Kasparov: How I Became World Champion Vol.1 (1973-1985)
Review by Albert Silver
announcement of the new ChessBase DVD, How I Became World Champion Vol.
1: 1973-1985 by Garry Kasparov had to have caused a great number of hands
to be rubbed in glee. I know mine certainly were. Although it is not Kasparov’s
first DVD in the ChessBase family, it is the first on commented games, as the
first four dealt with opening treatises.
Garry Kasparov has been by far the most productive World Champion in history,
and it does not hurt that he is also regarded by many as the greatest. He began
publishing before his world championship title, theoretical works together with
his trainer and friend Alexander Nikitin, and no sooner had he wrested the title
from arch-rival Anatoly Karpov in 1985, he published a book on the match, also
illustrating very clearly his approach to analysis (i.e. exhaustive). The body
of his works slowed down considerably after that though, and while a book on
the 1986 match also came out, and Test of Time, his urge to put everything
down on paper seemed to have cooled down somewhat.
Then in 2005, he announced his surprising retirement to forward his political
ambitions, and held to it. However, this was not the end of Kasparov in chess,
it was the beginning of a new era: Kasparov the author.
What followed soon thereafter was a colossal series of works, many of which
are modern masterpieces, and certainly one of the greatest chess legacies of
all time. The most notable was unquestionably “My Great Predecessors”,
offering a unique historical overview of the world champions preceding him,
in five massive volumes. Still, despite the many works, there was one glaring
omission in his coverage: Kasparov himself.
It is true, he published a mammoth series solely on his encounters with Karpov,
and even if a fascinating overview of the greatest rivalry in the game’s
history, they were of a very specific aspect of his career. That is, until last
year, when the English translation of the first book in a new trilogy came out,
purporting to be the definitive work on his entire career.
Now, we also have a DVD version of the book, but the question will obviously
be: how do they compare?
The ChessBase DVD is very typical fare for ChessBase, with the usual superb
production values that we have all come to expect. It contains sixteen videos
with over six hours of viewing, and spans his first encounter with the game
to the first aborted world championship title match in 1984.
The first video starts with an introduction by the former world champion, and
he soon explains not only his plan for the trilogy, but also the inherent difficulties
in this particular undertaking, difficulties that did not exist in his other
works. “It’s not that easy to write about your own games, because
to some degree it is your own life”, he explains. “They’re
not only games I won, but certain games I lost, because they were very important,
memorable games. As a matter of fact, I followed the pattern of Fischer’s
My 60 Memorable Games, because I believe that in talking about your chess career
and your life, you should not stick only with the games you won, it is about
the games that make a difference.”
After this introduction to the nature of the work, what the books will include,
we are taken immediately to the first game, played at age eleven, against Privorotsky,
an experienced master and solid positional player. More importantly perhaps
is that Privorotksy was his coach at the time, so the pressure for him to win
was all the greater.
To say it was a masterful route by young Garry would be an utter fiction, and
Kasparov willingly points out not only the opportunities missed by his former
coach, but even the reasons he believes led to them. Naturally it does highlight
the attacking talent of Garry at this age, with an ending to arouse a smile
on any player.
Kasparov is his typical dynamic self as he presents his work
This in fact is already the first major divergence from the actual book. I
live in Brazil, where obtaining chess books usually involves a very lengthy
wait after ordering online. I was ready to go through this onerous process (my
last order took seven weeks to arrive due to customs bureaucracy, despite not
being charged any tariffs), but was surprised to discover that Amazon offered
Kindle version. While I do not own a Kindle, I do read digitalized books
on my 7-inch tablet (a joy for anyone who loves to read), and it has the Kindle
I downloaded a sampler and was amazed at how good it looked. The text was perfectly
formatted, and the diagrams were of a suitable size. Two extra perks were that
it cost 70% less than the print book itself, and I could read it within one
minute of paying. In fact, after seeing this, I immediately took advantage
and bought Najdorf’s
masterpiece on Zurich 1953 as well.
If you plan to buy Kasparov’s book, and I recommend it, know that
it is not simply an expanded version of the DVD with more games and more variations.
It is an exhaustive autobiography detailing his earliest memories, before chess,
as well as every event he played in and all the players.
An example of this is the following excerpt: “I began reading at
the age of four, and I learned to put letters together to make syllables –
from newspaper headlines. I knew that, before we went out for a walk, my father
would look at the newspapers, and I would patiently wait for him to finish.
When a newspaper was put to one side, I would promptly unfold it and with a
most serious expression I would also unhurriedly ‘look at it’. The
desire to imitate everything my father did was a source of great amusement to
my parents, and in this way I was introduced to ‘reading’ newspapers.
And soon, during one of our walks, sitting on my father’s shoulders, I
saw on the roof of a building some large neon letters. I pointed with my index
finger and slowly pronounced the syllables: ‘Dru-zhba’ (‘Friendship’
– this was our local cinema).”
I was actually completely shocked when I read this. My own introduction to
reading is extremely similar. In New York, my father would buy the New York
Times every morning and read it at breakfast. I was also anxious to partake
in the same things, and would take a part of the newspaper, unfold it on the
floor, and ‘read’ it. I was not quite three when they found out
there was more to it. One morning my mother asked me what I was doing, and I
replied I was reading the newspaper. She asked what I was reading, expecting
some cute answer, and I started to read out loud the headline on the page I
was sitting on.
Needless to say, despite this unusual story, this is where our similarity ends,
since I obviously did not inherit the same prodigious memory, and of course
our lives veered off into radically different directions.
Throughout the book, you will also find innumerous testimonial contributions
by those who knew him, most especially Nikitin, Kasparov’s longtime coach,
who peppers the text and game notes throughout with his impressions of the young
Kasparov as he grew from shining talent to world champion. In many ways this
would seem to reinforce the impression that the DVD is just a highly abridged
version of the book, but in fact this is not so. They are actually very different
experiences which happen to share much of the same core period and material.
Kasparov reflects on the aborted 1984 match, a defining moment in his life
For one thing, there is nothing quite like having Garry Kasparov himself present
his life, his games, with his voice and facial expressions. He himself seems
unaware of the invaluable power of this as he almost apologizes at first for
not being able to give everything in the book. The sad truth is many might not
really want it. Most players and fans are unlikely to go through the entire
book even if they buy it, though they will regret not being able to see more
games simply because there are so many and each one has so many exhaustive variations
covering every aspect imaginable. They are a tribute to Kasparov’s endless
quest for the truth, but for those particular players and fans, this might provide
that happy compromise.
The ChessBase DVD provides a far more laid back experience, allowing the fan
to click on a video, and just watch Kasparov present the games and stories in
all their glory. It comes with sixteen videos, starting from the ripe age of
eleven in to the famously aborted 1984 match, but sixteen videos do not mean
only sixteen games. Far from it.
The first video, the Weinstein years, shows his early efforts, not only against
Privorotsky, but also against Yermolinsky, and Kantsler. The games represent
important points in his career for a variety of reasons, and even here he shows
his sincerity to adhere to his selection process as the loss against Yermolinksy
was the source of fun poked at him for a year. The games certainly show the
promise of the player he became, but you will need to wait for the next video,
“Junior tournaments” to first see his incredible attacking talents
and peerless feel for complications.
“Junior Tournaments” starts with a game against Smbat Lputian played
in 1976 at the Caucasus Youth Games, and it is our first demonstration of the
champion-to-be. The game is his trademark King’s Indian, and he describes
with understandable pleasure the moment in which a key blow is delivered to
an unsuspecting opponent.
Garry describes how the unexpected blow deflated his opponent's show of
We are regaled by three more games, including the magnificent finale against
Elmar Magerramov, before proceeding to the third video, his first foray into
a fully adult field, the 1978 Sokolsky Memorial. Kasparov is modest in his assessment,
and tells his mother that a +2 score would be a good result, yielding him a
Master norm. As it were, he ended up scoring a massive +9, and the untitled
unrated player began to gain significant international attention as a result.
Little by little (or not so little), he rises to the top of the ladder, from
second reserve at the Olympiad, to board two at Lucerne 1982, sharing his victories
and thoughts, and many magnificent games. It is fascinating to see what he is
like as an analyst, not for the games of others, but his own. True, this is
hardly his first work analyzing his own games, but here he takes a deeper look
at himself, striving to understand more than the moves and ideas in the games,
or even their sporting significance, but also the psychological reasons, as
much for his opponents as for himself.
Examples abound, and the reasons as well. The first example actually comes
from his very first game in video one against his teacher Privorotsky. When
under direct fire on his kingside, Privorotsky plays Bd8-e7 and fails to see
the vital resource Bd8-a5, Kasparov does not superficially dismiss it as stress
of the moment. Instead he points out the rather the contradictory nature of
the move, playing away from the kingside to save the king, as opposed to bringing
in the pieces to protect it.
Be7 seemed natural, but the unintuitive Ba5 was the correct continuation
When he makes a last-minute change in his opening prior to his 4th game loss
to Beliavsky in the 1983 Candidates match, he is unforgiving and classifies
it as a moment of unjustified panic that was meritoriously punished.
He introduces his first Candidates match against Beliavsky in 1983 with some
comments for younger players who missed that era of the game. He explains that
at that time, the matches were considerably longer. His quarter finals match
was set as the best of ten games, with a possible fourteen in the event of a
tie, at a rate of three games a week and an option for a timeout, not to mention
the adjourned games. Truly a different time.
We are also given a glimpse into his admiration and tribute to other historic
figures as he explains that prior to game five of the very same match, he had
known that it was Fischer’s 40th birthday, and though a recluse whose
whereabouts were unknown at the time, he had wanted to win the game in honor
of this birthday.
Although everyone knows the crushing stranglehold he had on the chess world
for two decades, it is not all about winning by +9 scores, and it is here too
that the video shines in ways no book can. In his video on the semi-final match
against Korchnoi, Garry Kasparov opens with the comment that the first game
was lost. There are no excuses or explanations given to suggest he played worse.
His voice changes dramatically and he stops looking at the camera, visibly haunted
by the memory of this ‘devastating loss’ as he himself describes
it. Although a text could write about the impact of it with great eloquence,
words cannot truly do justice to this moment caught on camera. Again, this is
by no means to suggest it is preferable over the epic book, but simply to highlight
the different flavor it brings. Apples and oranges.
30 years later, Kasparov is still haunted by a traumatic moment
Finally the great match in 1984 is reached, a topic on which so much has been
written and said over the years, that he chooses not to beat that very dead
horse again. As time has passed, his reasons for being down four games after
the first nine have come down to his own weak play, for which he has no explanation,
and readily admits that by all means he should have lost the match. After all,
after game 27 he was down 0-5 and all Karpov needed was a sixth win to secure
victory. Such were the match conditions. Instead, the reigning champion failed
to win another game for the next 21 encounters, at which point fatigue had begun
to take its toll and the score to do an about face.
It is after analyzing the 48th and final game of the giant match, his third
win, followed by its interruption, that Kasparov closes the book, a work he
is visibly extremely proud of and the most attached to, and ends the video.
I thoroughly enjoyed both the book and the DVD and highly recommend them. It
was almost impossible to imagine not recommending a work of his, considering
the superlative standard he has always set himself, and this one does not disappoint.
here to order How I Became World Champion Vol.1 (1973-1985)