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Prominent Russians: Garry Kasparov

Born April 13, 1963

AFP Photo / Ferenc Isza AFP Photo / Ferenc Isza

Garry Kasparov, born Garry Weinstein, is a Russian chess grandmaster, a former World Chess Champion, a writer and a political activist. He is considered by many the greatest chess player of all time.


The future grandmaster was born in the city of Baku in Azerbaijan on 13 April 1963. No one really knows where his outstanding talent came from – his family was never interested in the game and no one seemed to have a knack for it. Garry’s father was an electrical engineer and his mother worked as a telemechanic. His grandfather, Moses Weinstein, was a celebrated composer and a conductor who was a music director at several drama theatres in Baku, and thus well-known and respected in theatrical circles.

Everyone on his father’s side of the family was in some way connected to music: Garry’s uncle was a composer and an honored arts worker of Azerbaijan and his grandmother was a high school music teacher.

Still, it was Garry’s father who decided to teach his five-year-old son how to play chess. By the time the boy had turned seven, his father felt he could no longer keep up with his son’s acquisitive mind and decided to send Garry to the chess hobby group at the Baku Palace of the Pioneers (a sort of Soviet children's recreation center).

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The year Garry started studying chess, a tragic event happened in his family – his father died of leukemia. Five years later, when Garry was 12, his mother, a beautiful Armenian woman named Clara Kasparyan, changed Garry’s surname to Kasparov – a slavicized version of her own maiden name. The decision was made upon the consent of all the relatives in order to make the boy’s future career in chess easier. By then young Garry had become promising chess player and Clara decided to dedicate all her free time and energy to her talented son.

After his father’s death, Garry was brought up by his mother, who was an authoritarian woman and tried to make decisions for her son whenever it was possible. Whenever her famous son was interviewed, she never hesitated to tell the interviewer how to sit and what questions to ask.

Chess career

Kasparov’s career, indeed, seemed meteoric: at the age of ten Garry entered the chess school headed by former World Chess Champion Mikhail Botvinnik; by the age of fifteen the talented boy would become Botvinnik’s assistant.

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In 1975, when Kasparov was just twelve, he participated in the simultaneous chess display organized by the Palace of the Pioneers. Garry played with the then World Chess Champion Anatoly Karpov and managed to wrest out a draw, but at the last gasp he made a mistake and lost. Within the same tournament Kasparov played with Victor Korchnoy and practically forced the grandmaster to tie the score.

A year later the thirteen-year-old genius was awarded the title of USSR Junior Chess Champion. Two years after that, in 1978, Kasparov participated in the Sokolsky Memorial Chess Tournament in Minsk, Belorussia. He had been invited as an exception, but won and was awarded the title of Master of Sports in chess. Kasparov has repeatedly said that this event was a turning point in his life, and that it convinced him to choose chess as his future career. He also said that after the victory he thought he had a very good shot at the World Championship.

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In 1980 Garry, aged 17, became the youngest ever grandmaster and thus drew near Bobby Fisher’s record; the latter was famous for having been awarded the title of World Junior Chess Champion at the age of 23. The following year Kasparov was awarded the title of USSR Chess Champion thus becoming the youngest chess champion in the history of his country.

But despite his blossoming chess career, he decided it would be useful to enter the Azerbaijan Teaching Institute of Foreign Languages from which he successfully graduated in 1986. The studies turned out to do Kasparov a world of good as he fluently spoke several foreign languages and could easily do without an interpreter when traveling abroad.

Championship game

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It was clear from early on that Garry had the playing strength to face the then World Chess Champion Anatoly Karpov – an irreplaceable favorite of the Russian Chess Federation. But first Garry had to pass the test of the Candidates Tournament to qualify, which he did quite easily.

Kasparov played his first chess championship game against Anatoly Karpov. The match was not limited in time: the one to win six games in a row was automatically awarded the championship title. It was Karpov’s decision to have a termless match, even though Kasparov was strongly against it.

The match beat all endurance records – it started on 10 September 1984 and ended on 15 February 1985. At first Karpov was leading by a score of 5:0, but then he seemed to relax or get tired and began to loose. Some time later the score was 5:3 and the match was interrupted. This was decided by Florencio Campomanes who then occupied the post of FIDE president. The official reason for interrupting the match was the fatigue of both players; still after this incident, termless matches were annihilated – the two men now had to play just 24 games. And according to the existing chess rules, if the match ended in a draw Karpov would retain his crown.

The crucial match between the two men began on 1 September 1985 and lasted for two months. On 30 November Kasparov won by a score of 13:11 and was officially announced the thirteenth World Chess Champion; unofficially he also became the world’s youngest world chess champion. Before Kasparov this unofficial title belonged to Mikhail Tal who was 23 at the time he won the championship.

Kasparov and Karpov met three more times: the first rematch took place in 1986 in London and Saint Petersburg, the second was held in 1987 in Seville and the third was organized in 1990 in New York and Lion. All three matches ended fortunately for Kasparov, though in Seville he nearly lost, but managed to end the game in a draw.

Grandmasters’ Association

AFP Photo / Hugo Philpott AFP Photo / Hugo Philpott

In 1993 Kasparov, who did not exactly like and support the way FIDE was run, left the body and founded the Grandmasters Association (GMA), an organization that was supposed to represent professional chess players and give them more say in FIDE's activities. FIDE in its turn took his leave in bad part and immediately de-listed the self-willed player and deprived him of his World Chess Champion title.

GMA's major achievement was organizing a series of six World Cup tournaments for the world's top players. Under its umbrella Kasparov was once again awarded the title of GMA World Chess Champion, winning matches against Nigel Short in 1993 and Viswanathan Anand in 1995. In 2000 Kasparov, however, lost to Vladimir Kramnik thus handing the champion’s title to him.

Human versus computer

The matches Kasparov played with computers attracted mass attention from both professional chess players and amateurs.

He played his first such match against the IBM Deep Blue chess computer in February 1996 and though he won by a score of 4:2, he still lost the first game. The fact that he failed to whitewash the computer was not too pleasant for the World Champion.

So in 1997, in order to prove himself in the right, Kasparov met with the same, though slightly modified and improved opponent – the perfected version of Deep Blue. This time the result was even more disappointing - Garry lost the whole match, and Deep Blue was the first ever computer to jump not just an opponent, but a World Chess Champion.

After the match Kasparov demanded that he be explained how the computer “hit upon the idea” of making one of its moves; and when the explanation was not given he taxed IBM with trickery, claiming that the machine was “helped” by a human being at least once. And as the chess program the computer used was kept secret and was never revealed to the broad public, the computer’s victory remained highly doubtful.

AFP Photo / Tim Clary AFP Photo / Tim Clary

In 2003 Kasparov resumed his attempts to beat the computer and played two matches against the professional chess programs Deep Junior and Deep Fritz; both matches ended in a draw. This time there were no accusations from Kasparov.

On 10 March 2005, after winning the prestigious Linares Tournament for the ninth time, Kasparov announced that he had decided to retire from competitive chess. When asked about the reasons for his decision, Kasparov explained he had no more goals to achieve in this sport, having been awarded all the possible titles. He comforted the public, though, saying that he was still ready to play some rapid chess games and matches “gratia artis.” The chief aim of the former World Champion now was to write books dedicated to chess.

In September 2009, exactly 25 years after his first legendary match at the World Chess Championship in 1984, Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov met in Spain to play a 12-game match. The match included four rapid games in which Kasparov won 3:1.

Quite recently Kasparov has tried his hand at coaching, his first student being Magnus Carlsen who he began to coach in March 2009. Under Kasparov's direction, in October 2009, Carlsen became the youngest player ever to achieve a FIDE rating higher than 2800, and immediately was ranked as the world’s number one chess player.

Kasparov in politics

In 1984 Garry Kasparov joined the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and in 1987 was elected to the Central Committee of Komsomol (the youth branch of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union). But in 1990 he left the Party, claiming that it was a criminal organization, which he had joined in the sale of career progression.

AFP Photo / Alexander Nemenov AFP Photo / Alexander Nemenov

In May 1990 Kasparov was among the few founders of the Democratic Party of Russia. Aside from this, Garry became a co-founder of the "Echo of Moscow" radio station. For quite a long time Kasparov was a principal shareholder, but in the mid-nineties he made up his mind to sell his stock of shares to Vladimir Gusinsky, a Russian media tycoon.

In January 1991 Kasparov was appointed Chairman of the Democratic Party of Moscow, and he managed to get the party to join the Democratic Russia movement.

During the second Democratic Party Congress in April 1991 Kasparov's outline of the party program was not accepted and he left, announcing that he was going to create the Liberal Union. In June 1991 the first Union assembly took place but hardly more than two hundred people attended. And though officially Kasparov signed the declaration of the Liberal Union formation, organizationally the Union was never documented.

In June 1993 Kasparov got involved in the creation of the Choice of Russia bloc of parties and in 1996 he participated in the election campaign of Boris Yeltsin.

During Vladimir Putin’s presidency Kasparov harshly criticized the then president. In 2004 after the Beslan tragedy he had an article published in The Wall Street Journal entitled "Putin must leave."

In 2005, after his retirement from chess, Kasparov was appointed head of the oppositional United Civil Front.

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He also participated in the oppositional alliance The Other Russia and took an active part in the Marches of Dissent, hardly involving more than one or two thousand people. These political opposition protests were held for several springs in a row in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Samara and Chelyabinsk regardless of the fact that they were not officially permitted by the authorities. Despite all of Kasparov's attempts to attract attention to his actions, the number of people who actually turned up at the marches was usually several times less that the one before.

Kasparov helped organize the Saint Petersburg Dissenters' Marches on 3 March and 24 March 2007, both involving not more than two thousand people rallying against federal and local government policies. On 14 April Kasparov was arrested by the Moscow police while heading for one of the demonstrations, which were all officially banned, but still organized and attended by enthusiasts. He was officially warned by the prosecution office on the eve of the march, and though he knew anyone participating in the march risked being detained, he ignored the warning. He was held for more than 10 hours, but then was released on bail.

Soon after the brief detention Kasparov was summoned by the FSB (the main domestic Russian security agency) for questioning for allegedly violating Russian anti-extremist laws. However, there had nothing against Kasparov, and very soon he was let go.

AFP Photo / Alexey Sazonov AFP Photo / Alexey Sazonov

Kasparov’s political activity also included being Chairman of the Committee 2008 – an umbrella organization of the Russian democratic opposition, formed in January 2004.

In September 2007 Kasparov announced his decision to run for president in 2008 with The Other Russia alliance, but he had violated the rules for submitting the necessary documents to the Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation and thus was not allowed to stand in the elections.

In November 2007 Kasparov and other protesters were detained by police at an Other Russia rally in Moscow. Such punitive measures were taken after the attempt by about 100 protesters to break through police lines and march on the electoral commission, which had barred the Other Russia candidates from the elections. Kasparov was charged with resisting arrest and organizing an authorized protest. He spent five days in detainment.

A year later, in 2008, Kasparov, upset by his ill luck in the elections, participated in the creation of the Solidarity oppositional political movement.

The former World Chess Champion has been harshly criticized by journalists and politicians; he has been accused of lying, disinformation and offensiveness. In June 2007 self-exiled Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky accused him of lying, as the latter insisted Berezovsky never financed The Other Russia. Later that year Kasparov withdrew from the upcoming presidential elections due to a lack of public support.

More interesting facts

In the mid 1980s and 1990s Kasparov was asked to be a member of the KVN jury - a Russian humor TV show where teams that consisted mainly of students competed by performing improvisations and prepared sketches, giving funny answers to questions.

In 1991 the US Center for Security Policy gave Garry Kasparov the Keeper of the Flame Award. The CSP focused on national security issues, and since 1990, has recognized individuals for devoting their public careers to the defense of the United States and American values throughout the world. The extraordinary individuals who received the award were called the Keepers of the Flame. The majority of awards have gone to senior military figures and Republican politicians, thus making Kasparov a glaring exception.


AFP Photo / Martin Bureau AFP Photo / Martin Bureau

When Kasparov was a little over twenty, he wrote an autobiography entitled “Child of Change”; the book was later renamed “Unlimited Challenge” and Kasparov updated it as his chess career developed and the number of awards and prizes he received grew. This is the only book ever written by Kasparov whose content is mainly literary and which doesn’t abound in chess details and theory.

A separate book was dedicated to all the games that were played in the framework of Kasparov’s termless match with Anatoly Karpov.

In 1982, Garry co-authored “Batsford Chess Openings” with the British grandmaster Raymond Keene and the book immediately became a bestseller not just among chess professionals - it also grew immensely popular with the broader public that tracked his career with great interest.

In 2003 Kasparov’s first book in the “Garry Kasparov on My Great Predecessors” series was published. The series was dedicated to world chess champions and their most worthy opponents. It was much praised by reviewers.

Another cycle of books on chess entitled “Modern Chess Series” and was supposed to describe the matches Kasparov had played and some other outstanding games the grandmaster considered interesting and instructive.

In 2007 Kasparov wrote a book entitled “How Life Imitates Chess” which presented an attempt, and quite a successful one, to illustrate the similarities between the decision-making that takes place during a chess match and that which takes place in life.

AFP Photo / Michael Kappler AFP Photo / Michael Kappler

Family and private life

The great chess player was married four times – three of the marriages were official and the fourth was not.

Right after graduating from university Garry moved in with Marina Neelova, a future famous Russian actress, and in 1987 their daughter Nika was born, which, however, didn’t prevent the young couple from parting quite soon after the girl’s birth.

Kasparov married officially for the first time in 1989; his choice was Maria Arapova, a young and talented interpreter. The marriage was not long-lasting, even though the couple had a daughter Polina – and after five years they separated. Maria and Polina moved to the US, where Kasparov had bought them an apartment.

In 1996 Garry married again, this time to Julia Vovk whom he met in Riga after one of his matches. Less than a year after the ceremony their son Vadim was born, but this again did not prevent his parents from divorcing. Nine years later, in 2005 Kasparov married Daria Tarasova who was then a student of one of the Saint Petersburg universities.

Simply the best

Despite the doubtful matches Kasparov played against the computers he is still considered to be one of the greatest chess players of our time. In November 2004 he participated in the Russian Chess Championship and won quite confidently.

In 2007 a very well known consulting company, Synectics, released its ratings of the top one hundred geniuses in the field of science, politics, art and entrepreneurship. Quite naturally Garry Kasparov was not just present on the list – he was ranked 25.

Written by Anna Yudina, RT

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