Anjelina on Kasparov vs Deep Blue

by Frederic Friedel
5/17/2019 – 22 years ago Garry Kasparov played an ill-fated match against Deep Blue. There were many interesting visitors at the event in New York, amongst them a young Women's Grandmaster who, in an interview, said: "I don't think it's my place to criticize a World Champion, but ...". She went on to give a frank opinion of Kasparov's strategy. Today Anjelina Belakovskaia, who is doing remarkable work for American chess (and finance), turns fifty. FREDERIC FRIEDEL looks back at his first encounter with her, and the early days of ChessBase Magazine.

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It was one of the most spectacular chess events in history, the revenge match between Garry Kasparov and the IBM super-computer Deep Blue, played out in New York at the beginning of May 1997. I was part of the Kasparov team and spent over two weeks in Manhattan. During that time I wrote daily reports, both for "Club Kasparov", which was part of the IBM website, and our own I returned home with over six hours of video material, which I used to produce a multimedia report for ChessBase Magazine Vol. 58. It included footage of the many interesting personalities I met. One of them became a long-term friend who turns fifty today (tempus fugit!). Before I tell you about the first encounter, and show you video thereof, let me explain the technical situation at the time.

ChessBase Magazine at 320 x 240 pixels

For my report on ChessBase Magazine there was a problem. How do you condense a reasonable amount of the video footage onto one CBM CD? For many top players who were not born at the time, let me explain: the "Compact Disc" was a digital optical data format that was originally developed to store and play only sound files (CD-DA). Later it was adapted for general data (CD-ROM).

The standard data CD was identical in size to the DVDs we use today, but could only hold 700 MB of information. Having decided to go for high quality I found myself getting a little less than three seconds of video per megabyte. This meant that I would be able to fit just about 30 minutes of multimedia on the disk. That was not acceptable. Much of the material was of documentary interest, and it would have been a shame to cut it down drastically for lack of space. Naturally I could supply a lot of the spoken commentary in the form of audio files, where you could get about 45 seconds to the megabyte (in good stereo quality). I made a number of such files for the report, some overlaid with a still picture of the person talking. But there were also parts where the picture was useful or even essential. Garry in animated discourse, telling us about key positions in a game – you really had to see that in video. So I resorted to a compromise:

Our normal video format consisted of frames that were 320 x 240 pixels in size. I made extensive use of this format in my report, but in some cases I reduced the size in order to be able to include longer sequences. The alternate format was 132 x 99 pixels, which got me about three times more per megabyte of storage space. The images were smaller but at the same time quite sharp. It also reduced the transfer rate from the CD from about 360 kB per second (for full size) to 110 kB per second. The former was sometimes a problem on slower computers or CD drives at the time, the latter would run on practically any system without any dropouts or jitter.

I used the smaller format only in cases where the focus is on the spoken word. Usually it is a talking head. I always tried to include at least one introductory sequence in full size. In the en I had a total of one and a quarter hours of multimedia on the ChessBase Magazine 58 CD. "Do not try to watch all of it at once," I wrote at the time. "It will make you meschugga (if you know what I mean)."

Anjelina in New York

One memorable New York encounter was with a young lady named Anjelina Belakovskaia (or Анжелина Белаковская, as it said on her card). She was a bright, vivacious personality, and I was thrilled to learn that she was a WGM and the current US women's champion (she later went on to win the title two more times). So out came my camera and I did an interview with her. On the left is, for historical reasons, the video in its original size, as published in CBM 58, back in 1997. You can click here to follow it in standard YouTube size.

In this interview Anjelina gave me her take on Kasparov's play after game two.

"My name is Anjelina Belakovskaia and I am a professional chess player, an International Woman Grandmaster and the current United States Women's Champion. I don't really think I am able to criticize World Champion Garry Kasparov, but I don't really like his strategy in the opening, how he plays against the computer. Because he tries to show us that you cannot play real chess against the computer, you have to play very safe, very positional style. Maybe I agree you have to play more positional than tactical, but I don't think you cannot start games with regular moves, e4 or d4, and play just regular variants from openings theory. The computer plays very aggressively, played g5 and g4 and f5, and all grandmaster think it was a big mistake – the computer opened it king. It's true, but I really like the style of the computer. The computer plays interesting..."

This interview was conducted after game four, which ended in a draw. Anjelina says:

"I can tell you that I really liked today's strategy of Garry Kasparov in the game. I think he did exactly what he should do against the computer. He started with the black pieces, but he did not follow the strategy of the second game, and he did not go to the main theoretical line. He just confused the computer with switches from Caro Kann to Pirc and later to the French Defence, without the bishop on c8, which usually is part of the French Defence. And finally he got a position in which I was able to see that he was very confident and it was the kind of position he likes to play. He made a very unusual move like f6, and after pawn takes f6 queen takes f6. At some point I decided that Garry will win this game – somewhere in the middlegame it was clear for me that he has the advantage, he has a position he likes to play, and he knows how to play."

These were interesting discussions, and I invited Anjelina to a dinner with the Kasparov delegation and some dignitaries. She saw that she would be sitting next to a person she did not know, Garry's second Yury Dokhoian. On her way to her seat she asked me "Who is he?" and I told her Yury was Garry's cook. During the meal when she discovered the truth I got a fist shaking across the table. There were other fun incidents during the match, which made me seek her company during a very tense and traumatic time.

Coming to the US

After the match I shacked up with Ken and Bonnie Thompson in Watchung, New Jersey. Anjelina came to visit – and brought with her the richest cake I have ever eaten. In fact I took half of it back to Hamburg when I left. During the visit Anjelina told us the story of her move to the US, and Ken called me a fool for not having recorded it. I have to simply try reconstructing what she told us, over twenty years ago. I am using material from different articles she has published to jog my memory. Also this publication in the New York University Alumni Magazine, which is in cartoon form (click to enlarge):

Anjelina grew up in Odessa, Ukraine. When she was six she learned to play chess, from her mother. At nine she was a reserve in the Soviet Olympic team, and soon had a budding chess career – World Champion among Students (USSR Team), Woman International Master, Ukraine Women Chess Champion and USSR Champion among Young Masters. At 21 she won $900 in a match and considered using it to buy a car. But at the urging of her father she decided to travel to the World Open in Philadelphia instead. However Communist regulations only allowed her to take $100 in cash with her. When she was in the US she called her parents and told them, in coded words (in case the KGB was listening) that she wanted to stay in America.

Unfortunately Anjelina spoke only about six words of English at the time. She got a job slicing watermelons at the street fairs, making coffee and cappuccino at the Italian bar, etc., all in order to support her participation in chess tournaments (American organizers did not recognize WGMs as similar to GMs and required them to pay entry fees at tournaments. It was quite rough for the girl – until one day she discovered chess hustlers playing for money in Washington Square Park. She joind in and won $35. "I was rich!" she told us, "I knew I could live well on this kind of income." Unfortunately the hustlers soon stopped accepting her challenges and her source of income dried up. She had to take up odd jobs, like painting the room of a community center on Brighton Beach (Coney Island), before she started her first chess club there.

However, survive she did, and started to thrive. In 1999 she became a naturalized US citizen and began graduate work at New York University, earning a Master's degree in Mathematics in Finance. After that she started work as a derivative trader in Tulsa, Oklahoma, becoming the head of the Weather Derivatives desk at Williams EM&T. She was recognized as Best Female Employee for her contribution to the Company’s success. Since 2011 Anjelina has taught finance classes at the Eller College of Management at The University of Arizona, becoming a member of the American Meteorological Society and an Honors professor, teaching the "Chess, Leadership and Business Strategy" course at UA Honors College. She is also a real estate agent who has offered me, on multiple occasions, some prime estate if I ever decide to move to the US.

In 2003 Anjelina married Lawrence Berstein and the couple now live in Tuscon, Arizona, with their three children, Brian, Connor and Ariela. All love chess: Brian made it to the Top 100 when he was seven, Connor was very close a few years ago, and Ariela was also in the Top 100 category for girls when she was eight or so.

Anyway: Happy Birthday Anjelina, have a long and successful life.


Visit the Belakovskaia Chess Academy, a unique fast-learning chess program for children in the Southwest US.

Or follow her on the Academy Facebook page, which has lots of inspiring pictures of young chess players.

Facebook: Anjelina Belakovskaia US Chess Executive Board

Editor-in-Chief emeritus of the ChessBase News page. Studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford, graduating with a thesis on speech act theory and moral language. He started a university career but switched to science journalism, producing documentaries for German TV. In 1986 he co-founded ChessBase.


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