New York City, the week of March 20, 2005.
Mig Greengard spent the week with Garry Kasparov and kept his new digital recorder handy. After that came the typing up 20 pages of transcript! (Yes, twenty.) Some of the questions were posed by New York Times writer Dylan Loeb McClain, who also happens to be a strong chessplayer. His NY Times article on Kasparov appeared on March 26.
This first part includes retirement, computers and Deep Blue, and a look at Kasparov's own chess and other chessplayers. Part 2 includes Kasparov's picks for his best games and career achievements, a look back, and the future of professional chess. Part 3 focuses on his political ideas and aspirations.
Kasparov with a print-out we gave him of comments from fans.
Why retire now? Many players have continued to have success later in life.
What is success? Winning occasionally isn’t the thing, it’s about being on top for twenty years. It’s about my nature, making a difference. I’ve done enough, more than I could have imagined, in the world of chess. Now I want to do other things. I want to have a target, to do things that excite me. I want to be able to employ my talents and experience.
Could you face the thought of declining in the chess world?
I don’t think it’s too arrogant to say I could have stayed on top for three or four more years. I think that’s fair to say, but there are other important things and the time is right. There is a crisis in Russia, there are books I want to write and promote. It’s important for me to tell people that chess can be a tool for improving the decision-making process with my book. It’s important to help the Russian people reclaim democracy. These things are more important. Unless I feel that my presence makes a big difference, I can’t excite myself enough to continue giving 100% to chess anymore.
If the situation were different, if there were a possibility to play for the world championship, would you have stayed?
IF the situation were different, IF the Putin regime were more stable, IF How Life Imitates Chess could be postponed for another year... There are too many “ifs” and all of these things are happening at the same time. It’s like as strange coincidence, all of them happening at once. It’s not a decision you make overnight. You don’t wake up in the morning and think “Ah, bingo, it’s over!” No, the frustration builds, opportunities come up. You analyze all the factors. They all pointed for me to change my life.
It started with the frustration about the general situation around the world of chess, that’s number one. Also I’m playing a more active role in Russian politics. To my surprise I was elected chairman of the Committee 2008 Free Choice in January last year. It keeps adding up. Then the work with the books. I’m extending My Great Predecessors from six volumes to ten. All these things add up.
How will things be different day to day now that you aren’t playing professional chess?
In some ways it will be tougher to plan my life, so in a way I’m busier. Russian political life is hectic, mostly without a fixed schedule.
Where would you rank yourself all-time?
I don’t like this question in general, it's too subjective. By most standards, number one because of the length of my high performance and the strength of the opposition. The greatest gap between the number one and the rest was Bobby Fischer in 1972, but that was just one or two years and then came Karpov. I was able to keep up with the new generation and beat them. I was able to stay on the cutting edge, stay on top of the ranking for twenty years. I would say that entitles me to be number one.
Who replaces you?
[Shrugs] I don’t know, it’s not my problem anymore! I have the t-shirt Mig gave me that says, “I’m retired, do it yourself!”
What about Kramnik? He has your title, but...
I don’t know if you can say it’s my title. In 2000 my title had value because I was the best in the world. In my book, Kramnik’s title expired no later than 2002. He had to defend his title and did not. More importantly, I won a few tournaments in a row in 2001 and he failed to perform at the highest level, to prove he was the best in the world. This meant expiration by higher standards.
He didn’t beat an official world champion, the match wasn’t sanctioned by FIDE or anyone. He won a match against the strongest player in the world, and that gave him an opportunity to continue to prove he was the best. Without doing this, he needed to win a rematch or a number of victories that could prove his dominance. He failed to do this.
Isn’t that unfair to Kramnik? It was your doing it wasn’t under FIDE, not his.
I don’t think “unfair” is the correct word regarding Kramnik. It was unfair to Shirov that he didn’t play the match, that’s important. Kramnik didn’t qualify at all, he lost to Shirov [in 1998]. He was lucky Anand refused to play and then I made a choice, under some pressure from the British organizers, to pick Kramnik. They knew a match with Shirov would be a massacre.
So Kramnik was selected because he was next on the list and had a good score against me, with real chances of winning. It’s amazing to remember Kramnik’s comments when he was selected and Shirov was complaining. Kramnik said, “How can you judge the strength of the players based on a match between them two years ago?” Which is what I’m saying now!
I never said my loss to Kramnik was an accident, and won’t. If you look at our results before and after the match it looks that way, but he won fair and square. He was better prepared and he did something good for chess. He moved the game forward; he had some great ideas that enriched our understanding of chess.
The problem is that from a wider perspective, looking at our later results, it was an anomaly. So either he needed to play a rematch, and if he beats me again then that’s it, he’s made the point and shown it wasn’t a fluke. Or he can win tournaments, take the #1 rating spot, something to establish his dominance. He failed to win tournaments and he avoided the rematch. So his title lost value because if you’re fighting FIDE you have to present yourself as the best player in the world. Unless you are best player in the world, it doesn’t work without a system.
The rationale of the 2000 match was simple: number one versus number two in the world. Kramnik was arguably number two then, but anyway Anand didn’t want to play and Kramnik had a better score against me and had good results in 2000. It was number one versus number two, that’s the only real rationale to play a match outside of FIDE, without a system. But later you had number two doing absolutely everything to avoid playing number one.
After Astana in 2001, where I beat Kramnik in the last round to win the tournament, I got a phone call from a friend who is a big chess supporter. He asked, “so when is the rematch? I would like to make a donation. It’s very clear now, you’ve won three tournaments in a row after losing in London and you’ve beaten him now. He has to give you a rematch.”
New York Times writer Dylan Loeb McClain.
Did you actually call Kramnik, talk to him about a rematch?
Not directly, but through our representatives. He made it very clear in public interviews that he was interested in “fair qualification,” which is quite amazing coming from someone who lost every qualification match in his life and got to play in 2000 anyway! His statements were weak, and then he did everything to make sure there wasn’t a fair qualification.
The tournament in Dortmund didn’t have the status as qualifier. They had no guarantees for the final match at all. They sent me an note asking if I’d like to play. My manager wrote back asking, “where is the two million dollars for the final match, what are the rules for the final match if he wins, etc. Send us a formal invitation.” Nothing, no formal offer. So it was “would you like to play in a tournament that, IF you win, you MAY play Kramnik, IF money is available.” Very nice.
Do you still speak to Kramnik?
Sure, why not? But I said it after the match in London that he would make it his goal in life never to play Garry Kasparov again. He wants to go down as the only player to have beaten me in a match, period. He has no other interests.
How about Anand?
He’ll be the number one on the list after I retire. After him, it will belong to the younger players. You have the teenagers, Karjakin, Carlsen, Nakamura. The new generation is growing up fast. Anand is 36! When we were at the closing ceremony in Linares, I told him, “I’m out, now you’re the oldest! You’re the dinosaur now!”
You can come back, you can play again. Michael Jordan famously came back twice.
Anand asked me if I was sure, if I wasn’t going to come back in six months. I said that I’m not going to quit completely. I’m following the games, doing some analysis, renewing my database, keeping my mind fresh. And also I’m writing books, so I have to work with the computer. I can play exhibition games, rapid games, just not competitive chess.
Can I imagine that in six months, twelve months, I wake up and go, “oh my God, I can’t live without it”? I don’t think so, but I can’t guess. I made a serious statement and it’s not a game. I’m not going to sit and wait on the sidelines until people come up with millions of dollars to lure me back into chess, that’s not the plan. I made a serious decision to change the direction of my life and it’s a transition. I have no intention whatsoever to play any more competitive chess. Seriously.
I don’t know about how Jordan felt. He probably meant it at the time. I have other things to do now. I have a huge program, with My Great Predecessors, How Life Imitates Chess, promoting the books, Russian politics, family, it will consume all my time.
I also have these DVDs to work on. [Points at the box, which is the American version.] They have a lot of general teaching, plus a lot of games attached. All the relevant games, and why they are the most relevant. It’s like a guide, so you can get through this jungle of variations. For average players, even for advanced players, the number of variations are overwhelming now, it’s depressing. But you can help yourself by going over the most relevant and instructive lines. They’ve already been quite successful, at least for chess software, and they haven’t started selling them in stores in America yet.
I didn’t work on it before for reasons of both time and technology. All the factors came together. I don’t think I’m giving away too many secrets, but my state of mind has changed. I’m working on My Great Predecessors, I’m making lessons, thinking more about sharing my experiences and knowledge.
How Life Imitates Chess is similar, but with a much wider audience, on a broader level. I’m trying to share my ideas, to analyze the nature of the decision-making process, to help people find their strengths and weaknesses, to find their own formula for success. One prefers intuition, another more hard data, to analyze how these formulas work and how they can be customized.
Even those things might not take so long. You’re only 41.
I don’t know! I still think I’ll feel more comfortable sharing my ideas. I don’t know how I can help, how I can make a difference, but I’ll find a way. Writing books, playing a role in Russia, those are the first steps in this transition. But I’ll still be in chess. I’ll be delighted to help promote the game, work with chess in schools and achieve goals there.
What about the Kasparov Chess Foundation?
The original goal was to design a curriculum for chess in schools, a unified program. That’s still our top priority. I always thought it would be important to have a system to teach teachers to teach chess. Manuals to help teachers present the game of chess. Not to just teach the game, but to do it in a way that will help kids improve their performance in every aspect. The quality of the teaching is the biggest concern.
How chess gets there, I don’t mind. If someone else has a program, great. If someone takes ours and uses it, fine. As long as it happens. Our school project is still the number one priority. There are other things, such as our experiment working with the US women’s team last year. We don’t want to continue because we think it’s not exactly our turf, but we can help finding sponsorship. We got money from one of our sponsors, and it was all financed by us, but at the end of the day we decided our foundation is not here to finance professional chess or professional teams. But at the same time we’ll help them find sponsorship. Oh, and we also established an all-girls championship in Chicago, the next will be the second one.
The project we are going to start this year is to make a version of what we called the Botvinnik/Kasparov school in the USSR. To have sessions with talented kids, to nurse them along and improve their chessplaying qualities. It’s something we are tentatively calling Team 2010. To help talented kids, and there are many here in America now who could use our assistance.
Do you know anything about Karpov’s activities in Lindsborg, Kansas?
I don’t know much about it, but I’m delighted. I’m not here to compete with him or anyone else. If he is supporting chess there, great.
How would you like to be remembered?
Well, my usual reply to this is that I would like to be remembered! Everyone will have different memories. I was quite thrilled to read the different letters to me from chess fans around the world. It makes me happy, because if anything goes wrong at least I’ll be remembered as a very good chessplayer who did a great deal for chess.
In 20 or 30 years, I don’t know. I just hope I’ll have made a difference.
I don’t know if my views will help people see the big picture. But if
I’m any help, I’ll be very happy I achieved something outside of
[Now we’re checking the Melody Amber games and results online. Later he looks up the opening of Kramnik-Shirov in a ChessBase file with exactly 16,729 variations. More on the Garrybase here.]
Ah, Anand beat Topalov today. 2-0! He’s inspired now! Topalov can’t recover from Linares, it seems. He used up all his luck in Linares! Against Adams he got a point and a half from two lost games. Adams played quite well in Linares, he tried hard. He beat Anand with black and was winning against Topalov with black and white.
If we played the tournament again I think I would score +4 again, but Topalov, I’m not so sure. But he deserved it, because he had plenty of energy and pushed to the last pawn and made his own luck. Now we see chess is compensating him for it in Monaco.
If you look at the tendencies in chess today, you see the positions that are being played. Slow Spanish games, lines where the machine can’t make such a difference. Either you have to work very hard like I did with the Najdorf, or you have to find safer lines. Very sharp lines are slipping out of the mainstream because people are getting scared. That’s due to computers and the limits of human memory. Nobody wants to be surprised at an early stage and lose a game to the superior analysis of their opponent. So the machines have a direct effect on our analysis, but also on the psychological choices of the players.
How will how you play in the future be different? What does it mean not to be a professional?
Competitive means to work hard, updating your repertoire, preparing for each game. You’re a professional, you play to win and can’t miss anything. Rapid chess for entertainment doesn’t require the same determination and involvement. Playing blitz on the internet doesn’t require any!
Did the match with Deep Blue change the perception of chess?
It was a sad day for chess. Scientifically speaking, the match was a fake. IBM produced no evidence that it wasn’t and the burden of evidence was with them. If I say there was human intervention they needed to prove with printouts or reproducing the moves to show that there wasn’t. Okay, I’m not asking for damages or anything, it’s about providing information. Without full printouts of all the games you can’t operate on a scientific basis.
Can I prove it? No. What I can prove is that Deep Junior and Deep Fritz do better in analyzing those games. I don’t have anything more than those six games against Deep Blue. But I can put those games into modern software. For instance, in game four against Deep Blue, according to them it didn’t see any danger of losing. Deep Junior shows I was winning. This is one of the examples that show today’s machines are much better. They are more sophisticated and offer better moves. Deep Junior and Deep Fritz do better than Deep Blue at every instance except where I suspected there was human intervention.
At the end of the day it’s not about me losing. I did what I could and I’m retiring as a happy man. Back in 1997 there was no interest in the media in pursuing the possibility of IBM cheating. Nowadays, after Enron and Worldcom, the perception of big corporations is different and things would probably have been different in the media. IBM had a powerful PR machine, they bought a lot of advertising. Maybe I’m paranoid, but there were some good claims about how IBM failed to provide evidence. You beat the best human player, fine, but now show the evidence. Show the process, the printouts, show the entire process, play a few more games. They failed to answer all the questions and at the final press conference they said they would release everything in due course and they never did it.
I say it’s a tragedy for chess because the game was marred by this image of the computer beating the best human player. While maybe it was a computer and maybe it wasn’t, nobody knows. “I say, they say” has no place in science. They had to provide evidence, not just PR. I’m still angry about it because chess suffered dramatically. No more corporations wanted to invest money into research. Three or four years later we have the small programs doing a good job.
The irony is that the matches with me and the computers, and Kramnik against Deep Fritz, those were real matches. You can trace those programs from the day of their birth. They have played thousands of games against other computers hundreds against humans, and you can see the changes from version one to version nine. With Deep Blue you have no information. It was like being in court and the prosecution says, “you are too stupid to understand the evidence.” I feel I was beaten by IBM, not by Deep Blue. They dismantled the machine, the program, everything. If you have something outstanding your share it, you don’t hide it. You apply for a Nobel Prize. Why didn’t they?
Did you ever talk to Joel Benjamin about it?
No, why? I think he lied on a number of occasions. But it’s not about talking to anyone, it’s about showing evidence. Show me the printouts of all the games, don’t tell me we can’t understand them or they are too complicated. We have enough scientists to figure it out. I don’t want to debate anyone.
I don’t feel that computers are better than the top humans today. I drew
those two matches [against Deep Fritz and Deep Junior], I failed to deliver,
but I was very close. I feel we are still capable of beating the machines. But
as I’ve often said, the experiment is whether or not the best human player
can beat the machine on his best day, that’s it. We don’t have to
play a long match. You can’t guarantee best performance on every day.
Under those conditions, the man versus machine experiment can continue for a
long time. The day when that can’t happen is a long way away. Machines
that are demonstrably better than Deep Blue are not yet superior to human players.
Will anyone else do what you have done in chess?
Ratings and even rating systems can change. It’s about staying at the top, being ahead of the rest. Chess is changing fast. I don’t know if anyone will be able to keep the top spot for more than five years. That would already be a great accomplishment.
How’s your physical condition at the end of your chess career?
My lowest weight in the past 20 years was probably 82 kg [180 lbs.] and the heaviest was maybe 87 kg. Now I’m about in the middle, so it really hasn’t changed much. I’m a little thicker in the shoulders because I started working out more in the 90’s. But overall in the last ten years there hasn’t been much fluctuation.
I’m getting back to my training regimen now, I’m going to spend more time on that. My best period was 99-2000, when I had phenomenal results in training. My personal best was 102 push-ups. Then it slipped, I didn’t spend the same amount of time. In the next six months I’m really going to improve dramatically, if not reach the same level as then.
Did you notice a difference in the way you played over the past 20 years?
You can’t stay on top unless you change. You have to adjust. It’s a natural process. You work a lot and you change. It’s not about concentration, it’s more that your head is being overloaded with other pieces of information and responsibilities. You have kids, you have businesses, you can’t fix your mind in one direction. There are always bits and pieces that are taking your mind from the target.
Would the Kasparov of today beat the Kasparov of ‘86?
Hard to tell! I would say my best year was ‘99-2000. “Kasparov ‘99” was probably the best player I have ever been. ‘99 was the highest quality I ever played. It’s not frustrating to me to leave this behind, not being the best anymore now that I’m not in chess. I’m not naïve, I know there is little chance I can achieve anything elsewhere at the level of what I achieved in chess.
Kasimdzhanov played great in Libya last year, but looked outclassed in Linares. What is the difference and how can a player like Bologan, rated around the same as Kasimdzhanov, suddenly win Dortmund ahead of Leko, Kramnik, and Anand?
I don’t know, but it’s interesting that prior to Dortmund Bologan spent two months working with me analyzing and playing blitz games as part of my preparation for my match with Ponomariov. Perhaps that had something to do with his confidence in Dortmund! I called him up, asked if he would be comfortable with that, because he used to work with Ponomariov. I told him he should call Ponomariov first to inform him. This was before the match that was scheduled for Argentina, in the spring of 2003. It couldn’t have hurt his performance in Dortmund.
But Bologan is more solid than Kasimdzhanov. He’s well grounded, had good coaches like Chebanenko, later Lanka and Dvoretsky. In fact, I wrote an introduction to Bologan’s book, which is coming out. It’s a nice, impressive book because this guy is a hard worker, he likes to analyze games. Many players don’t like to analyze, to work, these days. He’s searching for the truth and has a lot of positive qualities.
How does a player like him not become a top-10 player?
They have great qualities, but if there is something missing it doesn’t work. Maybe confidence, maybe stability or character issues. There are always gaps that prevent people from going further. But these guys are good for making a big show sometimes. Look at Kasimdzhanov, winning Libya and not by accident. Surviving against Ivanchuk, Topalov, Grischuk, Adams, incredible! Bologan is different perhaps because he knows the strength of the top players, he has worked with a lot of the top guys like Kramnik and me.
Will there ever be another “total” player of the type produced by the USSR systems?
All the components still exist and they can be reconstructed easily. Look at the success of the US women’s team last year. Michael Khodarkovsky reconstructed the conditions of the USSR training. He built up a Soviet system, and look who worked with the team: Kaidanov, Gulko, Novikov, Stripunsky, Chernin... old school. If money is available to support these conditions it can be done. If the money is there to support Carlsen, for example, it could happen.
Mig Greengard gets some cake with the interview.
Have we seen the best chess we will ever see already? Forget adjournments, which artificially inflated the quality of endgames, but with the faster controls and less emphasis on quality, is it all downhill from here?
Well, I’m probably biased, but I think we have seen the best already. The time controls and emphasis on the sporting element are lowering the quality. The sport element now dominates the art and science elements of chess. I think we saw the best quality of chess in the 80’s and 90’s.
In terms of matches, I think my matches with Karpov had the highest quality, or not exactly quality… the biggest impact on the game of chess. Quality you can argue, but there were amazing games played by both of us. By impact I mean pushing the game ahead. The Kasparov-Karpov matches, and I will argue this in My Great Predecessors Volume VI, were the foundations of modern chess. All these players grew up on these matches, that’s how the framework of modern chess was created.
The word “karkas” in Russian makes a good joke about this. It means something like the internal structure of a building, the frame. Once Roshal said that “Karpov and Kasparov are the “karkas” of the Russian team. “Kar-pov” and “Kas-parov,” “Kar-Kas.” I think that these matches were the “karkas” of modern chess. It pushed it up a level, to many new levels.
Today, the conditions for training can be reproduced. There are may players and trainers from that school still around. One of the projects of the Kasparov Chess Foundation is to work with young American player in this way. If we have the finances we can ignite this process here, restoring a Botvinnik/Kasparov school. It can be done anywhere in the world. The talent is there, and computers can help. But it’s about someone showing an interest.
But in the US you don’t have much of a career path for a chess professional. You have to go to school and get a job unless you’re good enough to make a living at it very young.
You have to look even beyond Nakamura for this, it’s a new era. I don’t want to upset my colleagues, my older colleagues, but I think the future of chess comes with these teenagers, not the players currently at the top. Nakamura, Carlsen, Karjakin. It’s not just changing politics or changing FIDE. It’s changing the philosophy of the chess elite. It was dominated for too long by Soviet thoughts. “Oh, we are professionals but we aren’t really. We just move the pieces and don’t worry about any obligations.” There was no solidarity or shared responsibility for the game.
Now I’m in a good position. They criticized me for being an activist, now I can criticize them without being part of the debate! There is a general apathy of the top players for the game. They were all busy watching me, what I was doing, and their horizon was covered up by this, this rock. Now it’s gone, the sky is clear, so let’s see what they can do. Do it yourself! They’ve been talking big, now we’ll see.
Look at the ACP, what have they done? The PCA was money first and successful by any standard until it was killed by brutal attacks from all sides. Now they have this ACP tour with no conditions, no nothing. I believe we need sweeping changes, young players and new faces with new attitudes, players who are real professionals.
Take those three names: Nakamura, Carlsen, Karjakin. I hope those three can start a new era. They have energy and passion and come from different, important areas of the chess world.
You mentioned before that you might be working on setting up training for Carlsen.
Yeah, we might work with him. This is part of the Kasparov Chess Academy that we have here and in Russia. I’m happy to work and to share my experience because I want to promote chess. I’m ready to mobilize people here and in Russia if there is support for them. If the Norwegians support Carlsen I’m happy to work with him. We have a lot of experience, and a good database! And I want to invest all this into the future of chess.
You need a combined change, on the players’ side and the organization side. FIDE in its current form is definitely not capable of solving the problem. And the leading players have a long record of abandoning the game of chess. You need different people in FIDE and a different type of professional organization, not just a bunch of Kramnik’s friends. And you need some new faces, like the three we already discussed. I see my job as trying to promote this and make sure interest in chess doesn’t disappear.
Parts 2 and 3 will appear in the coming days.
Some photos by Polina Kasparova and Dasha Tarasova