Garry Kasparov Playchess.com chat transcript and photos

7/13/2003 – "This book is the most important thing I have done in chess other than winning my title in 1985." With that you know that this is no ordinary chess book. No "winning with.." or "secrets of..." here. The world's top player took questions and gave answers on the 300 years of chess history and development covered in his new series of books. Read on.

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Kasparov the author on Playchess.com

Chat with Garry Kasparov at Playchess.com on July 12, 2003. Kasparov was in New York City. Over 1500 people attended the online chat, organized to discuss Kasparov’s new book, “My Great Predecessors, Part I” released this month by Everyman (in English) and with other editions in Russian, German, Spanish, and Italian.

The book is available online at London Chess Center Online, Barnes & Noble stores, and other booksellers worldwide.



QUESTION FROM MPC250: WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO WRITE YOUR NEW BOOK?

As always, everything was accidental. In 1995, Frederic Friedel of ChessBase asked me to write a weekly column for the Welltam Sontag newspaper in Germany. My first reaction was negative, but then I changed my mind. With one condition! I'll be writing about the world champions. You can call it a prototype of the book.

It was a very entertaining experience. I was amazed to see that with every champion the amount of lines and the complexity of the games grew as time passed. I started to see an interconnection between them all and I thought we could make a full story of the development of chess out of these columns. We ended up in 1997 on Mikhail Tal. I remember writing my column, on Tal, while flying to New York in 1997 for the Deep Blue match!

I also covered some peak moments of chess history featuring other great players. I already sensed that without those great names the story would not be complete. Then there was a break for more than a year. Later a Russian sports newspaper approached me, asking to continue this in Russian. So I teamed up with Russian chess journalist Dmitry Plisetsky. He's very experienced and also a book editor.

We discovered it wasn't just a simple translation. These were written in English originally, not Russian. They were hand-written in faxes (remember faxes?!). Something that we thought was a mere translation turned into a total upgrade of the columns. Then we added Petrosian and Spassky, to complete 10.

Then we had to go back and check all the lines of analysis with computers. The idea was to investigate the old famous games, and not just write some evaluations. You can go on about great motifs, wonderful themes, but then you find a hole in the chess and the whole thing collapses. This is true not just in Steinitz's time but also with Fischer and Karpov.

At that point we decided (with Plisetsky) to do a full narrative story, a history of classical chess. We realized it would need much more information than we had to start.

So, to complete this long answer to the inspiration question, is that by the year 2000 I sensed that classical chess needed a monument. The game we knew for centuries was ceasing to exist. I'm sure classical chess will continue to exist, but it's clear that other forms of chess are prevailing. Classical chess may become like opera, at the top of the pyramid.

Coming to that conclusion, I thought it would be my greatest contribution to the game – to which I owe everything – to write a book on the development of chess ideas throughout history as displayed through the games of the greatest chess players.

QUESTION: HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WORKING ON 'MY GREAT PREDECESSORS, PART I’?

In total for over six years, but we added many new challenges when we decided to make this series. We started to add more and more. At first we had just 12 champions and a few previous stars. But we decided we needed more names to complete the development of chess ideas. Nimzowitsch, Larsen, Polugaevsky... Players who fought for the title and those who made tremendous contributions but didn't make it, maybe for certain flaws of character.

In Volume Two, for instance, we have Botvinnik, but also Keres and Bronstein, then Smyslov, but also Geller. In Volume Three we have Spassky, plus Larsen. Then Karpov with Polugaevsky and Korchnoi. Then at one point it we decided it was vitally important to cover all the decisive moments of the world championship matches too. In such matches the game of chess was elevated to new levels. The greatest players playing the greatest chess at the crucial moments.

QUESTION FROM XPLOR: IF SOMEONE WRITES A BOOK LIKE THIS IN 50 YEARS WHAT DO YOU HOPE THEY WILL WRITE ABOUT YOU?

If they are still writing about classical chess in 50 years that's a good sign!

The last volume of this series will be my own games. One of the tasks of this book is to inspire creative discussion. There will be many questions asked while reading the book. Today we have the luxury of all the amateurs being able to understand the complexity of the game analyzing with computers. It's no longer a secret guarded by a few top players and experts. Everyone can search for the truth.

When the Russian version of this book hit the shelves we were flooded with comments. But this is great. I'm eager to see the public enter this discussion of classical chess. For Volume Two we will have a summary of the comments made about Volume One. It's an ongoing work. The Spanish and Italian versions will include comments and corrections made about the first Russian and English versions! And of course everyone here is invited to this ongoing debate online.

QUESTION FROM GABBY-JAY: WHICH OF YOUR PREDECESSORS MOST CLOSELY MATCHED YOUR OWN STYLE OF PLAY AND IN WHAT WAY?

The book deals with "chess successions". There is this line: Anderssen, Chigorin, Alekhine, Bronstein, Tal, Kasparov. That is the "line" I associate myself with, and my chess. You can trace the roots. Then you have the more classical roots starting with Steinitz. But they all merge at one point.

Players from the later ages you can see they are consuming different styles, there is a synthesis. You can trace the elements, but they merge. The creative games of our predecessors merge. You can analyze Spassky, Fischer, Karpov, and myself in the light of the discoveries of these roots.

QUESTION FROM UNCLE BENT: IF FIDE HADN'T ARRANGED THE CYCLE IN 1948 AND HAD LEFT THE “PRIVATELY ARRANGED” SYSTEM IN PLACE, WHICH CHAMPIONS MIGHT NOT HAVE BECOME CHAMPIONS, AND WHICH NEW CHAMPIONS MIGHT HAVE APPEARED?

We are dealing with chess history in the book, but I'm refraining from giving judgment on most things. I'm trying to be impartial by presenting the information, not my opinion.

Many said that in 1948 they should have done things differently. Including Najdorf, for example, who was an obvious choice for #6. Then they say that Botvinnik didn't want that because he lost to Najdorf in 1946 in Groningen. Or they could have waited and had an interzonal.

But I think Botvinnik was clearly superior then. It's sad that Keres' situation and that of his country, Estonia, prevented him from playing a match against Botvinnik in the 40's.

So chess history is affected by world history. World War I weakening Lasker and eliminating Rubinstein, for example. It's very subjective, so we tried to stick to the facts. The public can reach their own conclusions. This way the history of chess can include a range of opinions.

QUESTION FROM JACKIECHAN: HAS BEING A CHESS PLAYER MADE YOU HAPPY OR LIKE MOST PEOPLE DO YOU SOMETIMES FEEL YOU SHOULD BE DOING SOMETHING ELSE? WHAT MIGHT THAT BE?

Chess has made me very happy! And writing the book was a great joy as well. Some chapters are not as exciting to write, but sometimes you make a discovery and you feel you did something important for the game of chess.

Regarding Volume One I was proud to find some new ideas in the famous Lasker-Rubinstein. Some variations, with colors reversed could have occurred in the famous 1946 Botvinnik-Euwe game. The great joy is to find some resemblances in past games and modern games.

That proves time and again that the history of classical chess is to be viewed as a single unit. You have explosions, like Fischer, but it's not really a surprise when you look at history. Every breakthrough in theory, in middlegame planning, had been carefully prepared by small acquisitions in the past.

QUESTION FROM SONOFABISHOP: DOES THE BOOK COVER EARLY CHAMPIONS LIKE PAUL MORPHY?

Yes, Morphy is included of course. It's the history from Philidor to Kasparov with all the games and ideas displayed.

QUESTION FROM MIG: GM MATTHEW SADLER GAVE THE "PREDECESSORS" BOOK A RAVE REVIEW IN NEW IN CHESS LAST MONTH. DO YOU READ YOUR REVIEWS?

I read the review, and yes, it makes me happy of course. I view this book as the most important thing I have done in chess, other than winning my title in 1985. So I'm happy to read the review because it shows the amount of interest that professional players express in my work. Unless we are proud of our game and our history, chess will not be received widely by the general public as something valuable for civilization.

QUESTION FROM RONDINO: WHAT RELATIONSHIP, IF ANY, IS THERE BETWEEN THE CHESS STYLES OF THE FORMER CHAMPIONS AND THEIR POLITICAL ENVIRONMENTS? AND IN YOUR CASE?

Not political so much, but they did act in concert with the dominant social and scientific ideas of the time. Maybe political as well in some cases. It's questionable, highly questionable, but I sensed the dominant tendency in chess in a given moment was always to a great degree a reflection of society of the time.

In myself I see this too. I went to the top at the time of big changes and revolutions in the world. Without question my chess style fits this boiling-over environment.

QUESTION FROM JEROEN: WILL YOU PLAY IN WIJK AAN ZEE NEXT YEAR?

I wish the FIDE calendar were as well-defined as the history of chess! I wish I knew for sure that my match with Ponomariov were 100% confirmed. I'm happy with the way things are progressing, and the words coming from Ilyumzhinov and the Ukraine. But I wish I could see a contract from FIDE!

QUESTION FROM MILESFROMHOME: CAN YOU COMPARE TACTICAL ABILITIES AMONG CHAMPIONS?

I don't think you can compare them in a linear scale. The game has changed from generation to generation. The amount of work they had to do grew dramatically. We can see exceptions, games that nobody could assign to the time in which they were played.

For example, In Volume One, Game 7 of Lasker-Steinitz, first match. I argued that this game was decisive in destroying Steinitz's confidence. The richness of the game and the complications can only be compared to the games of Tal and Shirov! The game was decades ahead of its time. Neither Chigorin nor Tarrasch could understand the game. They blamed the loss on Steinitz's blunders, which wasn't a fair description.

But in general the level of resistance the players face has grown stiffer and stiffer. That's why many of Tal's combinations would not impress many modern players. There is nothing wrong with his combinations being refuted later on, of course. The book is about the contributions of each player to the game, so we have to enjoy and appreciate his games of the late 50's and early 60's when he was WAY ahead of the others. The way Tal beat Smyslov in 1959 is just another reflection of how even for the greatest players of Tal's time this challenge was insurmountable.

QUESTION: WHICH OF THE CHAMPIONS IN YOUR BOOK WOULD HAVE ADAPTED BEST TO MODERN PLAY WITH COMPUTERS AND PREPARATION?

Very speculative! Probably Botvinnik. He had a taste for that. For the amount of work. Fischer, of course. Euwe would be another good example. And also Alekhine. Definitely not Capablanca or Lasker. But they had other advantages.

QUESTION FROM MANY: WHAT WOULD 19TH CENTURY PLAYERS MAKE OF MODERN CHESS?

It's not really possible to imagine. The moment Steinitz or Morphy saw modern chess they would cease to be Morphy and Steinitz. They would see the new ideas. They belonged to their eras.

QUESTION FROM MANY: WHO WAS THE GREATEST NATURAL TALENT IN CHESS?

I try hard to refrain from ranking, it's not really possible. Capablanca was the PUREST natural talent, you could say. That he didn't work almost at all shows the level of his talent.

QUESTION FROM RS: WHICH GAMES WERE YOUR FAVORITES?

I enjoyed very much Lasker-Steinitz, game seven, match one. Nobody had really analyzed it deeply before. Pillsbury-Lasker, 1896. And Lasker-Schlechter, last game of their match. Those games are very close to our times, far ahead of their own. Euwe-Alekhine, game four of the first match, 1935.

Each game we selected had many exciting elements. When you examine the psychology behind each fight you can appreciate it more. It was fascinating to read the old commentaries, the contemporary analysis. They presented it like it was something sacred. Like Tarrasch-Lasker, game four, when Lasker moved his rook to the center. It shows how much the result of the game influenced the commentary about the game. We still see that today. But one of my tasks is to see that the history is chess is not clouded by the excitement produced by the games and the commentary.

QUESTION FROM DENIZIO: WHICH PLAYER FROM THE PAST CONTRIBUTED MOST TO CHESS THEORY?

Steinitz was huge in developing the main principles. Another great contributor was Akiba Rubinstein. His contribution to chess was heavily underestimated. And other non-champions who made chess different. Nimzowitsch, Tarrasch, Chigorin.

QUESTION FROM THALER: WHO ARE YOUR FAVORITE COMMENTATORS?

I enjoyed many of the old commentaries, but I was turning a very critical eye on all of them. They were using commentaries as a sort of lesson, to teach. They were trying to educate the chess public. So they rarely criticized the winning side. It would confuse the readers! So I saw the line of people who would do this to make everything look smooth and perfect. First was Tarrasch, he did this. Later, Geller.

They saw there were problems, but they didn't want to reveal them. I prefer the tradition of Botvinnik, Fischer, and I try to do this too. To not be shy in criticizing the winner of the game, even if it's my game.

QUESTION FROM RS: WILL IT BE DIFFICULT TO WRITE ABOUT YOUR GREAT RIVAL KARPOV?

Without modesty I think this will be the greatest material ever written about Karpov! It's by far the largest section in the books. Fischer was the biggest but now that we are working on Karpov it looks like he will have the largest section. This is natural since we have more material for the modern players.

It's important to point out I'm not working on the biographies of the players. I am writing about their contributions to the chess world and the game. Spassky, for example, his section, most of the analysis ends in 1974. Karpov has a unique history of 25 years of contributions to the game of chess.

It's not about being at the top, it's about being on the cutting edge. Karpov has been on this edge, contributing to our knowledge of chess. Over 25 years, Karpov has contributed a lot to analyze and display. Most likely I will now depart from the original concept and move to an extra volume. #3 was getting too big to publish. I'm considering "splitting" Karpov into two: before his match with me in 1984 and then the next volume beginning with his matches with me. Without full coverage of my matches with Karpov it wouldn't be complete. It's possible to say that all modern players are in some ways creatures produced from this battle.

QUESTION FROM JEROEN: WILL THE BOOK BE TRANSLATED INTO DUTCH?

The book so far is in Russian and English. (Germany will do five volumes, not three, distributing the same content differently.) Then Spanish and Italian translations are being prepared. Also working on French. No word on Dutch yet, sorry!

QUESTION FROM MANY: WILL YOUR GAME COLLECTION “THE TEST OF TIME” BE UPDATED?

The final volume of this series will be my own games, including the period covered in my first book, "The Test of Time". Everything will be reexamined.

QUESTION FROM MANY: WHEN WILL THE BOOK BE RELEASED?

I'm signing the book on Monday at Barnes & Noble here in New York [82nd St.], so I think it should be available after that. Volume Two is ready, in print in Russian and soon in English. But it's finished and ready for publication.

QUESTION FROM AFAIDEEN: IS THERE A BEST PERSONALITY FOR CHESS?

One of the great things about chess is that there is no one personality type required for success. The game is diverse, so are the personalities. The personalities of the great players are reflected in their games. That's why their contributions are so different.

QUESTION FROM THALER (AND OTHERS): WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT KRAMNIK, LEKO, RADJABOV AND THE FUTURE CHAMPIONS?

My research has ended with Karpov and Kasparov! The future champions have all the time they need to write about the next generation.

I hope this will be a living story, that people will contribute information, stories, analysis, that it will grow. I consider this a foundation toward contributing to the history of classical chess. A living museum.

QUESTION FROM DER_BAER (AND OTHERS SIMILAR ABOUT READING CHESS BOOKS): HAVE YOU READ JOHN WATSON’S “SECRETS OF MODERN CHESS STRATEGY”?

I read chess literature. But most modern books are short-lived. That's the difference between them and Bronstein's Zurich 1953! One book maybe not yet in English is Dvoretsky's endgame book. I was impressed with the material. That's not a short-lived book.

QUESTION FROM MANY ABOUT COMPARING MODERN PLAYERS WITH PAST PLAYERS:

To many "time travel" questions: It's enough to say that any average GM today knows more than Fischer did in 1972, at his peak. He was way ahead of his generation, but we consider many of those games primitive now, just because we know so much more. Not about his talent, but about the knowledge. You look at the openings of Fischer-Spassky, they were searching in the dark. Nowadays you are one click away from the answer.

QUESTION FROM CLIFFHANGER: WHICH CHAMPION WAS FURTHEST AHEAD OF HIS CONTEMPORARIES.

That's a great question. [Thinks for a minute.] There were some short periods in which some were far ahead. Fischer in the early 1970's. Lasker at the end of the 19th century. That was a huge gap. Alekhine in the early 30's. Karpov in the late 70's, if you don't include Fischer, who took himself out of the picture.

In Volume Three I argue that Karpov had a very good chance to beat Fischer in 75. I would even consider Karpov the favorite in 75. He was more flexible, he was from a new generation. Karpov's chess was multifaceted. Fischer would have had a very hard time, and I think Fischer knew that. I doubt Fischer would have avoided a match with Korchnoi and Spassky.

Fischer was watching. Karpov beat Spassky in a more convincing way than Fischer did in 1972. Spassky played better against Karpov in 1974 than against Fischer in 1972, and he lost 7-4!

QUESTION FROM FREDERIC: DO YOU THINK KARPOV WILL LIKE THE BOOK?

I try to be impartial, but I don't know if Karpov will like the book. It's a deep analysis of his contributions. The section on Karpov is still in production. I'm not sure if we will cut it into two parts. But most of the analysis is done. And I can say that up to 1996 Karpov was at the cutting edge of chess.

QUESTION FROM MIKGUNN: WHAT IS YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH KARPOV NOW?

My relationship with Karpov now is writing about him for the book. I have tapes about him, that's enough!

I look at the key games in a player's career, then analyze them, reach a first draft on the computer. Then I dictate my conclusions into a tape and send it to Plisetsky. He makes corrections on dates, facts, adds anecdotes, etc. and sends it back to me. It's a complex procedure.

Fischer I did last year, more than 50 games. I did some work on this trip to the USA. I do it anywhere. I little analysis here and there. It's ongoing, you can't stop. It's always expanding. At some point I could see this on a DVD or online, so as not to be limited by book size.

QUESTION: HOW DOES THE BOOK WORK INTERFERE WITH YOUR MATCH PREPARATION?

It can help my chess. I think it's making me a more experienced player. But it doesn't disturb me as much as the lack of accuracy in the FIDE calendar! I think the World Championship match deserves to be announced in advance.

We are 12 weeks from the alleged dates of the match and we still have nothing in writing. And while Ponomariov is complaining about his losses, I'm counting my own losses from not working, waiting for this match. Ponomariov raises correct points to protest this treatment, but perhaps not in the correct way.

QUESTION FROM FREDERIC (AND MANY SIMILAR): HOW DO YOU ESTIMATE YOUR CHANCES AGAINST PONOMARIOV. ARE YOU TAKING HIM LIGHTLY?

He's a dangerous player, I don't take him lightly at all. And someone half your age (exactly, 40-20!), is never be taken lightly!

QUESTION FROM BITSARRAY (AND OTHERS): DO YOU PLAY OTHER GAMES LIKE BACKGAMMON OR GO?

I play other games, but the quality of my play is not to be proud of. I try not to play other games because I'm competitive and to be competitive and not good is not a good mix!

QUESTION FROM RS: HAS INCREASING AGE DIMINISHED YOUR CHESS ABILITIES AT ALL?

The recent poor performance has not been related to age in my opinion. The chaos in the world of chess has been a much more important factor.

I still have the energy to compete with the youngsters. At 40 years old you prefer to know when and where you are playing. At 20 maybe you are more laid-back.

QUESTIONS FROM MANY ON BOOK AVAILABILITY AND PRICE:

It depends on the country of course. I think an online shop [www.chesscenter.com] has the book for $35. I believe that's the US price. Maybe a little more in Europe.

QUESTION FROM MANMAH: DO YOU PERSONALLY IDENTIFY WITH ANY OF THE WORLD CHAMPIONS YOU HAVE WRITTEN ABOUT?

No, not really. I had to live with each of them while preparing the book. I tried to go into their minds, to analyze them.

Volume One is quite different from Two and Three, this is important. I was dealing with people I have never met. Later, in volumes Two and Three I was dealing with players I have met and in many cases played against, except for Euwe and Fischer. That created a more personal feel. I could be more specific about some things and give first-hand stories.

But in Part One it was only through documents and published stories. And in our research we had the same problem. The first champions didn't play as often in Russia/USSR and most of the available material is in other languages, especially German. So Plisetsky had more trouble researching.

QUESTION FROM FREDERIC: [GERMAN GM ROBERT] HUEBNER DID AN ANALYSIS OF YOUR GAMES AGAINST DEEP JUNIOR AND SAID YOU WERE AFRAID IN THOSE GAMES.

I think Huebner did, as usual, excellent analysis. But he only looked at games 4-6 and you can't ignore the first half of the match. There were two parts. So to say I avoided the most difficult lines all the time is not really fair.

The shocking loss in game three really changed me. After that I felt almost paralyzed. After the horrible blunder in game three, Rh5, losing immediately when just about any other move was a draw, I just wasn't myself.

I understand why people criticize me harshly for the short draw in game six. But I can evaluate the position myself and I knew that there were still enough pieces on the board to blunder. There was a big psychological element. If that had been the only game to play against Deep Junior, great. Black is better and we play. But it wasn't and I had all the thoughts from the previous games.

There are many surprises against computers, nothing is easy. But with my knowledge of computers I know that I will always be able to win a game and, I believe, a match. We have to be sure that we are capable of beating a machine at our 'best hour', that is the test. Not to win every game or to never blunder. We are human. So I am available to continue this experiment.

FOLLOW-UP QUESTIONS ON CONFIDENCE FACTOR:

The only effect it had was shaking my confidence. Game three against Junior and the loss to Radjabov in Linares were similar in that respect. Once your confidence is shaken it affects how you play the rest of the tournament.

I definitely won't blame my lousy (by my standards) performance in Linares on the computer match. My energy level wasn't the best. But after you win 10 tournaments in a row you cannot complain when you don't win number 11.

But if Linares 2003 was Leko's best tournament as he has said, and my worst, and I was better in our games, I can't be too disappointed. Blunders you can survive. You don't feel outplayed, I know it was MY mistake and I still have good reasons to keep playing.

I had many missed opportunities. Just like in Skelleftea 1989, many missed wins that turned into draws. Tal, Ribli, many more. So Linares 2003 wasn't a tragedy. Sometimes it happens.

QUESTION: ARE YOU MORE UNCOMFORTABLE PLAYING AGAINST COMPUTERS?

I'm comfortable playing against humans and machines, but you need time to prepare for both since they are so different.

QUESTION FROM MARYGIRL17: ARE THERE ANY WOMEN IN THE BOOK?

No, there are no women in the book. No offense meant, but it's about contributions to chess and chess development. So not yet.

QUESTION FROM DANAUS: WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN KASPAROV AT 20 AND KASPAROV AT 40?

The biggest difference between me at 20 and me now at 40 is my hair. The color and the amount!

Thanks to everyone for coming to the chat and I hope you enjoy the book.

END

Our thanks to Garry Kasparov for sharing his time with ChessBase and the Playchess.com audience. "My Great Predecessors, Part I" is a beautiful hardback book and is published by Everyman. It is available at London Chess Center Online, Barnes & Noble stores, and other booksellers worldwide.


This fantastic painting from 1982 (!) titled "The Challenger" is the inside cover of the Russian edition of the book. The board displays Kasparov's famous win over Petrosian in Bugojno, 82.  © Ripol

 

First photo of Kasparov by Polina Kasparova. Photo of Kasparov-Deep Junior by John Henderson. All rights reserved.


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