Arrogant, aggressive and according to one Grandmaster a “thoroughly unpleasant person”, this guy from the oilfields of Baku, came to be known as the face of Russia for years to come and certainly my inspiration on the Chessboard. Regarded arguably as the best the world had ever seen, with an aggressive opening play, he would seize any opportunity to go for the jugular of the opponents. The youngest World Champion at 22, he had the world at his feet at the time the highly intellectual game of Chess was so popular, especially since the preceding decade when the duels between Spassky and Fischer were just another continuation of the Cold War. Now with his illustrious career in the background, like many celebrities he is chancing his luck in the world of politics and reform in his native Russia. He became the founder of the Russian United Civil Front and joined The Other Russia, a coalition opposing Vladimir Putin. A human right activist and a frequent vocal speaker on various forums on strategy, reform, decision making and technology, Kasparov was named Chairman of the Human Rights Foundation in 2011, succeeding author, activist, and former Czech President Václav Havel. His book “How life imitates Chess” has been translated into over 20 languages.
My love affair with Garry Kasparov started in mid 80s, when I started following his all famous duels with Anatoly Karpov, then reigning champion, the old guard and “ the man of the Soviet establishment” as they said. Later I studied their games as well as the ones of Spassky and Fischer, enacting the moves on Chessboard, buying books even; doing the Chess Quizzes in the latter years on the last page of the Newspaper, taken from actual games. Chess in those days was no longer a game played on a board between two grey haired gentlemen (Kasparov being much younger though) but more like stamping one’s intellectual authority over the other and how do you anticipate the other’s moves, even thoughts. It was just like war between two Field Martials in their war rooms, with complex maps and imaginary advances and responses pinned on the wall! At least that’s how it was perceived by the Soviets and the Americans, till it was solely a Russian domain in the decades to come and USA just resigned to their supremacy. Kasparov, not quite the pin up hero, none of the geeky Grandmasters are to be fair, has been virtually invincible since his hardfought 13-11 win over Karpov in 1985, winning the 24th game in Moscow, becoming the youngest ever World Champion till the current Norwegian Grandmaster Magnus Carlsen broke his record in 2013(who incidentally became a Grandmaster at the age of 13 and the Youngest ever World No 1 at 19!)
Born Garik Weinstein to a Jewish father and an Armenian mother in Baku, Azerbaijan, he had been prepared for greatness from his early life, being enrolled in the Young Pioneer Palace by his enthusiast mother to an institute and having his own mentor, a former world champion, Botvinnik who predicted his greatness at that ripe age. He won the Soviet Junior Championship in 1976 at 13 and repeated it next year. His name having been changed to the more familiar one to avoid the rife anti-Semitic sentiment, later on he joined the Communist Party to further his career as was the norm in Soviet Union. His break came in 1979 when as a replacement still unrated he won a high profile tournament in then Yugoslavia, following on next year by winning the World Junior Championship earning the title that suited him most…The Grandmaster!
By late 1982, Kasparov was already the 2nd ranked player in the world after the World Champion Anatoly Karpov. In another year or so, he was the number 1 ranked player in the world and qualified to earn the right to play Karpov for the famous 1984 World Championship battle. In the First to Six wins match, Karpov was running away with 4-0 after 9 games and everyone predicted a whitewash. Then came the turnaround. An amazing run of 17 consecutive draws followed by another defeat, another few draws till in Game 32, the first ever defeat for Karpov at his hands! Another 14 successive draws followed and then 2 more wins for Kasparov, hung the tie in balance at 5-3. This duel already was the longest ever in a World championship and controversially ended when it could not continue ahead, eventually abandoned without a result!
1985 was the year Kasparov was going to win the glorious wreath and the World Championship Title in Moscow, beating Karpov 13-11 in the best of 24 match. The next year in the rematch, he won an even more closely fought one 12 ½ -11 ½. The 1987 title win was a 12-12 draw at Seville, with Kasparov winning against the official challenger Karpov, being the defending champion. In their 5th Championship match in 1990, the score was a close 12 ½ -11 ½ in Kasparov’s favour once more against the old guard! In the closest of the fought five World Championships between these two great Grandmasters, the eventual score between the two was 21 wins, 19 losses and 104 draws for Kasparov! The battles between the two Russians were the most eagerly anticipated ones after Spassky-Fischer(Russia vs US), one a rebel and the other the “man of the establishment”.
Beginning in 1986, he created the Grandmasters Association (GMA), an organization to represent professional chess players and give them more say in FIDE’s activities in which Kasparov assumed a leadership role. The world champion and his challenger Nigel Short decided to play outside FIDE’s jurisdiction in 1993, under another organization created by Kasparov called the Professional Chess Association (PCA), both being expelled by FIDE. This is where a great fracture in the lineage of World Champions began which Kasparov later regretted. There were now two World Champions: PCA champion Kasparov, and FIDE champion Karpov. The title remained split for 13 years. Eventually after being on top for many years at times disputed at most undisputed, he was beaten soundly by his prodigy, once his pupil Vladimir Kramnik in 2000 at London, without winning a single match.
A famous Chess historian remarked,
“Kasparov was like Samson, but his hair has been shorn”.
After losing the title, Kasparov won a series of major tournaments, and remained the top rated player in the world. In the ensuing years there were efforts to reunite the titles, but funding issues didn’t let it happen and Kasparov though in public’s eyes still the man to beat, retired from competitive chess in 2005, not bothering to defend his title, instead focussing himself in reform and bringing democracy to the country.
“We are not fighting to win elections – we are fighting for having elections,”
Kasparov once said.
The Illustrious Career!
Kasparov spent 22 years as the No. 1 ranked chess player in the world until his 2005 retirement, at only 42 years of age. He was then the youngest World Chess Champion at age 22, a title he would hold for 15 years, till dethroned by Kramnik. Kasparov played against thirty-two different chess computers simultaneously in Hamburg, winning all games in 1985. In 1990 Kasparov achieved the (then) highest FIDE rating ever, breaking Bobby Fischer’s old record of 2785. Later in 1999-2000 Kasparov reached an Elo rating of 2851, at that time the highest rating ever achieved. He held that record till Magnus Carlsen bettered it last year. In 1996, he famously played IBM’s Deep Blue computer and was defeated in one game, though Kasparov got three wins and two draws to win the match; Deep Blue came back to defeat the champion in a 1997 match 3 ½ – 2 ½ . This was the first time a computer had ever defeated a world champion in match play. He founded the Kasparov Chess Foundation in the U.S. to promote chess in the classroom across the nation. He had also founded an online Chess syndicate which like his other ventures wasn’t too successful. In his long career he won many prestigious tournaments, awards and widespread acclaim for his style of play and could have continued to do so had he not retired prematurely.
He has mentored and coached many including the current Norwegian World Champion Magnus Carlsen, who is defending his title to former World Champion Viswanathan Anand this month. He has written numerous books, My Great Predecessors and How Life Imitates Chess being the most notable ones.
Kasparov the Grandmaster now is a human rights activist, a writer, a prominent voice aiming for reforms in Russian Society and at loggerheads with Putin and the Kremlin, not winning many friends in his native Russia and his popularity once universal has much waned, with the controversial world of politics. His close association with US hasn’t won many friends in Moscow. He has unfortunately been attacked, manhandled by people, and detained by security services many times. He is continuing his efforts to bring all the coalition parties together under the Other Russia umbrella. Not as popular as against the Czar Vladimir Putin to gain much public support he has probably lost the respect and esteem he had once of the Russian public at large, in his days at the top of the World.
Nevertheless, his controversial political exploits aside, depending on how you look at them whether from a Western or the Russian eye; Garry Kasparov’s efforts and duels not only with Karpov but with the FIDE as well as the authorities for the supremacy/promotion of the game and Chess players’ rights, have etched his name in gilded Chess Chronicles forever. Whosoever has or will have played Chess would not only remember the likes of Capablanca, Alekhine, Fischer and Karpov but would certainly place him on a much higher pedestal!