Russian chess master Garry Kasparov (born 1963) dominated the game of chess as few others had before him, reigning as world champion from 1985 to 2000. His struggles against chess-playing computers gained international publicity.
After a career marked by clashes with chess authorities, Kasparov embarked on what was perhaps an even greater challenge upon his retirement from professional chess in 2005: he entered the troubled world of Russian politics. Within two years he had emerged as leader of the opposition Other Russia coalition, posing direct challenges to the continued influence of the powerful Russian president Vladimir Putin. Even during his years as an international representative of the Communist-ruled Soviet Union, Kasparov's chess feats had become imbued with political significance: in his world championship matches against Anatoly Karpov, the first of which ranks among the most bizarre chess matches ever played, he was seen as a freewheeling challenger to an orthodox player backed by the Communist establishment. However, despite his tremendous celebrity—in Russia, chess players are national celebrities—Kasparov faced enormous difficulties in his quest to alter Russia's political course.
Turned to Chess After Father's Death
Kasparov was born Garry Weinstein (both his birth name and the name Garry Kasparov have been transliterated from Russian Cyrillic characters in many ways) on April 12, 1963, in Baku, now in Azerbaijan but then part of the Soviet Union. He was of mixed ethnic background; his father, Kim Weinstein, was Jewish, and his mother, Clara Kasparova, was Armenian. In Baku, dominated by ethnic Azerbaijanis and Russians, he was therefore a double minority. Kasparov's parents, both engineers and chess enthusiasts, noticed their son's skills when, at the age of six, he solved a newspaper chess puzzle even though he hardly understood the rules of the game. Shortly after that, Kim Weinstein died of cancer, and his young son began to immerse himself in chess.
Clara Kasparova channeled her energies into her son's promising chess career, taking out loans so that the pair could travel to important tournaments. Kasparov was enrolled in a government-sponsored chess academy run by former world champion Mikhail Botvinnik, who, like Kasparov, had Jewish ancestry. Botvinnik suggested to Kasparov that in order to further his career in a country plagued by anti-Semitism, he should take the masculine form of his mother's surname, which did not sound Jewish. Weinstein did. Kasparov was winning tournaments even as a preteen, and in 1980 he became the junior chess champion of the world. Chess watchers had already identified him as a future star; Leonard Barden, chess columnist for London's Guardian, wrote that “there is a clear favorite for the world championship in 1990. He is 11-year-old Garry Weinstein from Baku.”
The pressure of competitive chess permanently shaped Kasparov's personality. “The loss of my childhood was the price for becoming the youngest world champion in history,” he told David Remnick in The New Yorker. “When you have to fight every day from a young age, your soul can be contaminated. I lost my childhood. I never really had it. Today I have to be careful not to become cruel, because I became a soldier too early.” Kasparov became Soviet champion in 1981, and he qualified for the arduous series of elimination matches that would select a challenger for world champion Anatoly Karpov in 1984.
After the epic clash between American Bobby Fischer and the Soviet Union's Boris Spassky in 1972, top-flight international chess became freighted with political significance. The two players could not have been more different in their styles on the chessboard and in their general attitudes. “Kasparov represented a new generation,” noted Remnick. “At twenty-one, he was ironic, full of barely disguised disdain for the regime. He was a member of the Communist Party until 1990—his chess ambitions required it—but no one saw him as subservient. Rather, he was cast, in his challenge to Karpov, as a champion of the young and of the outsiders. His chess style was swift, imaginative, daring—sometimes to the point of recklessness. Karpov painted academic still-lifes; Kasparov was an Abstract Expressionist. He prepared thoroughly, but at some point, he once said, he played by instinct, “by smell, by feel.”
Came Back from 5–0 Deficit
When Kasparov and Karpov met in Moscow to play for the championship in September of 1984, the match followed a course unlike almost any other that had ever been played. A player needed six victories to win the match; draws (tied games) did not count. Kasparov lost five games without a single win and appeared headed for a crushing defeat. He nearly lost the fifteenth game, but held on for a draw after 93 moves. Kasparov, wrote Remnick, “was figuring out Karpov the way an astute hitter, after repeated, chastening strikeouts, figures out a pitcher.” He began to wear his opponent down, forcing draws in 20 consecutive games at one point. Karpov lost weight as the match dragged on through the long Russian winter. Finally Kasparov notched two quick victories in a row, in games 47 and 48. Karpov seemed to be crumbling.
At that point, under Soviet pressure, international chess authorities cancelled the match, claiming that Karpov was exhausted. (Karpov, for his own part, insisted that he wanted the match to continue.) Kasparov was angered, believing that Soviet chess authorities had conspired to circle the wagons against him. In the end, the decision did not matter. He defeated Karpov unambiguously in a return match, winning the world championship with a slashing attack on November 9, even though he was playing the black pieces—a slight disadvantage. Kasparov and Karpov fought several more closely contested matches over the rest of the 1980s, with Kasparov retaining his title each time. The new champion saw his victories in political terms, telling Remnick, “The 80s were purely dominated by two players. Karpov and myself. But our fight was also about ideological differences. We represented different values. It was communism versus democracy.” Kasparov's successes came in spite of petty interferences from Soviet chess authorities; he sometimes found, for example, that his seconds, or helpers, had been drafted into the Soviet army and had to report for duty days before an important match.
Indeed, Kasparov was a proto-capitalist thinker off the chessboard as well. In 1987 he filmed an advertisement for Schweppes soft drinks in Switzerland. He insisted on keeping all of his chess prize money, becoming the first Soviet competitor in any sport to do so. Using Western contacts, he was instrumental in beginning what became a steady stream of Russian hockey players who signed lucrative contracts in North America's National Hockey League; he introduced Soviet hockey team captain Slava (Vyacheslav) Fetisov to the general manager of the New Jersey Devils team. After Communism fell, Kasparov started trading and consulting firms, and he became wealthy. By 1993 his annual income was estimated at $3 million. Something of a playboy (although he neither smoked nor drank), Kasparov married three times, enjoyed a two-year affair with the well-known Moscow stage actress Martina Neyelova, and had two children. Another key female presence in his life was his mother, Clara, who served as his manager all through his years as a chess champion and continued to advise him as he entered politics.
The chaos that accompanied the last years of the Soviet Union brought Kasparov upheaval as well as profit, however. Kasparov was preparing for a match in January of 1990 near his hometown of Baku when fighting intensified between Armenians and Azerbaijanis over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. Ethnic Armenians were attacked by roving gangs in Baku, and Kasparov found himself trapped when transport out of the city was shut down. Finally Kasparov, amid rumors that he had been targeted by the gangs, managed to charter a plane to Moscow. Rushing to his childhood home, he collected some family pictures and chess notebooks he had used as a child. He filled his charter airliner with 68 Armenian friends and fled. As of 2007 he had never returned to Baku.
Kept World Championship
Kasparov continued to roll over his human chess opponents in the 1990s, defeating Nigel Short in 1993 and Viswanathan Anand in 1995 to keep his world championship. The latter match took place on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center. Increasingly, however, Kasparov was also interested in facing a new kind of opponent: a chess computer. In the mid-1980s he had become involved with early attempts to develop a computer capable of competing with top-flight human grandmasters, and he defeated a state-of-the-art machine, Deep Thought, in 1989. Even while humans were clearly superior to computers, though, he seemed to have problems in a situation where his mastery of chess's psychological aspect did him no good— a machine was unfazed by his intimidating attacking style. In 1994 Kasparov lost a game to a computer called ChessGenius 2, and was reportedly devastated by the loss. Other players in the exhibition defeated the computer without trouble.
In 1996 Kasparov lost another game to the Deep Blue machine constructed by computer maker IBM, a computer that could analyze 200 million chess positions per second. His 1997 rematch against Deep Blue was a milestone in the relationship between human and machine. With international attention focused on the contest, the computer won by a score of 3 1/2 to 2 1/2; the computer won two games, Kasparov won one, and the rest were draws. While Steve Forbes editorialized in Forbes magazine that Kasparov's loss was “about as significant as an Olympic gold medalist's losing a weight-lifting contest to a crane or a forklift,” Kasparov, whose play was uncharacteristically poor, was depressed by his loss. Computers and top grandmasters remained closely matched into the mid-2000s, and chess master Boris Gulko, writing in Commentary, suggested that once again psychological factors were responsible for Kasparov's loss: “There is some evidence to suggest that the same champion who shows no mercy whatsoever when dispatching ordinary mortals does have special psychological difficulties meting out similar punishment to machines.”
Kasparov finally lost the world championship in 2000 when he was defeated by one of his own chess students, Vladimir Kramnik. That year he launched a new online chess site, KasparovChess.com (now defunct, but the chess lectures are still in circulation), and he continued to play competitively. In 2003 he played a short match against another computer, X3D Fritz, also known as Deep Junior. This time Kasparov emerged in a tie with the computer, winning one game, losing one, and drawing one. In 2005, after winning a chess tournament in Linares, Spain, he retired.
By that time, Kasparov had become deeply committed to his new career as a political leader—or resistance figure, for he was one of the few voices in Russia opposing the monopolistic power of President Vladimir Putin and his colleagues in politics and industry. Although his own politics tended toward the conservative side, Kasparov joined Drugaya Rossiya, or the Other Russia, an umbrella group of liberal groups opposed to the Putin regime; he felt it was necessary for Russians opposed to Putin to make common cause with each other. Kasparov did not plan to run for the Russian presidency himself, but he emerged as leader of The Other Russia after winning several internal elections.
Kasparov's chances of displacing Putin or one of his handpicked successors in the 2008 presidential elections were slim. Mostly denied access to television time, he was forced to take his message on the road across the sprawling nation of Russia. He was harassed by Russian intelligence services, arrested once, and roughed up by right-wing youth gangs. But Kasparov felt he was speaking for Russians left behind by the new prosperity of Russian capitalism. He pointed to poverty outside Russia's large cities, human rights violations, and the gap between rich and poor as “the key reasons this regime will inevitably collapse” (as he told Remnick). He had no plans to return to chess. “I don't want to look back,” he told Time. “I have a new life now.”
Kasparov, Garry, Child of Change: The Autobiography of the World Chess Champion, HarperCollins, 1990.
Newsmakers, Issue 4, Gale, 1997.
Atlantic Monthly, December 2005.
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Forbes, June 2, 1997.
Guardian (London, England), February 20, 1993.
Independent (London, England), October 2, 2007.
Insight on the News, August 19, 1996.
New Scientist, July 12, 2003.
New Yorker, October 1, 2007.
Observer (London, England), August 21, 2005; September 30, 2007.
Sports Illustrated, December 20, 2004.
Time, February 26, 1996; April 9, 2007.
Times (London, England), September 1, 1990; March 24, 2007.
KASPAROV, GARY (1963– ), Russian chess master. Kasparov, whose father was Jewish and whose mother was an Armenian, was born in Baku. He was taught the basic rules of chess by his father, Kim Vainstein, an engineer who was killed in an accident (1970) when Kasparov was seven years of age. As his career in chess developed, he adopted his mother's maiden name – apparently at the behest of the Soviet authorities. After his exceptionally great talent for chess was discovered he was taught intensively by the former world champion Mikhail *Botvinnik, who clearly understood the great potential which Kasparov had in the field of chess. His career was meteoric: in 1980 he earned the title of grand master and won the World Junior Chess Championship; in 1981 he became chess champion of the Soviet Union. His path to the world championship was paved by his victory in the Moscow inter-district competition. He then won matches against the grand masters Alexander Blaiavsky and Viktor Korchnoi as well as defeating former world champion Vasili Smislov. The height of his achievement came after three dramatic duels against his immediate predecessor as holder of the world title, the Russian Anatoly Karpov. The first duel was called to a halt at the end of 1984 after 48 games because of the physical and mental fatigue of Karpov. Kasparov did not refrain from accusing FIDE (the World Chess Federation) and the Russian chess establishment of trying to aid his opponent. In the second battle, which was limited to 24 games and which ended in November 1985, Kasparov was the victor, the result being 13:11. He thus became the youngest person ever to hold the title of world champion. In the rematch which took place in London and Leningrad in 1986 Kasparov retained the title of world champion by a score of 12.5:11.5. As world champion he also played against – and defeated – some of the greatest players in the West, including among them Olaf Anderson of Sweden, Jan Timmam of the Netherlands, and Anthony Miles of Great Britain.
Kasparov's style of playing is deep, original, and devious. He tends to make bold moves and take chances to assume the offensive role. Kasparov puts great weight on the psychological aspects of the game and particularly on the ability to rebound after losses. He applied this in the 1986 match with Karpov after suffering three losses in a row. In 1990 he defeated Karpov again in the final meeting of a 24-game contest. He won 4, lost 3, and drew 17. In 1993 he retained his title, defeating Nigel Short of Britain.
Kasparov battled computer chess programs. In February 1966 ibm's Deep Blue defeated Kasparov in one game – the first time a computer had bested a world champion – using normal time controls, but Kasparov won the match by gaining 3 wins and playing to 2 draws. In November 2003 he played against the x3d Fritz computer program using a virtual board, 3D glasses, and a speech recognition system in a four-game match. The first game ended in a draw, xd3 won the second, Kasparov the third, and the final game ended in a draw.
Kasparov wrote a number of books which deal with the theory of openings of games and an analysis of a selection of his games.