribution to chess.

Anonymous's picture

good review. Hikaru opened himself for being criticized for his riduculous statement. He is open game now.

darkergreen's picture

yep! saying 30 days earlier, "tudying with one of the best player in the history of the game!" then "he is just good at opening preps. there is not much to gain from him"... so dull!

marreco mau's picture

Kasparov was an amazing player ( almost certainly the best ever ) but there is no doubt that his superior opening preparation was a key point in his overall strenght. Karpov and Capablanca were more talented, but it is not Kasparov´s fault that both of them were lazy. It is impossible to know the limits that a young, healthy and in the same level of Kasparov's opening preparation Capablanca and Karpov would have.

Frank van Tellingen's picture

Actually Karpov was far from being lazy in his top years. That is, if we must take Kasparov's word for it: Karpov was excellently prepared in the opening in every WC-match and in every tournament he wanted to win (like e.g. Linares 1994).

Sofie's picture


rumor has it that the book was produced by a gost writer, and not just someone, but in fact Mihail Marin and that based on existing Kasparov quotes and some anecdotes he told based on the first draft, the final version was produced.

ccc's picture

Carlsen said that Kasparov was still exceptionally strong in calculating variations!

Anonymous's picture

Who cares?

P.N.John's picture

Being the best only in the openings would never carry Kasparov to the top and allow such a long stay there.

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