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On Chess: Legendary Kasparov returns to chess board, St. Louis for weekend match

Garry Kasparov, with Rex Sinquefield in the background
Lennart Ootes | Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis

When the king moves, every piece, on every corner of this checker-boarded earth, takes notice. That is why most of Garry Kasparov’s moves around St. Louis these days often come and go in secret.

Small circles know that the world’s greatest living chess legend sneaks into the Central West End a time or two a year; but for the non-privy, he simply appears at the front door of the St. Louis Chess Club, with no less surprise than if he had stepped from a sudden poof of smoke.

Usually a blink, then he’s gone. The unluckiest of members never even look up from their position, as he quickly slips unnoticed past half a dozen games that he could win from either side, back into a quiet corner of the American chess castle. These days, Kasparov’s contributions to U.S. chess mostly come behind the scenes, a bit more subtle than his famous aggression over the board once did: Now a decade retired from the professional sport, his quiet visits to St. Louis often help private camps, where he leaks his own secrets to our nation’s rising stars.

This visit, however, is no secret rendezvous: The king just simply cannot return to the battlefield, unnoticed.

Friday, Kasparov revisits the U.S. Chess Capital -- and the chess board -- for a weekend match against famed English GM Nigel Short. Dubbed Battle of the Legendsat the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis, the match presents a redux of the duo’s famous 1993 World Championship match in London.

And a rare chance to see if the 52 year old still has it after all these years. In 2005, after 20 years ranked as the No. 1 chess player on earth, Kasparov retired from professional chess -- in part because there were few challenges left to conquer. His record as the youngest World Chess Champion in history still stands, a title nabbed at the age of 22 from Anatoly Karpov in 1985 and held convincingly for 15 years, perhaps the most dominating command of the world title in the modern era.

The Kasparov-Karpov rivalry through the latter half of the 1980s will forever be remembered as one of the game’s most-epic, with Kasparov defending his crown on three more occasions through 1990. But it was Short who brought that rivalry to a close, knocking Karpov out of a 1992 Candidates semifinal match referred to as the “end of an era,” marking the Russian’s first non-appearance in a World Championship since 1975.

And setting up a famous prediction: When asked who would become his new challenger for the World Championship, Kasparov quipped: “It will be Short, and it will be short.” Indeed, Short soon after entered history books as the first Englishman to compete for a world title and, indeed, Kasparov made quick work of him.

But perhaps time will be a better friend.

Still active more than two decades later, at 49, Short ranks 60th in the world and is the oldest player among the global top 100, while Kasparov will play in just his fourth serious match since retirement. Short served as opponent in one of those rarities in Belgium 2011, and he seemed to fare a little better in his second go-round with the 13th World Champion -- only narrowly losing the match by a point after dropping the last game.

Both legends will perform a simultaneous exhibition against 20 players (that is how retired World Champions kick off rust) at 4 p.m. Friday, with the two set to square off in 10 Rapid and Blitz games across the weekend, beginning at 2 p.m. each day. All events are open for public viewing with a $5 day membership at the CCSCSL, and the match will be streamed live with commentary throughout the weekend on www.uschesschamps.com.

There will also be a special autograph session with Kasparov and Short at 5 p.m. Sunday for just one hour, so get there early: The autograph session will be short -- but the line won't be.