Archive for the ‘Kasparov’ Category

Anatoly Karpov Speaks Out in Video

June 29, 2010

As the editorial chairman of, I’ve personally conducted video interviews with many interesting thought leaders, including evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins , New Yorker cartoon editor Bob Mankoff, and novelist John Irving.  Now I’ve had the honor of interviewing the first chess player for Big Think, grandmaster Anatoly Karpov.  The interview was posted today on Big Think.  Here’s the blog post that went up on Big Think when the interview went live:

“Anatoly Karpov, the twelfth world chess champion, is one of the most successful chess players in the history of the game.  The Russian grandmaster was the world champion for a decade, from 1975 to 1985, and he held the No. 1 position on the international chess rating list for 90 months, second only to his archrival, Garry Kasparov.

“In his video interview with Big Think, Karpov shares the secret of his success: his fighting spirit, which serves him well not just at the chessboard but in the rest of his life, too.  Karpov also reveals his prime weakness as a player—his laziness in studying chess opening-move theory—and how he had to turn that into a strength, by learning to play the inferior positions he sometimes achieved owing to his lack of theoretical knowledge.  He also dissects Kasparov’s strengths and flaws, and says that Kasparov can be blinded by fear when his king is in danger.

“Karpov is still a strong tournament competitor, but these days he is focused on chess politics and is fighting to succeed Kirsan Ilyumzhinov as the president of FIDE, the world chess federation.  Karpov and his team have accused Ilyumzhinov—who famously claimed to have been whisked aboard a spaceship by yellow-robed aliens—of corruption and mental instability.  But madness—and accusations of madness—are nothing new to chess.  The only two Americans to reach the No. 1 spot in the chess world, Bobby Fischer in the early 1970s and Paul Morphy in the late 1850s, were both crazy and paranoid.  Karpov himself emphatically told Big Think that you don’t have to be mad to play strong chess and he shares his impressions of Fischer.”

“I’m a Terror to Teachers”

April 7, 2008

In King’s Gambit: A Son, A Father, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game, I wrote about my losses (expected but painful nonetheless) in simultaneous chess exhibitions to Bent Larsen and Garry Kasparov. On Friday, I had the opportunity to be on the other side of the table when I played 24 kids at once at the chess club in my son’s elementary school. I now appreciate the stamina that simuls require. I was nearly dizzy when it was all over and dropped a bishop in a twenty-fifth game, against the sole adult who crashed the gathering.

Later that evening, the chess club held a bake sale at Poetry Night at the school. A couple hundred people showed up to hear the kids read verse that they had composed. My eight-year-old was one of the readers. He wouldn’t tell me in advance what he was going to read. His classmates recited nice, sentimental ditties about the beauty of sunsets, deer, and swans. Not my kid. He’s a little Jack Nicholson. He brought down the house with a poem that began: “I’m a terror to teachers/ a stingray to substitutes/ I can make the clock hand go to 3:30/ when it’s only been two seconds of math.”

Two World Chess Champions Face Confinement

November 26, 2007

Two former world chess champions were in the news this week, and for reasons that have nothing to do with the royal game.

Garry Kasparov was arrested on Saturday in Moscow for leading an anti-Putin rally. He was sentenced to five days in prison and is now confined to “Petrovka 38,” a criminal facility in Moscow. He has not been allowed visitors since his imprisonment and has been prohibited from speaking on the phone. The rally was peaceful.

His arrest—only a week before parliamentary elections—was planned in advance by the authorities. “Of course we are very worried,” Kasparov’s wife, Dasha, told the press, “especially after hearing the police at the court say they had been ordered in advance to arrest Garry specifically. Who knows what they have planned for him? And why can’t we visit him? We are asking everyone to get this story out and to let Putin know that the world is watching and that he will be responsible if any further harm comes to Garry.” The Web site of Other Russia, the pro-democracy movement that Kasparov leads, will have updates on his situation as news becomes available.

The word is out that Bobby Fischer, the pride and embarrassment of American chess, has been hospitalized in Iceland for kidney and perhaps mental problems. The details in the press and blogosphere are frustratingly scarce. Mig Greengard’s Daily Dirt gives the best summary of what’s known about Fischer’s condition.

Why Chess Makes Kasparov Qualified to Lead Russia

October 2, 2007

I am of course familiar with the stereotype of the chess player as madman. And in King’s Gambit I portray individual chess games as passionate, operatic encounters.

Thus I am always amused by the reverse stereotype: chess playing presented as sterile, as an activity as tedious as waiting for paint to dry. Last night a correspondent on “Anderson Cooper 360” briefly discussed Garry Kasparov’s candidacy for the presidency of Russia and said (and I apologize if I may have gotten an inconsequential word or two wrong; I was wearing my dozing-off cap, not my journalist hat): “He might make a very good president because he has a lot of experience sitting around with old guys where nothing much happens.”

Kasparov on Aggression

August 21, 2007

I’m reading Garry Kasparov’s new book, How Life Imitates Chess, and am intrigued by his remarks about aggression. (Aggressive is a word often used to describe not only Kasparov’s playing style but his personality, too.)  Kasparov, arguably the greatest player in the history of chess, writes about a trip abroad, at the age of seventeen, when he was a member of the Soviet Olympiad Chess team.  On a stopover in Rome, his teammates–who were on average twice his age–visited the Vatican while young Kasparov went instead to watch a movie that wasn’t showing back in the Soviet Union, namely “The Empire Strikes Back.”  Kasparov writes that he didn’t exactly agree with Yoda’s warning Luke Skywalker that “anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they.”

Kasparov’s points out the double standard we have about aggression.  In chess and football, we praise decisive, attacking play, but in political and social life we condemn it.  Moreover, in some domains, whether we praise or condemn such behavior depends on a person’s rank: “We praise a CEO’s management style as aggressive, but the average employee could be fired for being ‘aggressive.'”

Two Views on Kasparov’s Bravery

August 7, 2007

When Garry Kasparov retired from chess to go into Russian politics and oppose Vladimir Putin’s turning away from democracy and a free market economy, Kasparov’s family and friends feared for his safety. Indeed, in the subsequent months, Kasparov was bashed over the head with a chessboard, detained by the authorities, and his associates were beat up and arrested–apparent warning shots from Moscow to show him that they could squash him at any moment of their choosing.

And yet the chess community is divided on the issue of his safety. Vladimir Kramnik, Kasparov’s younger countryman who displaced him as world champion, believes that the older, outspoken Russian has nothing to fear from the Kremlin. He told the British magazine Chess (in an article called “When Lev met Vlad,” issue No. 4, 2007) that he didn’t believe that Kasparov’s life was in danger and that Russia was not the totalitarian state portrayed in Kasparov’s interviews in the West.

Contrast this with the attitude of New in Chess, the Dutch magazine that is a must-read for the grandmaster set and other fans of the royal game. Kasparov writes a chess column for New in Chess, and in issue No. 4 an editorial note marvels that this was the first time the 13th world chess champion had failed to turn in his column, owing to the rigors and dangers of his campaigning for an open Russia. “[Putin] likes to present the Russian opposition as an insignificant small group of disgruntled people,” New in Chess said. “But if the group is so insignificant then why does he send thousands of militiamen into the streets to keep this small group from uttering their protests?”

David Blaine Meets Fabiano Caruana

July 30, 2007

Happy birthday, Fabiano Caruana. The country’s youngest grandmaster* ever turns 15 today. I have fond memories of a chess event, when Fabiano was 10, where he almost abandoned the game. I write about the event in King’s Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game.

In December 2002, Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov, who had perhaps the bitterest rivalry in the history of chess, came together for old time’s sake for a two-day match in the ABC Studios in Times Square. The two veterans played two games of rapid chess a day, at the brisk time control of twenty-five minutes apiece with ten seconds added for each move.

The organizer of the match had asked me to help him with the staging of the match. He asked me if I knew a celebrity who understood enough about the game to be able to make the honorary first move. (The first move is, in fact, chosen by the player with White, but you still want someone who can perform it without, say, pushing the king pawn an extra square or making a knight hop in the shape of a V instead of an L.)

I am friends with David Blaine, the magician and endurance artist—we’ve played chess together—and I thought he’d enjoy meeting Kasparov. “Chess is like magic,” David once told me. “You always have to stay one step ahead of your opponent—or your audience.” The television cameras were rolling when Kasparov and Karpov swaggered up to the board and watched David pick up a White pawn. With an agonizing expression on his face, David grunted and squeezed the pawn, like the strongman at a carnival, until he’d crushed it into a cloud of dust. The match arbiter started berating David on camera because the pawn he destroyed was irreplaceable. Like each of the other chessmen, it was uniquely equipped with a microchip so that the electronic circuitry in the chessboard could sense what square the pawn was on and broadcast the full game position over the Internet to hundreds of thousands of chess fans around the world. The arbiter was angry, but the champions were laughing—a rare display of levity for them at the start of one of their matches. Needless to say, David made the crushed pawn rematerialize and the match, and Internet transmission, began without a hitch.

David asked me which kid in the audience was particularly talented in chess, and I directed him to Fabiano. He did some card magic for the ten-year-old, who was then small for his age. The future grandmaster was bedazzled and asked David to perform trick after trick. He paid much more attention to the knaves in David’s deck than to the knights on Kasparov’s chessboard. Later, Fabiano asked me how much work it took to be a magician; he said he wanted to master David’s tricks. When I explained that it required even more prepration and practice than chess, he dedided to stick to the royal game.

*He is really a grandmaster elect because the title must still be approved by FIDE, the world chess federation.

Let Me Dream: King’s Gambit the Movie

July 26, 2007

My over-active imagination has been fueled by a caller from Hollywood who inquired about film rights to my book.  And so I’ve come up with a fantasy cast for King’s Gambit the movie:

The Cast (in order of appearance)

Johnny Depp as Paul Morphy

Rosie O’Donnell as Morphy’s mother

James Gandolfini as my father (because Rodney Dangerfield, Jackie Gleason, John Belushi, and John Candy are unfortunately unavailable)

George Clooney as me

Angela Landsbury as Mrs. Perrutz (my kindly therapist when I was three)

Jake Gyllenhaal as Pascal Charbonneau

Natalie Portman as Irina Krush

David Blaine as David Blaine

Scarlett Johanssen as Jennifer Shahade

Reese Witherspoon as Susan Polgar

Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Garry Kasparov

Jim Carey as Nigel Short

Ben Kingsley as Bruce Pandolfini

Anthony Hopkins as Claude Bloodggod

Mel Gibson (behaving like he did when he encountered the trooper) as Bobby Fischer

Chess Nut

July 6, 2007

Making the Right Moves, from the Board to the Boardroom

Garry Kasparov’s How Life Imitates Chess, scheduled to be published here in the States in the fall, has some entertaining stories.   Like Boris Spassky, the tenth world champion, advising Kasparov, the thirteenth world champion, that the way to defeat Tigran Petrosian, the ninth world champion, was not to attack the hell out of him (Petrosian was an expert at repelling sharp thrusts) but rather to press him continuously and methodically:

“He counseled me that the key was to apply pressure, but just a little, steadily.  ‘Squeeze his balls,’ he told me in an unforgettable turn of phrase. ‘But just squeeze one, not both!'”

Succession Planning

June 26, 2007

Vladimir Kramnik, the reigning world chess champion, celebrated his thirty-second birthday yesterday by doing, in his own words, something “unfortunately pretty boring”–preparing for today’s opponent in the elite Dortmund tournament.  When Kramnik, whose play has sometimes been described, perhaps unfairly, as “unfortunately pretty boring,” defended his crown last year, he earned the sympathy of fellow chess pros and fans when he was forced to explain his hydration and evacuation habits after challenger Veselin Topalov exaggerated the number of times (50!, he said) that “Krapnik” had visited the bathroom (Topalov was insinuating that the world champion was cheating on the toilet by consulting chess-playing software).   Kramnik managed to win the match despite Topalov’s assault on his dignity and bladder.   

Dortmund is the last tournament in which Kramnik will participate before September’s world championship in Mexico City.  This weekend, FIDE, the world chess federation, released a byzantine set of rules on who will be playing whom in world-tile matches after Mexico City.  When asked on his birthday about what he thought of the new labyrinthine rules, Kramnik said he’d need to study them in order to understand them!

“I think there are more people who don’t understand the system than who understand,” Kramnik remarked.   “I don’t know if the people who have invented it fully understand the system but it seems to be very complicated.”  And this coming from a man who has mastered the intricacies of the Semi-Slav Variation and other esoteric chess openings.  Pity us mere mortals who try to make sense of the new rules for world-championship succession.  Fortunately, chessbase and chessninja have taken a stab at deciphering the rules for us.