Garry Kasparov's 55th birthday

by André Schulz
4/13/2018 – The 13th of April is "Kasparov-day". Today, 55 years ago, arguably the best player in chess history was born and since then has shaped the history of chess like no other player — not only on the board! Andre Schulz briefly traces Kasparov's history from his first international moves, through the peak of his career in 1999, his life in politics (both in and out of the chess world) and on to his recent advocacy work. | Photo: Kasparov.com

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For Kasparov, 13 is lucky, even on a Friday

In addition to Bobby Fischer, Garry Kasparov is the chess player "anyone" — even if he has nothing to do with chess — can name. Over time, the chess world became too small for Kasparov and he made a name for himself in the field of political activism. But even after the end of his active chess career as a tournament player, he remained true to the chess in many areas. As a chess ambassador, fundraiser, organiser, he continues to exert a strong influence on the sport.

Young Kasparov

Kasparov ascended to the top of the world like a rocket, which was particularly surprising for the chess friends who lived on this side of the "Iron Curtain". (For the younger readers: News from the "Eastern bloc", the countries that were under Soviet influence after the Second World War, dripped at that time as a trickle in the "West.") The pace of chess news — like anything else was remarkably slower than it is today. This was a world without the internet. The semiannual "Chess Informant" was an important source of information for games, not for news. Most chess magazines appeared monthly.

Suddenly a new name appeared: Kasparov! His talent had developed within the Soviet Union and rumours swirled of a dawning superstar. In 1979, at age 16, Kasparov was allowed to play his first adult tournament abroad, in April of that year in Banja Luka, where he won the tourname nt, leaving behind such prominent players as Jan Smejkal, Ulf Andersson, Tigran Petrosian and Andras Adorjan. The boy did not only win, but he did so with two solid points margin. In July 1979, FIDE published a supplementary list to their Elo list from January 1979. Kasparov landed with his first Elo rating ever at 2545 and on rank 40 of the world ranking. Today this would be around 2700. In January 1979, Anatoly Karpov led the world rankings, as the only player over 2700, with exactly 2705. Viktor Korchnoi was second at 2695. Behind him, there was already a gap: Portisch with 2640 was third.

On the way to the World Championship

Banja Luka was a grand entrance, and it went on like this. In January 1980, Kasparov was already appointed to the Soviet national team and played at the European Championships in Skara, Sweden. The first board was Karpov, who lost against Tony Miles in the first round match against England, a famous game in which Miles met 1.e4 with 1 ... a6. After this defeat, Karpov managed only draws in Skara. The 17-year-old Kasparov (at that time his first name was transcribed as "Harry"!) scored 5½:½, and, despite only mediocre form of some other Soviet players, the USSR again won gold.

In March 1980, Kasparov then won a strong tournament in Baku. And in August of the year he became World Junior Champion in Dortmund, with 10½ from 13 and 1½ points ahead of the second place finished, Nigel Short. Of course, 13 years later, both met again for a World Championship match in London.

In November 1980, Kasparov also belonged to the victorious USSR team at the Chess Olympiad in Malta and was again the best player on the team with 9½ out of 12.

After winning the World Junior Champion title, Kasparov set course for the overall world title. Anyone interested in the details will find rich reading in Kasparov's early books "The Test of Time" (1986) and, above all, "Child of Change" (1987). Not everything he wrote in those days would he would repeat today again. "I was young", he once explained in reference to his older books.

In 1984, Kasparov met Anatoly Karpov to challenger for the World Championship thanks in part to support from the Azeri Politburo member Geidar A. Aliyev, who went on to become the President of an independent Azerbaijan a decade later. Kasparov was young and strong, but Karpov was not that easy to drive from the throne. In fact, the two best chess players on the planet battle for supremacy from 1984 to 1990 over a total of five World Championship matches and 144 games. In the end, Kasparov had a slight lead of 21:19 victories. Kasparov fought eagerly away from the board as well, working the media more than Karpov.

Kasparov 1985

Kasparov is World Champion | Photo: Kasparov.com

At when the first match of 1984/85 Kasparov was suspended, Kasparov blamed the World Chess Federation and its then-President Florencio Campomanes. From this point on, Kasparov cultivated hostility towards Campomanes and FIDE and became increasingly involved in chess politics. Soon after becoming World Champion in 1985, Kasparov was involved in founding the GMA (Grandmaster Association), which organized chess tournaments in competition with FIDE. In 1993, the dispute with FIDE led to the withdrawal of Kasparov and Short from the FIDE World Championship cycle. In retrospect, Kasparov assessed this decision very critically: "The biggest mistake of my life," he once called it, in an interview. Kasparov and Short founded and their allies founded the PCA (Professional Chess Association), which managed to organize a complete World Championship cycle in 1994/95 with the money of the sponsorship from computer chipmaker Intel.

Retirement from professional chess

In 2000 Kasparov lost his title after 15 years and five successful title defences to his onetime protégé Vladimir Kramnik. Kasparov's attempts to arrange a rematch failed, and in 2005 he announced his retirement from chess after a tournament in Linares. At that time, Kasparov was still number one in the FIDE world ranking list — a position he held for 20 years — with an Elo of 2812. Kasparov had already surpassed Karpov with 2715 as far back as January 1985. In July 1999, he had reached his personal peak of 2851. That record lasted for 15 years later until, in May 2014, Magnus Carlsen hit 2882. However, if you measure the distance between Kasparov and Carlsen to the remaining top players Kasparov's dominance in his day is far more pronounced.

In addition to tournament chess Kasparov has extensively operated as a chess populariser. His five-volume work "My Great Predecessors" provides a detailed overview of the history of the best chess players. In "How Life Imitates Chess" (2007) he builds a bridge from decisions at the chessboard adopting the best strategies in life. Most recently in "Deep Thinking" (2017), Kasparov writes about the development of computer chess, drawing from his own experience. Kasparov played a number of competitions against chess programs and computers, most famously his defeat versus Deep Blue in 1997, which made headlines worldwide. Kasparov was also involved in the early stages of the development of the computer as a training tool, as one of the first to use the ChessBase program in the late 1980s in its DOS versions. He was one of the first to recognize the possibilities of computer-based game preparation. 

Kasparov in Hamburg

Kasparov at ChessBase in Hamburg | Photo: Frederic Friedel

Long before his retirement from professional chess Kasparov had begun to engage in Russian politics. In 1990 he was vice president of the "Democratic Party" for a year, but then resigned. In 1993 he co-founded the "Choice of Russia" coalition. Already in the late 1990s, he began writing as a political columnist on the events in Russia in contributions to US magazines such as the Wall Street Journal.

In 2004, Kasparov and friends formed the "Committee 2008", which campaigned for free elections in Russia, also the "United Front" and joined the party alliance "The Other Russia". During his public appearances, Kasparov was regularly attacked. In 2005, someone hit him over his head with a chessboard. On another occasions, the authorities prevented his arrival to an event or he was pelted with tomatoes.

In 2007, Kasparov was arrested twice during demonstrations. In April 2007, he was released after paying a fine. In November 2007, the police detained him in Moscow for five days during an unauthorized protest march. One of his visitors in jail was Anatoly Karpov. In 2012, Kasparov was arrested again in a demonstration. Finally, in February 2013 Kasparov left Russia and has not returned for fear of his safety. Several opposition politicians had been killed. In 2014, Kasparov was granted Croatian citizenship, and he spends most of the time in the US where he continues his activism against the policies of the Russian government under Vladimir Putin. 

Chess ambassador

Kasparov's involvement in chess politics has also continued in retirement. In 2010 he supported his former opponent Anatoly Karpov in as a candidate for FIDE president. In 2014, Kasparov himself stepped into the ring in Tromso, Norway, attempting to unseat Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, also without success. With the Kasparov Chess Foundation, which has been expanding worldwide, he has focused on youth development and the popularization of chess, especially in developing countries. 

Kasparov at scholastic tournament

Ambassador Kasparov | Photo: Kasparov.com

As a chess ambassador, in 2011 Kasparov campaigned for chess as a school subject in front of the EU Parliament. As an organiser, he is involved in the "Grand Chess Tour" series of tournaments, where the world's best players fight throughout the year. That has led Kasparov back to the chessboard himself. Last year he was persuaded to participate as a "wild card" in the in St. Louis rapid and blitz chess tournament. Although he is no longer at the top of his game, he showed that he can still compete with the best.

Today, he celebrates his 55th birthday. Congratulations! 

Translation from German: Macauley Peterson

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André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.
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calvinamari calvinamari 4/14/2018 03:51
Many happy returns, Gary, and thanks for your amazing contributions.
fons3 fons3 4/14/2018 04:31
Godwin's law for chess: "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Fischer approaches 1".
fixpont fixpont 4/14/2018 03:25
Kasparov will always be the best pre-computers era chess player, and Magnus is best of our time. I think it is impossible to compare players who grew up with computers to players who didn't, and not even fair.
Claudioarrau Claudioarrau 4/14/2018 02:51
Only a match between Fischer and Kasparov at the peaks could decide who was greater - an impossible hypothetical.

Let's just be grateful we had them both.
jaberwocky jaberwocky 4/14/2018 02:02
Top competitive chess is mainly for relatively young players. Garry Kasparov has taken up other activities; that's good for him and useful to others.
SambalOelek SambalOelek 4/13/2018 11:56
a must read for the chess lovers..
the best chess player is the one who doesn't go mad!
https://gratiaetnatura.wordpress.com/2013/01/04/chess-and-mental-illness/
amarpan amarpan 4/13/2018 11:52
Kasparov may have had a more illustrious career than Fischer, but at the peak of their performance levels who was the greater player? I think Fischer wins hands down. Unlike Kasparov, Fischer achieved this level without access to the Soviet infrastructure. Kasparov's head to head record with Karpov was almost even. With a bit of luck, Karpov would have prevailed in certain world champion matches. Its a little unlikely that Kasparov would have won another world champion after losing to Kramnik.
Ajeeb007 Ajeeb007 4/13/2018 11:36
Kasparov was a great player, however you measure it. He played the best chess too - dynamic. There's no one today who comes close to him. Fischer was not so great because he was afraid to defend his title and let fear of losing destroy his career. He tried to ride the rest of his life on his laurels. Paul Morphy was the greatest ever though. He dominated everyone by a wide margin and, unlike with Kasparov, preparation didn't play a major role in his dominance. He played dynamic chess too. Pure ability/talent.
SambalOelek SambalOelek 4/13/2018 11:17
Kasparov was a great chess player, but Karpov in my mind has a much more stable, calm and humble character , less attention grabbing personality then Kasparov.
my 2 cents
Notwithstanding my opinion, wishing a good day to Kasparov, and really supporting his choice to leave Russia!
Denix Denix 4/13/2018 11:02
Happy Birthday!

In 2014, Kasparov was granted Croatian citizenship - this is something new to me.
michaelriber michaelriber 4/13/2018 10:00
Put it this way: Bobby Fischer was the biggest talent but his mental problems marred what could have been an even greater career. Kasparov actually made the most of it and has had the most illustrious career of all.

Congratulations Garry - one can only have heaps of respect for both your achievements over the board and you activism away from it.
Chess Gator Chess Gator 4/13/2018 08:33
Garry you retired from Chess to soon!!
SeniorPatzer SeniorPatzer 4/13/2018 07:36
Happy 55th Birthday Garry!!

I wrote a post about how I had to change my longstanding belief that Bobby Fischer was the greatest over to you being the greatest chess player of all time!

https://www.chess.com/forum/view/chess-players/dang-it-long-time-for-fischer-kasparov-but-now-admit-magnus-might-be-best
renzogm renzogm 4/13/2018 07:26
The biggest!
amarpan amarpan 4/13/2018 06:28
At the end of the day, Kasparov was part of the Soviet school. Before the advent of computers in chess a player from the Soviet Union had a mighty advantage. This is because the USSR promoted chess in a big way. Players from former Soviet republics and even eastern Europe continue to benefit from the this till this day, however with computers playing a more prominent role, and the end of USSR this is less so. Fischer was one player who overcame this deficit and managed to reach the top. Others such as Jan Timman, Vishy Anand and Nigel Short may fall into the list as well. As a result I will always consider Bobby Fischer as the greatest ever.
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