An inside look at the life and achievements of one of chess’s greatest players.
Garry Kasparov is considered by many to be the greatest chess player of all time. He certainly has a long list of achievements that help to back up those claims. There is no denying that he is one of the most influential and skilled chess players that has ever graced a chessboard, and this article will provide a detailed look at his life and achievements.
Kasparov was born in Azerbaijan in 1963 to a Russian Jewish father and an Armenian mother. His given name was Garik Kimovich Weinstein, but after his father died of leukemia when he was only 7 years old, he took on his mother’s maiden name, Gasparian, which was Russified as Kasparov, and by that name, he has been known ever since. His interest in chess began as a young child when he came across a chess problem that his parents had set up and offered them a solution. Seeing his budding potential, his parents promptly enrolled him in chess programs where he could hone his skills.
Starting from the age of 7, Kasparov regularly attended the Young Pioneer Palace near his home in Baku, and at age 10, he began his intensive chess training at Mikhail Botvinnik’s esteemed chess school. His coach there was Vladimir Makogonov, who taught him the Caro-Kann defense that would become a favorite later in Kasparov’s career.
In 1976, Kasparov won the Soviet Junior Championship in Tbilisi and did it again the following year. The year after that, 1978, he was invited to play in the Sokolsky Tournament as an exception, but he actually ended up taking first place and becoming a chess master. Kasparov would later cite this event as the turning point in his life when he decided to make a career out of competitive chess.
World Chess Championships
Kasparov would go on to win many more tournaments and take many more titles until he eventually worked his way into the most prestigious tournament of all – The World Chess Championship. In 1984, he faced off against the fellow Soviet player and reigning world chess champion, Anatoly Karpov. The match consisted of many thrilling ups and downs and ultimately ended on a highly controversial note. The winner was to be the first player to achieve 6 wins, and after nine games, Kasparov was down 4 to 0. Many spectators expected him to be defeated 6-0 within 18 games.
But what happened next was quite surprising. The next 17 consecutive games were all draws. In game 27, Kasparov lost. Then there was another long string of draws until game 32 when Kasparov achieved his first win. 14 more draws ensued and the match had now gone on for 46 games – the longest title-deciding match ever.
Kasparov began to turn things around, winning games 47 and 48 to bring the score to 5-3. Then, out of nowhere, the match was called short by FIDE president Florencio Campomanes, even though both players stated that they preferred the match to continue. This match was the first and only World Championship match to be terminated without result and, as you can imagine, spectators were in an uproar over it. Many found it suspicious that the match was terminated after Kasparov had won two games in a row, and not during one of the many long stretches of drawn games. This was the point at which Kasparov’s relationship with FIDE would begin to be strained.
Karpov and Kasparov faced off again in 1985 under a different tournament format- the first player to reach 12 ½ points would claim the title. It was specified that the scores from the previous match would not carry over, and if the result was a 12-12 tie, the title would remain with Karpov. Kasparov’s 16th game in this match is considered one of the masterpieces of chess history, and after 24 games he secured a tournament win for himself, becoming the youngest ever World Chess Champion at just 22 years old.
Due to the 1984 debacle, Karpov had been granted the right of a rematch in the event of his defeat in 1985, which he took advantage of in 1986, but Kasparov beat him again. Everything in these competitions seemed to be stacked against Kasparov, including one of his seconds allegedly selling information on his opening strategies to the Karpov team. In spite of all this, Kasparov thrived. He retained the title for 8 years in total.
Break with FIDE and Formation of the PCA
During the time that Kasparov held the title of World Chess Champion, his relationship with FIDE, the organizers of the tournament, only became more and more strained. Kasparov began to speak out against their practices and founded the Grandmasters Association to be an organization that represented professional chess players and gave them more say in how they were treated by FIDE. GMA started to organize high level competitive events in direct competition with FIDE and the WCC.
The conflict came to a head in 1993, when a confusing bidding process and an excess of bureaucratic red tape from FIDE led to Kasparov and his challenger, Nigel Short, agreeing to play their match outside the jurisdiction of FIDE, under another professional chess organization that Kasparov had founded called the Professional Chess Association, or the PCA. This game represented a significant fracture in the game and Kasparov’s definitive break with FIDE. In the years while the PCA was active, the winner of the WCC tournament was no longer the undisputed chess champion, and the title was split. In later interviews, Kasparov would express regret over this move, saying that it ultimately hurt the game of chess in the long run. In 2006, the title was reunified under FIDE.
Kasparov vs. Deep Blue
Perhaps what Kasparov is most known for, by chess fans and the general public alike, is his historic match against the chess computer known as Deep Blue. This was a match that captured the world’s attention, as it was the first time that a computer program was able to defeat a reigning world champion in a chess match. Millions of spectators tuned in across the world to watch the broadcast of Kasparov facing off against the cold, unfeeling screen of the machine that could calculate more than 2 million potential chess moves per second before deciding on just the right one. Kasparov appeared to be flustered by the computer, making several mistakes that eventually cost him the match. The computer, of course, was unphased and was able to secure a draw in one particularly tough game when a human competitor may have gotten discouraged and resigned the position. Kasparov’s defeat at the keyboard of Deep Blue marked a turning point in history- the exact moment when computer overtook humanity’s skill in chess.
Kasparov officially retired from competitive chess in March of 2005, after having won the highly prestigious Linares Tournament for the ninth time. He cited the reason for his retirement as a lack of personal goals left to achieve in the realm of professional chess- basically, he had already won everything that there was to win! He intended to spend his retirement time working on authoring more of his books and by involving himself even more in Russian politics.
Return from Retirement
His retirement may not have been permanent, though. He continued to play in informal events for fun for a number of years during his retirement and, in 2017, he created a hubbub in the chess community when it was found out that he intended to return to competitive play by competing in a new Rapid and Blitz tournament taking place in St. Louis. Kasparov insists that this is not a lasting return, however, and he wants fans to know that he intends to just play this one event and then be done, so don’t get too excited.
What Will the Future Hold?
So, Kasparov isn’t likely to burst back onto the chess scene once again, but what has he been up to? Well, he’s mostly followed through on his promise to focus his attention on writing books and becoming involved in politics during his retirement- sometimes even writing books about politics! He has been active in voicing his dissent to Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, and has participated in several rallies and protests to that end. He has also recently come out with a book entitled Winter is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin is the enemy of the free world and must be stopped which has garnered a lot of critical acclaims. Some worry that he is in danger due to his outspoken criticism of the Kremlin and involvement with pro-democracy groups.
It’s clear that retirement has not slowed Garry Kasparov down one bit. It’s difficult to say what he will be involved with next, but one thing for sure, we can expect to see many more remarkable things from this remarkable man and chess legend!