The No. 1 ranking is his priority

ARVIND AARON

FOR Garry Kasparov, success in this year's Linares tournament came after one last ditch effort, common mostly with the marathon or cross country runners. Kasparov lives up to the expectations of his few lovers and raises his level each time such a crisis arises. This time when he found himself tied for the top spot after the penultimate round, he rose to the occasion.

ARVIND AARON

There are two world championship systems and Kasparov is not very keen to compete in either of them. The No. 1 spot is thus more important for him than for any other chess player. He is being referred to as the strongest chess player in the world for almost two decades now.

Kasparov has a burning desire to be at the top and to finish in first place all the time. With the present situation not conducive to making a comeback for the world chess title, the only option for him is to keep the No. 1 spot as long as he can. And this is precisely what he is doing.

Kasparov's biggest advantage over his rivals is the innumerous opening lines built carefully over the years. To maintain a consistency level in the digital age, he and his trainer have to carry more laptops per person to events such as those at Las Palmas and Linares. They often work overtime analysing various positions. Kasparov's opening preparation is always deeper and his research at home pays him well. His trainer, Grandmaster Yuri Dokhoian, is young but tightlipped, rarely uttering a word. He knows what Kasparov is doing at the board in the openings. He is working with the Russian since 1995 and has this special chemistry to get along with Kasparov and keep the pace of things. The deep preparation has given him a breakthrough in many situations but Kasparov believes that to win a game in a tournament like Linares one needs more than a good idea. This is what he has proved time and again.

Always the best prepared player, Kasparov maintains his reputation and has never been challenged in opening theory. In 1995, Yugoslav Grandmaster Ljubomir Ljubojevic proclaimed that the next world champion will be the one who will defeat Kasparov's Sicilian Najdorf. Unfortunately, Kasparov lost a peculiar match in London 2000 when his opponent, Vladimir Kramnik, won not by excelling but by preventing his opponent from winning any game. Kasparov's hold over the Sicilian Najdorf is intact even today and he is still able to trouble white in some games. Since he plays very few tournament games in a year, he does not have other top players following his lines and trying them.

Most chess players like to try successful lines but tend to follow players such as Kramnik, Anand or even Shirov since they play more games a year and come up with a quick remedy in case their variation is facing some trouble. Kasparov uses the best ideas and fighting a strong opposition in a double round-robin tournament like Linares, he gains the most Elo, a rating system of FIDE invented by Dr. Arpad Elo.

Off the board, he has replaced Karpov and is fit in his role. The Linares format is decided by the organisers only after consulting him. He keeps himself fit by walking, using the gym, and is known to consume chocolates during long games to pump up his energy levels. He has a complaint that Kramnik did not show the same mutual respect when he presented the trophy to him although they shared the title at Linares 2000.

Kasparov has his own opinion and a predetermined observation on all subjects that he knows, be it O. J. Simpson or the FIDE. He shows his anger during press conferences at people he dislikes and he gives out his reasoning too. If chess is a wild jungle, Kasparov is the ruling lion. He has few friends and few enemies too. His rivals keep a distance from him as he can be nice and also critical. It is very hard to please him. His moods are known only to him and perhaps his mother Klara Kasparova and his trainer.

Although one may expect a sportsperson's career to slide with the advancing age, Kasparov, at 39 (born April 13, 1963), has not lost a bit of it on that count. His ups and downs or minor setbacks, if one may see since the day he became world champion in 1985, are related to his personal commitment to the game. If family problems such as separation and divorce affected his play in the early nineties, the financial crisis in Russia, relating to the foreign currency during 1998, actually helped him as he had a brilliant year in 1999. Despite his greying hair, Kasparov is showing signs that he is getting better by the day and there is no let up.

At Linares, Kasparov occupies one of the two suites and is back to back with Anand who occupies the other. There was a time in 1994 when one wall used to separate his room from Karpov's and they have traded accusations that one player played music too long in the night to disturb the other. Organisers were on their heels trying to pacify them. Karpov accused Kasparov of deciding who his opponents would be in Linares.

It is true that Kasparov is continuing what Karpov himself was doing in the past. When there is one clear candidate to emerge from the present bunch of players, Kasparov might be replaced. Already Kramnik is demanding the same appearance fee as Kasparov and perhaps even more.

In 1996, at Las Palmas, after winning the first category 21 tournament, Kasparov said, "count on me till the new millennium." But he was vanquished by Kramnik in the London match in October-November 2000. Having alienated himself from FIDE, the world official body, since 1993, Kasparov only had a choice to play against Kramnik. Now that Kramnik has asked him to play the eight-player qualifier at Dortmund in July 2002 and Kasparov has rejected the offer, his chances of playing for the world title in the next two or three years look bleak. The next chance might come in 2004 when Kasparov will be past 40 and it might leave him in a tougher situation to play a competitive match. But political changes in FIDE may give him a chance to re-emerge as the champion.

Kasparov doesn't have problems with FIDE but maintains that its President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov is a man who has been systematically ruining classical chess from the form it existed prior to 1995 when he took over from the more controversial FIDE chief, Florencio Campomanes.

This year, Kasparov decided to say nice words about the organisers, taking a U-turn in his approach towards them. "Each year the Linares tournament is gaining more importance in the chess world," said Kasparov after winning it for the eighth time. Last year he had ridiculed the event as an ATP tournament since Anand and Kramnik stayed away from it. Generally, in the chess world, the tournament is considered as the Wimbledon of chess due to its enormous strength in lining up the best players.

"As you might know, the world of chess is passing through a very difficult phase now. I have this strong feeling that Linares still maintains its hold of the classical school of chess. That is why I feel it as an obligation to come here every year. I am grateful to the colleagues and organisers and ask them to continue with the tradition so that we have one sure thing for many years to come. As long as it happens, chess, the classical version in particular, will flourish."

Success comes naturally to Kasparov since he is very positive in his approach towards a tournament. He is always in perfect focus to win the title and his tournament successes have been the most impressive among all world champions, both past and present. He also knows that the No. 1 ranking is his last straw and it can be maintained only through winning tournaments.