Sport Express Interview with Garry Kasparov

by ChessBase
11/6/2003 – Garry Kasparov is currently in New York City preparing for his match against X3D Fritz. Right before he left he gave an extensive interview with the famous Russian paper Sport Express. Kasparov talks about his book series, his cancelled match, his return to chess, the worst blunder of his career, unification, and his upcoming match with X3D Fritz. More..

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Sport Express Interviews Garry Kasparov

The Marf, Jim Marfia, gave in to peer pressure at the ChessNinja message boards and translated this interview for the non-Russian speakers out there and we thank him for his blood, sweat, and verbs.

This interview originally appeared in Russian at Sport Express here.

On November 11th, in New York, the next battle begins between the great Russian chessplayer and the computer.


Kasparov flew from London to Moscow for a few days. In the British capital, Garry participated in a presentation of the first volume of the English edition of his most significant literary work, "My Great Predecessors".

After celebrating his son's birthday with his family (Vadim Kasparov just turned seven), the unchanging leader of the world rating list through the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st centuries set off for New York, where his next battle with the computer will begin November 11th. This time, Garry's opponent will be the 3-D version of "Fritz-8", one of the strongest computer programs.


- Garry, I saw a photo on TWIC, in which a long queue of people stood in line at the entrance to the London Chess Center, waiting for you to autograph your book. Were there a lot of people at this presentation? How has your work been accepted generally, worldwide? As far as I know, besides the Russian edition, there are already English, German, Italian and Spanish editions, and Serbo-Croat, Greek and French are in preparation.

- If you leave out a few caustic reviews by so-called professionals, who specialize in writing books, that few people read, the reaction on the whole has been very gratifying, which of course makes me happy. For no active grandmasters of such a level have ever taken upon themselves this kind of job: the energy expenditure just isn't worth it.

But when you see the big lines at the entrance to the hall, waiting to get your book autographed, then you know all your work wasn't in vain. Chess lovers have been waiting for interesting literature which would allow them to embrace the entire process of chess development. And by the way, the line in London wasn't a record. In Madrid, in a small chess center, I autographed 315 copies; and they told me, that if they had been able to hold the meeting in El Corte Ingles, in the capital, there would have been even more people. The day before, in Barcelona, I signed another 140 copies.

- We here at Sport Express remember with pleasure that in Russia, our magazine was the first to publish excerpts from your book, over the course of a year. In your researches into chess' past, what have you seen that was new to you?

- I attempted to put together a unified picture of our game, in order to gain a better understanding of its current dynamics as well. As I did this, many chess truths were uncovered in their new-born beauty. When you analyze old games - with the computer's assistance, naturally - you discover a whole slew of nuances that you had overlooked before. While illuminating vital, crucial moments of chess history, suddenly you see that this gigantic mosaic has been missing some detail.

When you find it, the picture becomes fuller, clearer and more accurate. Sometimes, this detail might be a certain game between two players who didn't make it into the elite who fought for the highest title. Sometimes our understanding of the processes which were employed in distant times is helped by a little-noticed game, which left its mark on the history of chess for reasons which its contemporaries understood, but which we do not.

You immerse yourself in the role, you live the life of the chessplayers you write about, and whose games you are studying - and it's as if you were playing in their tournament yourself. This is most engrossing.

While the first volume of "Predecessors" talks about chessplayers whose creative period occurred long before my appearance in this world, in the second and still more in the third volume I am writing about people whom I actually met, many of whom I knew personally, and played against. So the work on these volumes was for me even more involving.

And when the picture of the chess world appeared before me in all its many-sidedness, many-facetedness and fullness, well, it was clear that three volumes would not be enough - I would have to write a couple more.


- After your excursion into the past, can you tell where chess is going?

- That's pretty hard to do - although clearly, chess will no longer be the "sport of kings" it was before. I don't think we ought to feel sorry about this; you'd have just as much luck feeling sorry about the past, which is gone and can nevere return. These days, chess is going to a new plane, because modern technology allows us to consider many things differently.

Once again, this probably supports my theory that chess has always moved shoulder to shoulder with developments in culture and learning. Formerly, a move by a great chessplayer would amaze not merely the simple amateur players, but also the professionals; and they would ascribe to it mystical qualities. And this was not just a hundred years ago, when Lasker played Capablanca or Capablanca played Alekhine, but even in recent times.

During my matches with Karpov, the grandmasters commenting on the games in the press-center didn't always understand what was happening onstage; frequently, they would say, "They {that is, we] can see better." This aureole of mystique has always surrounded any moves made by "the great ones".

- I saw that myself many times during your first match with Karpov in the Hall of Columns, and during your other matches as well. There would be as many opinions as there were commentators. And everyone was convinced that they could not possibly see as deeply into the position as the creators themselves.

- An it's possible that they may have been partly right. But later, the mystic aureole dissipated. Today, any amateur with a copy of "Junior" or "Fritz" and any sort of modern computer to run it on can find out in a few minutes whether the world champion's "mystical" move was really a simple blunder or not. New technology has brought with it a new conception of our game. This is a whole new era in the development of chess.

I am convinced that we need no longer wait for the appearance of some kind of revolutionary ideas which will change our idea of chess - today, the practical elements of play are undergoing completion. It's not for nothing that so much argument is going on about the new time controls. As a practical matter, the chess we are all playing now was established during the 70s and 80s of the previous century. And I will have more to say about that in the fourth and fifth volumes of "Predecessors".


- You're going to New York, and on November 11th, your next computer match begins. What do you think of your new opponent, and of the unusual playing conditions?

- My opponent isn't new. This is the well-known "Fritz" program, only 3-D, and virtual. Encountering it will be a difficult experience for a human brain and psyche, since I will have to play without a chessboard, and will have to play using my voice.

- So the board and pieces will sort of float in front of you, and you will have to play using special glasses?

- Yes, the pieces will be weightless, so to speak; and I can turn the board any way I want using a joystick. But I can't pick up a piece in my hand and move it physically from one square to another, because the board and pieces are virtual. The moves will be made by voice.

- Well, there are some advantages here. For instance, the basic "touch-move" rule of chess is pretty much annulled. You can "touch", even "move" these virtual pieces, until the cows come home. Of course, now there's a new rule: "You said it - you move it"

- (Smiles) That may be true; but all these technical changes are no compensation at all for the absence of a real board with real pieces. And nobody knows at all how adequately the human brain will react to such a situation over the course of five to seven hours of play. A computer can really "play till the cows come home", as you put it; a human can't.

[Excuse me - "Do lampochki" literally is "to the lamps" - I HOPE I translated what he meant. - Marf]

- Did you test this method of play in your training games?

- I played a few blitz games. But blitz is blitz; classical chess requires a completely different form of concentration. So far, I have been unable to model a long game at the virtual board. I shall try to patch this hole before the match starts in New York.

- So your opponent is really strong?

- "Fritz 8" is an updated version of the same program Kramnik played in Bahrain; and of course, he drew. An important point is that there he had a normal board, not a virtual one; and he moved the pieces with his hand and arm, not his voice. And Kramnik had other advantages, as well. The machine he played in Bahrain was fixed at the version Vladimir had already tested against before the match. This was a fixed version which could only be modified in a limited number of ways during the match.

- So your opponent will be some sort of virtual mutant. But its innards will be the usual ones? I mean its chess program.

- A couple of weeks ago, I obtained the latest version of "Fritz 8", to which, before the match begins, the programmers will be making changes unknown to me. In addition, I have no access to my opponent's opening book, and will have none.

- Does this make the battle more complicated?

- This doesn't make the battle more complicated; it makes it an honest one. And I believe this is the right thing to do. What the programmer does with his program before and after the game is his business; the computer is, after all, his baby.

- Did you agree to these extreme conditions because you had no choice? Was there no one else you could play besides Fritz?

- The challenge of man vs. machine has attracted special attention from the very beginning.

I agreed to play in spite of the fact that everything would seem to be against the human here: a very powerful computer, a modernized program installed which will receive upgrades I am not aware of, the absence of a board and real pieces, the necessity of moving those pieces by voice - and finally, even the starting hour of the game will not be the chessplayers' usual 3:30 or 4:00, but at 1:00 o'clock local time.

This was done according to the management's wishes at ESPN, the biggest American sports channel, which will broadcast all four seven-hour games live. This will be a theatrically produced television show, with our good-looking hosts Zsuzsa Polgar and Yasser Seirawan, who will be interacting with the auditorium during the games.

- This is a revolutionary breakthrough! What will our TV experts have to say now, who never tire of assuring us that chess can't be televised?

- I don't know what they'll say, but I know what I said to all this, and that was, "Yes". I consciously agreed to great concessions, in order to bring chess to a wide American audience. Can we possibly miss such a unique opportunity to draw the attention of greater society to chess, to the problems and the possibilities of developing into this new high-tech world!


- A few questions about your games with humans. Having played against the strongest representatives of the Grandmasters' guild in Linares, Spain, in March, you then did not play until October, on Crete, where you played for Team-Kazan in the European Club Cup. I don't remember a time when you took such a long rest period in your tournament practice.

- The last time something like that happened was when I was preparing for my world championship matches. But the rhythm of life was different then, and so was chess preparation - you had to rework a huge stream of information practically by hand. But even in those days, I didn't take this much time off. In this year, I suffered a unique lapse in my playing schedule.

And it was provoked by circumstances beyond my control - I did not in any way plan for such a hole in my schedule. Everything fell apart: from the really clumsy way that the match with Ponomariov in Argentina was postponed, to the dead-end situation with the Yalta match... All this had a really negative effect upon me. After all, there was the preparation, and the organizational steps that had already been taken.

After all this, I had to run like the wind to do something, anything, to play anywhere and with anybody. I got tired of sitting!

- And how was your game after half a year of "sitting"?

- On the whole, I am satisfied with my play in Crete, even though the game with Huzman saw the worst "whiff" of my career. Playing conditions were not the best, and my excessive tenseness had something to do with it. After four straight victories, all in quality games, of course I should have taken a rest with a short draw. But the interests of the team required me to put forth an effort, even though physically, I was ready to rest.

- Did team Kazan make a run at the gold?

- Yes, after its draw with Team NAO the illusion grew that we could even try for first place, even though, objectively speaking, NAO was both stronger and considerably younger.

- NAO Chess Club is a sort of super-club, like a "Real Madrid" in chess.

- Well, maybe calling them "Real Madrid" is a bit much; but it's obvious that NAO is far stronger than "Kazan" and any other European club. If we had to play them again, I am not certain that we could make another draw. In the difficult conditions that existed on Crete, the fact that the NAO team members' average age was ten years less than their competitors' was the deciding factor.

- Did that stupid blunder tear you up?

- I won't deny that the aftershock was severe. But next day, I managed to pull myself together and play a good game vs. Ivanchuk. Vasily had a small edge; but I managed to reduce it by accurate play, and with time-pressure approaching, it was Ivanchuk who had to play accurately in order to draw.

- You hadn't played for a long time; but no doubt, you looked at your colleagues' games? Whose play especially impressed you?

- Peter Svidler. He plays fresh, thoughtful chess, more interesting than the others. By any standard, I think Peter is today the fourth-best player in the world. I would personally give him the 2003 "Oscar" right now.


- Do you know anything about Linares 2004 yet?

- I have received my invitation already. I know that Anand will not be at this event; I heard that he's decided to play in the "Aeroflot Open" instead. I will be joined in Spain by Kramnik, Leko, Shirov, Topalov, Polgar, and Radjabov.

- This year, Radjabov's victory against you, and your performance at the closing ceremony for the journalists who called the game the best of the tournament, made a powerful impression on the organizers. So we see that one win over Kasparov can change the destiny of a young player.

- I think it's pretty strange that a player who is not a local representative can get another invitation after finishing in last place. But I am happy, nevertheless, to play two more games against Teimour.

- So you will go from Linares to Linares without a tournament?

- The problem is not that this year did not go well for Kasparov; the chaotic situation in the world of chess permits no one to make serious plans. The fighting continues, and I am not sure that in the near future the situation will improve. I still see no corporate solidarity among my colleagues.

- Is it possible that someone who has studied the history of chess as deeply as you have could fail to see that this "corporate solidarity" never has existed? I could give dozens of examples from the near and distant pasts, but you know them all yourself. How about the collapse of the GMA?

- But still, in every moment of chess history, with the exception of the death of Alexander Alekhine in 1946. the world had a champion, someone who was the highest authority (not in our modern understanding of that word, "authority", but in its earlier meaning). Granted, everything was far from ideal, and the champion did what he wanted; but he fulfilled his obligations.

The same Capablanca played a match with Alekhine in 1927. Of course, he hoped to win it; but the Argentineans put up the money for a match with Alekhine, and that's who he played. I'm saying that Capablanca did not start refusing to play a strong opponent. I think Euwe, in 1937, had at least as much opportunity to avoid a return-match with Alekhine as Vladimir Kramnik had to avoid a match with me in 2001 or 2002.

And Alekhine's results in 1936 and 1937 were quite different from my results in 2001 and 2002. Kramnik spent those two years refusing to play a return match. I understand now that this whole affair with Dortmund and the match with Leko was just a means to avoid playing a return-match with me, which he was obliged to play, if only for moral and ethical reasons!

- Now, why did you refuse to play in Wijk aan Zee? How nice it would have been, to begin 2004 with a good performance in decent company!

- Wijk aan Zee is a sad story. The organizers insisted that I reply to their invitation before the end of August. Since I was hoping at that time that my match with Ponomariov was still going to happen, I couldn't give them a definite answer. And the Dutch organizers are a very democratic lot. Receiving no confirmation of my presence, they replaced me with Bologan. If I had known then that my match with Ponomariov was going to break down, I would have given serious consideration to the chance to play in Wijk aan Zee, and I believe I would have played.


- Was Prague 2002 a grand illusion?

- I would not want to say now that that was a bad thing. Personally, I went into the unification process with my eyes open, because I did not want, and do not want, to fight FIDE any more; I don't want to struggle for "chess happiness for everyone". What I want is to work with whoever will do something for chess.

These days, it's quite the fashionable thing to badmouth Prague; and typically, its main critics, especially Anatoly Evgenievich Karpov, change their point of view regularly with respect to what's going on in the world of chess.

- Ruslan Ponomariov, for example, thinks that everybody should get together once again, and re-examine the Prague agreements: he says they weren't fair.

- It was Ponomariov who broke up the match. Either he broke it up, or someone standing in for him - it really doesn't matter. We talk of some "spokesman", of a high organization, going by the name "Ponomariov", who broke up the Yalta match. Why they did it, who was there, and how much they divvied up - that part of the story is shrouded in darkness. But the fact remains: I wanted to play this match, I was ready to play this match, but THEY deliberately scuttled it!

And how has the chess world reacted to this? Not! Karpov, for instance - these days, he's one of Ponomariov's active defenders. I find it very interesting to hear people say that I was partly to blame for the match breaking up. And so, the chess world continues to quarrel, continues to wallow in the squabbles of the past. There has never been a time when we oriented ourselves normally toward the future, including now.

In principle, I welcome any attempt to form a new association; but these attempts are all local things, which do not address the underlying causes. They say that if you have been badly housed, badly fed, and badly paid, the association should step in. But the global problems, which are the real reason for this tragic situation which the chess world currently finds itself in, remain untouched.

If that is so, then another failure is inevitable. This is precisely why I am so pessimistic about the near future of chess.

Should we re-examine the results of the Prague agreements? Someone always gets insulted - this is the lesson we learn from other forms of sport. Let them re-gather and re-examine. If there is something interesting, I am ready to participate.


- When you visit the USA, you might have another opportunity to meet your friend Arnold Schwarzenegger. I was very surprised to learn that this athlete, actor, and now even politician, is one of your biggest fans, and a great fan of chess. Tell us about your meeting with the Terminator, as President George Bush calls him.

- I met Arnold eighteen months ago in Los Angeles. He does in fact like chess a lot - he plays it himself, and in his family, it's part of his kids' educational program. Schwarzenegger is convinced that chess has a positive influence on the intellectual growth of the young. Right now, he is actively raising funds for all sorts of activities for "latchkey" kids, as we would say, or after school lessons.

As the director of his fund told me, in 200 schools of the 400 on the list, chess is taught by faculty. Schwarzenegger and I wanted to work together on the implementation of this program; but then he began shooting "Terminator 3", and then he started his election campaign for governor of California. For now, our plans have not received further development.

The situation today in California, I think, is such that the new Governor will have a lot on his mind besides chess. But when things settle down, as I hope they will, perhaps we can return to our mutual idea of turning chess into a general education program in the most powerful state in the USA.


- Your son, Vadim, just turned seven. When he was still very little, you once said, "I hope my son gets to see me play and win a match for the World Championship". Do you still hope to do this?

- That doesn't depend on me alone. It takes two to tango. And for a world championship match, you also have to find money and an organization that could guarantee its normal execution. We can see that, for now, nobody has any special desire to play me. It has come down to this: even Karpov refused to play another rapid match against me in New York in December, even though the organizer of our last match put up the money.

Evidently, Karpov has decided to keep untarnished the only match victory he ever scored against me, in rapid chess. Evidently, he understands that this time, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov will not be there to tell me some super-important news about the organization and financing of the match with "Junior", half an hour before game time, which would knock me completely out of kilter.

Well, as far as the world championship match goes: if such an opportunity were to arise, then I believe in my own abilities. I believe I would win.

Yuri Vasiliev

Translated by The Marf [aka Jim Marfia]

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