Kasparov – a chess legend visits Jamaica

4/26/2014 – As you probably know Garry Kasparov is running for FIDE President, and in this capacity touring the globe. Early in April he visited Jamaica, accepting an invitation by JCF President Ian G. Wilkinson, who considered it a miracle that the former World Champion actually came. The visit was not just a campaign trip – Kasparov used the opportunity to get to know the Caribbean chess scene. Big pictorial report.

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Garry Kasparov: Miracles Do Happen!

By Ian Wilkinson

It was close to 11 pm local time on an April Friday when the celebrated 13th World Chess Champion, grandmaster Garry Kimovich Kasparov exited immigration at the Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston, Jamaica – the land of wood and water – and greeted Lisa Lewis (the Chairperson of Digicel Foundation of Jamaica) and myself.

The Kasparov private campaign jet: it's the big one in the middle!

Although there had been rumours that he would be visiting Jamaica courtesy of telecommunications giants, Digicel, Garry's arrival was still a pleasant surprise, and members of the local chess community were delighted when the private jet in which he travelled touched down on Jamaican soil, home to legends such as Marcus Garvey, Bob Marley and Usain Bolt.

Unlike others elsewhere, we decided that chess politics had to be put aside, protocol dictating that we welcome with open arms one of Caissa's most glorious sons; one who had touched the lives of so many persons over the past thirty years, giving so much pleasure and leaving such a rich legacy via his games and colourful history.

Kasparov and I had spoken briefly in Tallinn, Estonia last year on the occasion of the FIDE Congress and I had invited him to visit Jamaica. His response then was non-committal. Apparently, he remembered this conversation when he told me at the airport on emerging from immigration with briefcase in hand: "I am here; miracles do happen!"

Before he checked into his hotel Kasparov, accompanied by his trusted aide-de-camp Mig Greengard, and the distinctive figure of Spanish journalist Leontxo Garcia, was interviewed by Jamaican paparazzi Richard O' Sullivan and dreadlocked National Master Malaku Lorne, who had pursued him like Jason hunting the golden fleece! He spoke briefly and also shrewdly side-stepped Lorne's attempt to engage in a blitz battle!

NM Malaku Lorne interviewing Kasparov at the Terra Nova Hotel in Kingston, Jamaica

Video of the interview with Malaku Lorne – Kasparov rejects a challenge to a blitz gameer

A whirlwind tour

Saturday heralded a frenetic day for Garry as his whirlwind tour began in earnest. The day commenced with a breakfast attended by Digicel executives led by Barry O'Brien, the CEO of Digicel Jamaica. An interesting discussion ensued involving, inter alia, chess and world politics. We also discussed the growth, or lack thereof, of chess in various regions of the world.

After breakfast Garry, with Lisa as his "tour guide", then visited the headquarters of his hosts, Digicel Jamaica, in downtown Kingston at the scenic waterfront, bearing testimony to Jamaica having one of the top ten natural harbours in the world.

Garry addressing Digicel executives Barry O'Brien ( blue shirt), CEO of Digicel (Jamaica)
and Gareth Forbes, Digicel's lawyer (right) at breakfast. Luke, Barry's son, is on the left.

Lisa Lewis, Chairperson Digicel Foundation (Jamaica)

Michael "Mig" Greengard, Kasparov's  Aide-de-camp and, on this trip, chief photograph

Kasparov then headed to the Magnificent Chess Foundation ("MagChess") in the heart of the city. His tour of the facility, unique in the English-speaking Caribbean, saw him ...

... viewing the Maurice Ashley Room (a computer lab and seminar room)

"Aaaahhhh I see my books: My Great Predecessors'" – Kasparov and
Ian Wilkinson QC, President of the Jamaica Chess Federation, at MagChess

Zhe Champions' Room, the chief seminar room with pictures of all the world champions

Several of Kasparov's pictures were on display in addition to those of "unofficial" champions such as Francois Philidor and Paul Morphy. Kasparov had a lot of fun during this stop and showed a lighter side to his personality, laughing quite a bit. He signed autographs and took many photographs including several under a large photograph of himself (in the middle of the above picture), which he recalled was taken in 1997. He remembered this based on the watch he had on in the picture!

An interesting thing occurred before Garry's photo shoot under his large picture. At MagChess various types of memorabilia, including posters and shirts from Chess Olympiads, are mounted. Hanging on the wall immediately below the large photograph of Kasparov was a white shirt with a picture of FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and the words "FIDE with Kirsan and Kirsan with FIDE!" Aware of Garry's campaign for the FIDE presidency, everyone had a good laugh before the shirt was removed to facilitate the taking of photographs underneath the big picture!

Kasparov: "Why I should be president"

We discussed his bid for the presidency of FIDE and I asked him to give compelling reasons to justify replacing the incumbent Kirsan Ilyumzhinov with whom Jamaica has enjoyed an excellent relationship over the years. He listed the following problems with the current administration:

  • FIDE stagnating due to corruption and inefficiency;
  • under-development of many countries and lack of support from FIDE, especially in Africa and Asia;
  • FIDE's low budget and its failure to attract significant corporate sponsorship;
  • FIDE charging the various federations fees, etc. when it should be supplying them with resources and all the help possible;
  • the president's negative image due, inter alia, to his association with Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, Bashar Al-Assad and aliens!

Kasparov argues that if he is elected president of FIDE things would improve significantly as, among other things, he has fresh ideas and would bring energy and breathe new life into FIDE; attract sponsorship from the corporate world; develop chess in the neglected continents and use his profile to improve what he maintains is FIDE's badly damaged image.

Kasparov's best chess game, his best match, his opinion

Garry then gave a press conference answering many questions from the various media houses (including TVJ, one of the leading television stations in Jamaica) addressing questions ranging from his chances in the upcoming elections for the FIDE presidency (he thought he had good chances and had made inroads especially in Africa and Asia); the best game he ever played (he chose the pivotal 24th game against Anatoly Karpov in their 1985 match in Moscow, ahead of his win over Veselin Topalov at Wijk Aan Zee, 1999); Russian President Vladimir Putin (he viewed him as a dictator who is seeking justification); and the situation with the Ukraine (he believed the annexation of Crimea is similar to Hitler's annexation of Austria – the Anschluss – in the 1930s).

Interestingly, Garry and I had a discussion as to which match was his best. I argued that in my humble view his very first match against Karpov in 1984 ("adjourned" after 48 games) was his best as, although inexperienced, the indefatigable spirit he displayed (particularly after going 0-5 down) was a harbinger of things to come. He agreed that the 1984 match showed his fighting spirit but disagreed with it being his best. He preferred his 1986 re-match against Karpov (London-Leningrad) due particularly to the quality of the games.

Garry and members of the MagChess coaching staff - Kevron, Daren, Howien and Maurice

Against the author, Garry also had fun playing his only game in Jamaica. He marvelled that I had learnt the moves at 34 years old saying that he had never encountered this before! I thought that just a few moves would have been made before some pictures were taken for posterity. Interestingly, with the white pieces in a clock-less blitz Trompowsky, "the beast from Baku" continued to play on, to my pleasant surprise and to the delight of the onlookers. A draw was agreed after 14 moves and a post-game analysis ensued! The spectators laughed a lot at my unsuccessful attempts during the game to distract Kasparov with "trash talking", saying such things as "People, do you see him sweating?" and "Watch out Garry you are going to be mated in 36 moves!"

Conducting a symphony and speaking to the pieces before combat!

An impromptu game which turned serious – "look out for mate in 36 moves!"

This was my first over-the-board game in many weeks and I thoroughly enjoyed the occasion. What I found instructive was that although the game was just an off-hand one, it was obvious that after a few moves Kasparov had started to consider the encounter seriously. He did not quickly make "normal" moves but considered his moves carefully. For example, after I played 10…Na5 instead of exchanging bishops on b7 immediately he thought about it for a while before playing 11.Bxb7. I could see the cogs and wheels turning in his head as he considered the various positions that arose. This concentrated approach in such an informal setting gives an insight into his competitive character and reveals why his adversaries over the years had such a tough time against him. After dinner later the same day, Kasparov reproduced the game from memory, confirming my earlier recording done after he had left MagChess. For what it is worth, I have produced the game for this report with some brief notes.

[Event "Friendly Game, Mag Chess, Jamaica"] [Site "?"] [Date "2014.04.05"] [Round "?"] [White "GM Garry Kasparov"] [Black "Ian Wilkinson"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A45"] [Annotator "Wilkinson, I"] [PlyCount "28"] [EventDate "2014.??.??"] [SourceDate "2014.04.06"] 1. d4 $146 {Not 1.e4 ? Okaay...} Nf6 {I smiled at the thought of playing the King's Indian Defence against one of the greatest-ever exponents of that opening! I banished the thought, however, as I thought we would have made probably two, three moves at the most before bringing the clockless "game" to an end.} 2. Bg5 {The Trompowsky, an opening often championed by my former coach John Tobisch as a "chill out" opening. Kasparov told me that he often chose this opening "in simuls". I was disappointed that I would not get a chance to play the "KID".} h6 {Later in the evening DIGICEL hosted a dinner attended by a number of special guests including the Minister of Education the Hon. Rev. Ronald Thwaites and Barry O'brien, the CEO of DIGICEL (Jamaica). After we had been sated (in one form!) Garry and I went over the game and he wrote out the moves, confirming my own recollection of our "encounter". He gave my second move "?!" as he said that "White is going to capture on f6 anyway". I have faced the Trompowsky successfully before and essayed 2...e6. A very popular move is 2... Ne4!? which Garry himself played against John Van der Wiel, en route to winning in 22 moves in round 11 of the 1982 Moscow Interzonal. In another of his earlier games, Garry chose another path with 2... d6!? and drew in 28 moves against Alfonso Romero Holmes during a simultaneous exhibition in Barcelona, Spain. Interestingly, GM Romero visited Jamaica in 2009 and won the inaugural Magnificent Chess Foundation Masters tournament that year.} 3. Bxf6 exf6 4. e3 Bd6 $5 {This is a strange-looking move as the king's bishop blocks the d7-pawn. If truth be told it was actually a "finger fehler" as I had planned to play d5 first which Kasparov later said was preferable. This is what happens when one does not play chess in a couple of months!} 5. g3 {The computer likes 5.a3 and 5.Nc3, but the silicon beast was never world champion!} O-O 6. Bg2 {I began to be surprised that Kasparov was playing on, although I did not mind! How could I ?} Nc6 {Black could have played 6..c5 or 6...c6 here.} 7. Ne2 b6 {Giving some merit to Black's fourth move. The second player will fianchetto the queen's holy man.} 8. c4 Bb7 {Some time after the game earlier in the afternoon, I decided to write down the moves, although it was an off-hand game. I recorded my eighth move as 8... Re8. When I asked Garry to verify the moves in the evening after the above-mentioned dinner he wrote 8...Bb7! I will not argue with the recollection of Garry Kimovich!} 9. O-O {This man was serious. He wanted a game! Although we had no clock we were each moving fairly quickly as if playing blitz.} Re8 {Here I had written 9... Bb7.} 10. Nbc3 Na5 {Another admission here. I took up the steed planning to play Ne7 (with the idea of Ng6 to strengthen my kingside from defensive and offensive perspectives) but then realised that the Bb7 was hanging and changed my move in mid air!} 11. Bxb7 { Garry spent close to a minute thinking before making this move. After the game, to the amusement of the spectators, I told him that I had him sweating!} ({An alternative variation given by the computer is} 11. Qd3 Bxg2 12. Kxg2 c6 13. Rfd1 Bb4 14. Rac1 Qe7 {with White having the more pleasant position.}) 11... Nxb7 12. Qd3 Qe7 {Garry also regarded this move as dubious, but I still like it!} 13. a3 $1 Rac8 14. b4 c6 {Here a draw was agreed on my offer, just before I indicated that I was going to play 14...c6. Regarding the final position, the former World Champion said that White was better and that, had the game continued, he intended to play the excellent riposte 15.c5! (although "retired", his attacking senses were stil honed!) when Black's best response seemed to be 15...bxc5 Bc7 and if 17. Qa6 Na5 with a (positional) advantage to the first player. In a brief post-mortem we looked at the possibility of 15. .. Bb8 ?! but White's advantage increases with 16.Qa6!, a move that Garry immediately said he would have played. This brief clash was a truly historic game with an icon whom the famous Russian analyst GM Sergey Shipov would call the "Great and Terrible"!} 1/2-1/2

The few ceremonial moves become a real game, and I survived the "bear hug"

It was apparent that "the Great and Terrible" was enjoying himself in this chess mecca. He beamed when some children, especially three little girls pictured below, applauded him and got his attention. He played with the children, engaged in friendly discussions with a number of persons and gave additional private interviews with the media personnel present. Regrettably, all good things must come to an end and after ninety minutes his visit was over and he returned to his hotel in preparation for the next engagement.

Atira Wanyou, Tassja Wilkinson and Kayla Kerr enjoy Kasparov's attention

A chess tournament as a tribute

In spite of the hectic schedule, Kasparov and his team still managed to see some of the sights, including Independence Park, the home of the National Stadium, and the statue of Jamaica's most famous musical export, the Hon. Robert Nesta "Bob" Marley, OM.

Kasparov and Lisa Lewis visiting Bob Marley

A special blitz tournament was held in Kasparov's honour at the American International School of Kingston ("AISK") on the Saturday. This event was sponsored by Digicel and organised by Chess Enterprise (led by Adrian Palmer) in conjunction with the Jamaica Chess Federation. There were two sections: Masters and Intermediate, with amateur/beginner prizes also up for grabs. The event was efficiently marshalled by IA Robert Wheeler with assistance from his deputies Donald Miller and Palmer. The Masters section was won by three-time defending Jamaican Champion CM Damion Davy with young teenager and Jamaican Age-Group Champion WCM Rachel Miller taking top honours in the intermediate section.

Garry was mobbed by adoring fans on his arrival including Markland "Dougnik" Douglas who paraded a placard which read "Kasparov for FIDE President". Douglas, a long-time Kasparov devotee, was in ecstasy at sharing the same real estate as his chess idol. He vowed to re-launch his defunct Kaspablanca chess club! Garry spent some time signing autographs on books, paper, caps and anything else presented to him.

I had the pleasure of introducing Garry formally to the gathering which included a Senator, company CEOs, members of the Jamaica Chess Federation's Executive Council, such as Vice-Presidents Peter Myers and Donald Miller, Secretary Stephanie Foo, six-time Jamaican champion FM Warren Elliott, Jacqueline Smith and Wheeler; and other Jamaican chess personalities such as Frederick Cameron, former president of the federation, Mark Bowen, two-time Jamaican champion NM Equitable Celestial Brown, WIM Deborah Richards-Porter (10-time Jamaican Women's champion), her husband NM Russel Porter and other NMs Geoffrey Byfield, Mikhail Solomon, Paul Brooks and Alistair Walker, the Jamaican Junior Champion.

Don't miss the unforgettable introduction by organizer Ian Wilkinson!

Thriving chess-in-schools programme in Jamaica

Garry spoke briefly thanking his hosts and sponsors, expressing appreciation at the reception he received in Jamaica and his joy at the strides Jamaican chess had made, especially with the Chess-In-Schools programme. Kasparov was right as in the past five years approximately twenty thousand (20,000) students have learnt the game in Jamaica due to the effort of the local federation and various chess entities such as Liguanea Chess Club, WE Chess Academy, Chess Whiz Kids, R & D Chess Academy, Royal Chess Academy and MagChess. After Kasparov's speech Barry O'Brien, the CEO of Digicel Jamaica, again expressed his appreciation to Garry for visiting Jamaica and pledged his company's support to Jamaican chess. Indeed, at the time of writing, Digicel Jamaica had agreed to be the main sponsors for both the 2014 Jamaican Absolute and Women's Championships! Kasparov was again interviewed by several media houses present, took photographs and signed more autographs for the fans.

Garry signs autographs at AISK at the end of blitz tournament in his honour

Markland "Dougnik" Douglas: "I wish I could vote at the Congress"

Guess who's coming to dinner?

Saturday's activities were closed out in style with a nice dinner at the Black Orchid restaurant on the refurbished Eden Gardens compound in upscale Kingston. The persons present were Garry, Mig, Leontxo Garcia, Barry, Lisa, Gareth, Peter Melhado a well-known business executive and Chairman of the Board of AISK, Geoffrey Byfield, Adrian Palmer (in a tuxedo!), Donald Miller one of the federation's vice-presidents, yours truly, wife Shawn Wilkinson and last, but certainly not least, the Reverend Ronald Thwaites, the Minister of Education.

A very lively discussion ensued covering a wide variety of topics such as music; the arts (comparing Pushkin and Shakespeare); the expansive nature of chess (Leontxo reeled off the statistics re the number of possible chess moves surpassing the number of atoms in the universe); the results of surveys which revealed how playing chess benefits students; chess politics, the state of FIDE and Garry's chances in the coming election; world politics, in particular events in the Ukraine; and world history – Garry sought to link the actions of various dictators in the past to those of Vladimir Putin and made it clear that, for now, he was steering clear of Russia.

I questioned Garry as to why he chose Croatia for citizenship. He started to explain seriously about his strong connections there going back decades, but laughter rang out around the table when I asked him "Why not Jamaica?"

The author, Rev. Ronald Thwaites (Minister of Education), Kasparov and
Barry O'Brien, CEO of Digicel Jamaica, striking a pose after dinner

One of the highpoints of the evening was undoubtedly Kasparov's discussion with Rev. Thwaites. The chess legend sought to convince the government minister that it was imperative that he should pursue measures or policies to have a comprehensive chess education programme in schools. Minister Thwaites promised to give the matter serious attention. I was happy for this meeting and discussion as I have been trying for some time to get more support from Minister Thwaites, whose ministry has supported the idea of chess in schools.

It was the general consensus of all in attendance that the evening had been enjoyable and well-spent.

Provocative television interview

On Sunday April 6, 2014, the last day of his stay in Jamaica, Garry had a breakfast meeting with a number of human rights activists led by the Hon. Dr. Carolyn Gomes who made the human rights group Jamaicans For Justice, a house-hold name in Jamaica.

Garry, Lisa and Samantha Chantrelle, CEO of Digicel Foundation (third R),
meet with human rights activists (Gomes is fourth from R)

After checking out of his hotel, en route to the airport Kasparov visited the studios of Television Jamaica (TVJ), arguably the leading television station in Jamaica. He was interviewed by Ian Boyne for the very popular show "Profile", which highlights the achievements of individuals, often against the odds. This programme is usually aired during prime time on Sunday evenings and Kasparov's interview was shown as a two-part special on April 13 and 20, respectively. He came across very well during the interview. It was good to see him give Jamaican chess credit for the strides made, indicating that he would like to make the English-speaking Caribbean a serious hub for chess.

The two-part interview can be seen on the Profile web site

Kasparov also spoke of his childhood; his mother's strong influence; the reasons for his success; Armenia's success at chess and its school programme; the fact that Russia has not won an Olympiad since his last participation (Bled 2002); FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and aliens; and President Vladimir Putin and the Ukraine situation. Boyne, regarded by some as Jamaica's Larry King, was very provocative and tried to get Kasparov to commit as to whether US President Obama was weak in his foreign affairs policy, especially on Russia.

After a memorable visit, Kasparov left Jamaica early in the afternoon of Sunday April 6 en route to El Salvador to continue his campaigning. The Jamaican chess fraternity is still abuzz at having hosted one of the all-time greats, if not the greatest ever. For now it is Do svidaniya but who knows? Perhaps like General MacArthur he shall return. After all "…miracles do happen!"

Ian G. Wilkinson QC
President, The Jamaica Chess Federation
Chairman, Magnificent Chess Foundation
Photos by Mig Greengard, Charles Ferguson


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