Garry Kasparov: he's back and he's – teaching!

6/24/2008 – What brings a dozen young and talented chess kids to a skyscraper somewhere in the middle of Manhattan in New York City, on a pre-summer weekend in June? Why would those same kids completely take over the richly decorated, large conference room on a top floor, belonging to a successful financial company? To learn chess from the greatest, that's why. Report by Aviv Friedman.

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Kasparov’s Master Class

Report from New York by Aviv Friedman

No, this is no hostile takeover, nor a childhood prank. They were all invitees to a prestigious opportunity to have a class with none other than former world champ and (still) top ranked on the Elo list Garry Kasparov.


Garry Kasparov looking through the games of his students

In a tradition that entered its fourth year, the Kasparov Chess Foundation and its president Michael Khodarkovsky organized this unique opportunity for American leading juniors to meet with and learn from the champ. The format for the session was reminiscent of the Botvinnik school, where the students sit with the Grandmaster to see games, share ideas, and brainstorm over chess. Here each student brought four of his or her games, and Kasparov went over them in front of the whole class. The master computer was projected onto the main large screen up front, and there were smaller monitors for the kids to see from close. There were two full days – 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with a break for lunch. And there was plenty of material to benefit from.


The games are discussed with the players

The atmosphere was one of the keys to the success of the program. I can think of many journalists, top players and other chess personas who would be jaw dropped and rubbing their eyes, had they seen it for themselves! Everyone is so used to seeing Garry under close scrutiny and pressure in a demanding match against a human or a machine, or in one of the world’s top chess events. And here? Dressed in casual attire, and most relaxed, sitting and exchanging information at eye-level with the youngsters.


The students enjoy eye-level interaction with the greatest chess player of all time

His teaching style is enviable: he combines his vast knowledge and unmatched understanding and experience (and memory!) with a healthy sense of humor, and zero ego. And let's make no mistake: it is not every day that one gets to spend such quality time with a legend of one’s hobby – even less so up close and personal, like this class has been.

The ‘youngins’ included among others the US’s youngest IM, Ray Robson, our current gold medalist and world champion under 12 Daniel Naroditsky, and Alisa Melekhina, top girl under age 18, and who recently scored a hat-trick of norms (WIM, WGM, and IM) in her first closed event. They were very appreciative and grateful for being there.


In the relaxation phase the kids try their hand at aeronautics


The boys comparing strength, physical, not chess, as boys will do

Speaking to some of them to gather what they thought they have gained from the experience, the most common answer was their admiration to Garry’s methodical and serious approach to every phase of the game. Opening preparation, deep and wide knowledge of prior games in all structures, calculating tactics, and above all a continuous correct assessment of the position. They all realized that no matter the talent, hard work must follow to improve further. Perhaps this is best summed at the moment when during a long line of analysis, where the champ once again saw just a bit further than his students, one of the kids muttered: “How do you see these things so quickly?!” When the laughter subsided, a smiling Kasparov simply said: “Instinct.”

In between sessions, Kasparov kindly autographed books he authored that the kids brought with them, as well as photos their parents took of the class. No wonder they all left feeling high and inspired!


Posing with some of the kids: Andrew Ng, Alex Ostrovskiy, Alena Kats, The Champ, Victor Shen, Warren Harper, Ray Robson


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