Kasparov's Predecessors get personal

9/28/2004 – Language by language, city by city, the "My Great Predecessors" book series by Garry Kasparov is becoming a publishing phenomenon. It is being translated and distributed at a rate usually reserved for best-selling novels. Part 3 on Tigran Petrosian and Boris Spassky is now hitting the bookstores and #4 with Fischer is coming soon. We have an exclusive interview with the author.

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Getting personal

In Part 1, the book's subjects were from a century ago. Steinitz and Lasker were little more than names and moves on old paper. Their chess often looked strange to modern eyes. In Part 2, the modern era began and Kasparov wrote about his own teacher, Mikhail Botvinnik, and several players he met over the board.

In Part 3, Kasparov is writing about the 9th and 10th world champions, Tigran Petrosian and Boris Spassky, players he knows well and faced many times. This again changes the complexion of the book, which includes not only personal anecdotes, but a "four lessons" section in which Kasparov annotates the games he lost to his predecessors. Important innovators Stein, Portisch, and Polugaevsky are also covered.

Part 3 is already out in Russian and comes out in English in a week or so. The other books continue to appear around the world at an increasingly rapid pace. Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, English and German are already out. Serbo-Croat, French, Turkish, Slovenian, and Polish aren't far behind.

Part 4, due in just a few months, is, a "best of the West" volume in which Fischer stars and Larsen, Gligoric, Reshevsky, Fine, and Najdorf cameo. We spoke at length with Kasparov about these latest releases.

What is the biggest difference between Parts 3 and 4 and the first two?

These books feel more personal to me and the chess is more modern. The 3rd and 4th volumes will be very modern and refreshing. The chess and the players are more familiar to modern players. The reader will recognize the styles and the openings and the sacrifices. The games are much closer to the modern dynamic style. The players are more alive. Even those I never met, like Stein, I could talk to people who knew them and played them so I'm more successful in presenting their lives.

Was this personal touch intentional or incidental? Did you set out to change the tone?

It's a little of both. We wanted to take advantage of the move to more modern players, but it also happened subconsciously because I could process all of this information. Much of it just came naturally. And of course the information was more accessible. With Fischer, for example, there were many sources and we spoke to many of his contemporaries.

Did the personal element affect the chess analysis overall?

Knowing them and their behavior and personalities gave me more insight into their chess. I could have much better perspective on the Spassky-Petrosian matches than, say, Capablanca-Alekhine. I could even draw directly on my conversations with them. And the games are occasionally very personal. There is a section called "Four lessons from Petrosian and Spassky" which is my four losses to them.

Is the analysis getting harder as the games are more modern?

We have worked very hard to improve the analysis. Readers will have to work even harder to find any faults! We improved our system of analysis and I think we've done a better job than before in the search for the truth. Also I'm more comfortable with the style and presentation; it's more user-friendly.

What differences do you notice in the chess from era to era? Are there fewer mistakes?

The number of blunders is stable from Capablanca-Alekhine to Spassky-Petrosian. The games are getting sharper, more complicated. If you could take something like the "average strength per move" then fluctuations exist, but they are quite similar over the century. The games get more complicated and the creativity and energy level are higher.

Chess has gotten richer and more analysis is being put into each game. Also, the level of defense is growing each decade so it requires more energy to win. We've gone from the Queen's Gambit Declined and elementary hypermodernism to the King's Indian and highly sophisticated Grunfelds and Sicilians. In the 60's you could see a dramatic shift to sharper openings. Part 3 bridges old chess to modern chess, the Soviet innovations and then Fischer.

Can you give a few impressions of Petrosian and Spassky?

Petrosian wasn't a great world champion, but his ideas were very influential. He is constantly underestimated. Many players learned a great deal from him but are either unaware of it or won't admit it. He studied Rubinstein before his big jump to the top. Then Spassky was a milestone with his universal style.

What other changes do you note between eras?

Periods of dominance shortened each time. The giant gaps of Lasker and Steinitz didn’t exist in the 50’s and 60’s. Only Fischer and Karpov achieved this. In 50’s and 60’s there were no big leaders. Great players with immense contributions, but no gap. The time of legends was over.

But aren't you an exception to that?

Yes, 15 years as champion could be considered a modern record, but you can't forget Karpov. Even though he didn't make it to the world championship in 1993 he was the second-rated player until 1996-97. That's 25 years as #1 or #2.

What do you think might surprise readers?

Maybe the greatest surprise for modern players and readers will be Leonid Stein. He was famous inside USSR, but not outside. Also the chapters on Portisch and Polugaevsky will be impressive for modern readers.

You can order My Great Predecessors, Part 3 online and even get autographed copies.

You can also visit the official ChessChamps.com site of the book series.


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