Kasparov's Great Game

3/15/2005 – Word of his retirement and political ambitions has flooded the news. Now we bring you Kasparov's own article, which he wrote for the Wall Street Journal. There is more looking forward than back. We call your attention to the position on the map of Russia chessboard, Kasparov's new field of battle.

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"I want my son to be proud of his father"

The Great Game

By GARRY KASPAROV
Wall Street Journal – March 14, 2005
Reprinted with express permission

LONDON -- Thirty years ago at the Soviet Junior Championship I played my first major chess event at the national level. Twenty years ago in Moscow I became the youngest World Champion in history. Last week in Spain I played my final serious games of chess, winning the Linares super-tournament for the ninth time. After three decades as a professional chess player, the last two ranked No. 1, I have decided to retire from professional chess.

It's not common, in our age, for someone to retire while still at the top; but I'm a man who needs a goal, and who wants to make a difference. My accomplishments and contributions are for others to judge, but I feel that I am no longer playing an essential role in chess. With reclaiming the unified world championship out of reach due to political chaos in the chess world, I am reduced to unfulfilling repetition.

I have always set ambitious goals, and I have been lucky enough to attain most of them. I have achieved everything there is to achieve in the chess arena, arguably more than any other player in history. Meanwhile, there are other areas where I can still make a difference, where I can set new goals and find new channels for my energy. At the age of 41, I believe there is still much I can accomplish. My experiences in the chess world have provided me with an excellent foundation for these new challenges.

In the past few years I have spent a great deal of time writing a book series called "My Great Predecessors." Studying the development of chess ideas through the lives of the world's greatest players -- such as Emanuel Lasker and my old teacher Mikhail Botvinnik -- made me realize that chess has taught me a great deal about every aspect of life, and that it could do the same for others.

This analysis of chess history synthesized in my mind with my extensive experience of playing against computers. For over 50 years, back to the earliest days of computing, chess has been recognized as a unique cognitive battleground. The world watched my matches with "Deep Blue," "Fritz," and "Junior" as man-versus-machine competitions and a way to see how computers "think." To me they were also helpful in revealing how humans make decisions. These computers looked at millions of positions per second, weighing each one to find the mathematically best moves. And yet a human, seeing just two or three positions per second, but guided by intuition and experience, could compete with the mighty machines.

The nature of the decision-making process is little explored and I have become fascinated with the possibility of using my expertise to illuminate these questions. I am currently working on a book on how life imitates chess, that will be released this fall in America by Penguin. It examines the unique formulae people use in thinking and problem-solving. For example, the way hope and doubt affect how we process information, or the way we perform in a crisis. I hope it will also serve as a guide to improving these processes.

Over the past several years I have made a number of speeches on the topic of chess themes in life, particularly in business thinking and strategy. The response has been overwhelming and enlightening and I am extracting a number of valuable parallels. For example: the difference between tactics and strategy; how to train your intuition; and maintaining creativity in an era of analysis. In particular, the topic of intuition is intriguing. When I analyzed a 1894 world championship game between Lasker and Wilhelm Steinitz, I also looked at their post-game analysis and the comments of other top players of the day. They all made more mistakes in analysis than the players had made during the game! The intuitive decisions of the players during the game were correct in most cases, and more often so than when they had all the time in the world to analyze later.

* * *

The more time I spend exploring the limitless realm of human thought, the harder it becomes to contain my energy within 64 black and white squares. The huge amount of work required to stay at the top has led to diminishing returns both for me and for the chess world. Every year it takes more study time to keep up with my young competitors, who have all followed my methods of working ceaselessly with computers to prepare. Opening variations must be analyzed to depths of dozens of moves and you carry around a "mental database" of tens of thousands of moves that is constantly updated.

I will also have more time for chess causes long dear to my heart. One is the promotion of chess in education. The U.S.-based Kasparov Chess Foundation supports chess in schools and is working on a blueprint for teaching chess in the classroom. Chess has much to offer the world, especially youngsters who benefit greatly from more disciplined thinking, friendly competition, and learning about the consequences of their decisions. It has been shown in many studies that children exposed to chess perform better on exams and are, even, better behaved. It stimulates the powers of imagination and calculation and also improves concentration.

But ultimately, it is my interest in politics that has played the principal role in my decision to reallocate my resources away from chess. For many years, I have been an ardent supporter of democracy in Russia, and at certain times I have participated in political activities. Now I will be able to do this with the same determination and passion I brought to the chessboard.

I believe my talents and experience can be useful in the political realm. There is something to be said for a chess player's ability to see the whole board. Many politicians are so focused on one problem, or a single aspect of a problem, that they remain unaware that solving it may require action on something that appears unrelated. It is natural for a chess player, by contrast, to look at the big picture. Zbigniew Brzezinski recently wrote on geopolitics as "The Grand Chessboard" and the analogy persists in many ways. There is no single solution to a chess game; you must consider every factor to produce a complete strategic solution.

Like everyone, I am dismayed by the long list of problems facing the world today. I am more concerned about the even longer list of proposed solutions and how many of them are considered by their proponents to be exclusive. Instead of looking at the whole board, they are focusing too narrowly and as a result devise narrow solutions. Our leaders must be able to think more ambitiously.

* * *

This is a time for ambition. Victory in Ukraine and the reshaping of the Middle East are only the latest symbols of how democracy is dominant in the world today economically, militarily, and morally. We must leverage this ascendancy to set a global agenda and end the era of complacency and concession that is embodied by the United Nations. In politics as in chess, or in the military or in business, when you have the advantage you must press it quickly -- or lose it. For the first time in history, we are in a position to checkmate tyranny. Momentum is largely on the side of democracy.

This is not yet the case, alas, in my home. Russia is in a moment of crisis and every decent person must stand up and resist the rise of the Putin dictatorship. Russia boasts too many generals and colonels in politics and too few thinkers. (Even Russia's chess players are in decline, a symptom of the larger malady.) I hope my vision and ability to think strategically can be of help to my native land. We must act now to unite and to create real democratic opposition to the Putin regime. I can now offer not only my name and my advice, but my active participation.

* * *

My exact role in Russia is yet to be determined. I am excited by this new strategic battle, to be played out on a larger board. At the same time, I realize that this is no game, but a very real struggle for the future of my country. I am preparing for the fight of my life. When I look at my eight-year-old son, I know the stakes of this battle could not be higher.

Many well-off Russians are sending their children to foreign schools, far from the dangers created by our authoritarian leadership. Most of my compatriots don't have that option. I do, but I want my son to grow up in the country in which he was born. I don't want him to have to worry about military service in an illegal war or fear the repression of a dictatorship. I want my son to live in a free nation and to be proud of his country, and of his father.

My retirement from chess is not about running for president or any other higher office, although I am not prepared to rule anything out. It is about opposing our authoritarian regime and bringing positive change. There are millions like me in Russia who want a free press, rule of law and fair elections. My new job is to fight for those people and to fight for those things.

Mr. Kasparov, a contributing editor at The Wall Street Journal, is chairman of Committee 2008 Free Choice and co-chairman of the All-Russian Civil Congress.


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