GARRY KASPAROV: QUITS Competitive Chess

GARRY KASPAROV made the moves only he could make. Calculated, precise, timely and above all, effective. After dominating the chess world for just over two decades, the Russian made his last move in professional chess. He decided it was time to move on.

RAKESH RAO

AFP

GARRY KASPAROV made the moves only he could make. Calculated, precise, timely and above all, effective. After dominating the chess world for just over two decades, the Russian made his last move in professional chess. He decided it was time to move on.

The strongest and arguably the greatest player in chess history, Kasparov, is no longer "secretive" about his plans. Having battled the politics of chess since 1993, the Russian will now concentrate on mastering the chess of politics.

"As a chess player, I did everything I could, even more. Now I want to use my intellect and strategic thinking in Russian politics. I will do everything in my power to resist (Russia's President Vladimir) Putin's dictatorship. My opinion is that the country is headed down the wrong path now."

The words from Kasparov reflect the goals he has set for himself in times to come.

But the goals he has achieved in the cerebral sport can only be admired not emulated.

For someone whose career spanned nearly three decades, finding a reason to stay motivated was indeed very tough. Having remained at the top of the world rankings since 1984, the 41-year-old Kasparov ended his professional career on March 10 after winning the prestigious City of Linares chess title for the ninth time. Though he lost the final round to Bulgaria's Veselin Topalov, it meant little to the chess world. The big news was Kasparov had left on a high note.

What Kasparov said afterwards was so typical of the man. Intact was his clarity of thought, laced with arrogance, when he said, "I am a man of big goals. I have to achieve something. I have to prove something. I have to be determined. But I no longer see any real goal in the world of chess. I did not want to leave in a bad shape, as I was six months ago. I wanted to get back to my top rating and I wanted to prove myself first of all that I play better than others. And I did."

Even if he did not, Kasparov would have still remained as great.

If one looks back at Kasparov's illustrious life, what stands out is the immense self-belief that shaped his career. A chequered upbringing steeled his resolve to fight the odds. Search for excellence was his passion and soon success became paramount to him. Kasparov showed to the world the importance of physical fitness to chess players. His training regimen included swimming, playing football and cycling. Truly, his high energy level kept him going.

Unlike any other sports discipline, in chess, a strategy or a plan used in a particular game remains open to debate for ever, since the games are documented and played over and over again. It is to the credit of Kasparov that in spite of all his plans being analysed so deeply by the best brains in the chess world, he could still come up with fresh ideas and surprise even his well-prepared rivals.

A look at the making of Kasparov is itself an inspiring experience. After a phenomenal rise to the top, he worked even harder to stay there. He broke the stereotyped image of serious chess players. His unrestrained contagious laughter, his caring nature, vast knowledge on subjects other than chess made him a uniquely multi-faceted personality. A writer and a noted speaker, Kasparov was hailed for his attacking brand of chess and brilliant strategy. As a well-read student of the game, Kasparov made news everywhere he went. His forceful personality, outspoken political and economic views were as much admired as his determination to excel. Indeed, he redefined excellence in the game he loves.

The mention of Kasparov is bound to lead to his five world-title matches with fellow-Russian Anatoly Karpov. Their incredibly close matches in the World championship started in 1984 and spread over 144 games until 1990, saw Kasparov win 73 times, two more than Karpov. He went on to keep the title with victories over Nigel Short (1993) and Viswanathan Anand (1995) but was finally dethroned in 2000 by his own protege Vladimir Kramnik.

It was during Kasparov's reign at the top, the disintegration of Soviet Union had its impact on chess. Many chess players moved out of the country and many headed for European destinations in search of livelihood out of chess, both as players as trainers. This led to an increased number of participation of players from the Soviet breakaway republics in Europe and chess was never the same. Many ideas in chess, that only the Russians seemed to know, spread to the West and many countries and its budding champions gained immensely from it. But one man worked silently and raised the bar further.

Kasparov continued to win major titles and showed that he was the best even in tournament play. He was the first player to make optimum use of the chess database. This helped him prepare better against lesser-known rivals and dramatically increased his percentage of victories, particularly in the Olympiads.

In the meantime, Kasparov's matches with the super computer also drew the attention of the world. The human versus machine concept aroused curiosity and before long, millions watched on the net as Kasparov proved that in spite of a computer's ability to calculate, it cannot assess the subtleties involved in a given position.

Having been associated with different facets of the game, Kasparov went on to introduce the concept of Advanced Chess, where both players can use the assistance of computers during a game. With human errors minimised to the maximum possible extent, Advanced Chess soon caught the imagination of the chess elite as well as the sponsors.

Kasparov knew his presence alone was enough to get the sponsors and organisers excited. Spectators came to watch his aggressive play. In this respect, Kasparov and Anand have done more for the game than any other player in contemporary chess.

It is difficult to imagine any chess player who was hailed as the best even when he was far from his best. In the past two years, Kasparov's tournament play record was way below that of Anand's. The champion attracted criticism for playing too little chess. And in the events he chose to play, the results were not in keeping with this reputation. Still, the chess fraternity believed that Kasparov was the strongest in the world. Such was the aura of Kasparov.

After Kramnik ended his 15-year reign as the World champion in 2000, there were many who felt that Kasparov needed a chance to seek a return match. The efforts to put a unified title-match in place after the 2002 Prague Unity Plan went awry and finally Kasparov felt enough was enough.

"The complete mess over the last two years added bit by bit to my frustration. It seemed to me that everyone was very pleased when I was constantly denied a chance to play for the highest title. What happened with FIDE in the last year was scandalous. But I never heard a voice of concern for Garry Kasparov," said the World number one soon after announcing his retirement at Linares.

He said his decision to retire started to take shape when FIDE cancelled his match against the current World champion Rustam Kasimdzhanov in Dubai. "When that happened I knew I was no longer part of the chess world."

Besides being critical of FIDE, Kasparov has also not spared Kramnik. "I'm the number one in the world, Kramnik is four. He has failed to play the number one or the number two. He contributes to the mess as much as FIDE does. I don't care. I no longer have the same passion for playing the world championship."

Still, Kasparov is not going to give up the game completely. "It became very difficult for me to keep finding reasons for determination. I succeeded because of my great passion for the game of chess. And I haven't lost my passion for the game. That is why from time to time, I may play for fun, may be in some rapid tournaments. But it will only be for fun."

Not many are aware that Kasparov is a prominent spokesman for political, educational and social reforms in Eastern Europe and has a column in The Wall Street Journal and his contributions have made it to the Time magazine and Forbes.

He is currently working on the fifth volume of the book My Greatest Predecessors. He also plans to bring out a book, tentatively titled, How Life Imitates Chess. Kasparov terms it as a very important project. "I want to demonstrate to the mainstream audience how the game of chess can explain the decision-making process in many walks of life."

As Kasparov begins his new innings in Russian politics, the world awaits fresh ideas from the man who revolutionised the way players prepare for a game or a match.

With a new opponent in Putin, Kasparov looks ahead to a showdown in 2008. Well prepared, as usual, Kasparov is looking for the right time to make the right move.