Ending in the Middle

February 10th 2003.

A mass audience followed the game over the net while many more watched live on cable television. Chess had finally hit the big time. It was 2.5 all and everything hinged on the final game. Was this the last chance saloon for man to demonstrate his superiority over silicon?

Unfortunately mankind’s worthy representative, probably the greatest chess talent of all time (at least up until this millennium), Garry Kasparov, holding a pretty good position with the black pieces, lost his bottle. He offered a draw. It was turned down by the machine operator. A short while later the machine was deprived the opportunity of playing on in its rather dodgy position when the operator returned the offer of a draw and Kasparov accepted.

Thus ended a great sporting spectacle. The match had started well with interesting and hard-fought games but descended into minor farce at the end with the final draw in a far from played out position ruining the good publicity value of the contest and also somewhat tarnishing the image of chess as sport. What about the punters betting on the outcome of this chess match? Anybody not betting on the draw will certainly feel cheated by the way the result of the final game was ‘decided’ without being allowed to run its natural course.

What happened to the great showman that Kasparov once was? What happened to the man who was once as tough as nails psychologically and played so many daring and intricate sacrifices? Has a quarter of a century of chess at the top damaged the nerve and sinew of Garry Kasparov as he approaches 40? There was a time he would have been too proud to take that draw and would have believed in himself a little more…

The jury is still out on these questions. Certainly there is some evidence of him cracking up a little: for example the final phase of his London match with Kramnik was rather sad to watch. Yet it is also clear that Kasparov has not lost his talent and can still produce the goods, as he demonstrated in fine style not long ago at the chess Olympiad.

A psychologist friend of mine once explained that most people like to bully someone. Typically a man will bully his wife a bit and the wife will in turn bully the children. Kasparov, like many other players, is certainly happier at the chessboard when he is psychologically dominant. When he found an opponent who could not be bullied (Kramnik) he had difficulties playing his normal game and the same again now against the computer. He started well but did not have the energy and strength to stay on top of his fears through to the end of the match. Conclusion: he only failed to win because he is human.


The squabble over the Kasparov-Ponomariov match is indeed unfortunate for those of us hoping for an organised, harmonious chess world. Of course some might find it rather more entertaining just the way it is…

Essentially the reunification negotiations were made without full regard for the youngster’s wishes and preferences and now the precocious schoolboy is showing the audacity to stand up for his rights. There are issues involving both the time-limit for the games and over what might happen should the match be tied. So far FIDE’s response has run along the lines of ‘go to the back of the line Ruslan and stand against the wall’.

More details can be found at: http://chess-sector.odessa.ua/

While technically Ponomariov is quite correct to fight his corner, one cannot help feeling that the publics’ emotions will be against him: 

1)   He is so young

2)   He was a little lucky to beat Ivancuk (who had so conveniently beaten Anand)

3)   Kasparov is a legend

4)   Although he is clearly a great talent, Ponomariov is not yet the world’s best player so why does his opinion matter?

5)   He could just play the match and stop causing trouble. If he wins then he has proved himself and if he loses he will learn a great deal and come back a true and greater champion in the future.

6)   He really is rather young.

Meanwhile with Kasparov, Kramnik, Anand, Leko and Ponomariov all competing, we can look forward to some good, spicy chess at Linares, which starts on the 22nd February.


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