General Aug 1, 2020 | 11:34 AMby Colin McGourty

Garry Kasparov: The GOAT

Garry Kasparov is the definition of a chess legend, and will be joining the chess24 Legends of Chess commentary on Saturday 1st August. The 13th World Chess Champion won the title as a 22-year-old in 1985, held it for 15 years until 2000, and was the no. 1 on the rating list for a total of over 21 years. Since his retirement from chess after winning his 9th Linares super-tournament in 2005 he's remained perhaps the chess world's most active public figure and during the show chess24 premium members will have a chance to ask him some questions on his chess or other activities. 

  • Name: Garry Kasparov
  • Born: Baku, Azerbaijan (USSR), 13 April, 1963
  • Age: 57 years old
  • Current ratings: 2812 (classical), 2783 (rapid), 2801 (blitz)
  • Peak rating: 2851 (Jan 2000, aged 36)
  • World rank: 3 (inactive)
  • World Championship:  Kasparov qualified for the 1984 World Championship match by beating Beliavsky, Korchnoi and Smyslov in Candidates Matches. He went on to play 8 matches, winning or defending the title in 6 of them and holding the crown from 1985 to 2000:
    1) 1984, Moscow: Karpov 25:23 Kasparov (5 wins to 3), match abandoned without a winner
    2) 1985, Moscow: Kasparov 13:11 Karpov
    3) 1986, London/Leningrad: Kasparov 12.5:11.5 Karpov
    4) 1987, Seville: Kasparov 12:12 Karpov (Garry retained the title)
    5) 1990, New York/Lyon: Kasparov 12.5:11.5 Karpov
    6) 1993, London: Kasparov 12.5:7.5 Short
    7) 1995, New York: Kasparov 10.5:7.5 Anand
    8) 2000, London: Kramnik 8.5:6.5 Kasparov
  • Individual Tournaments (selected 1st places): Banja Luka (1979), World Junior Championship (1980), USSR Chess Championship (1981, 1988), Bugojno (1982), Tilburg (1989, 1991), Linares (1990, 1992, 1993, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2005), Dortmund (1992), Novgorod (1994, 1995, 1997), Credit Suisse Masters (1994), Riga Tal Memorial (1995), Max Euwe Memorial (1996), Las Palmas (1996), Sarajevo (1999, 2000), Wijk aan Zee (1999, 2000, 2001), Astana (2001), Russian Chess Championship (2004)
  • Team Tournaments: 8 Olympiads from 1980-2002, 4 for the USSR and 4 for Russia, winning 8/8 team gold medals and 5 individual gold medals

Many people’s choice as the strongest chess player of all time, Garry Kasparov was number one on the rating list for over twenty years and held the World Championship title for fifteen.

Remarkably only 7 players have topped the official rating list since FIDE adopted Dr. Elo's rating system in 1971 - and Magnus still has some way to go to catch Garry! | source: Wikipedia

As well as using a dynamic tactical style and deep preparation to dominate on the board he also dominated the public perception of chess, with his victories against Anatoly Karpov seeming to symbolise the new era of glasnost and perestroika in the Soviet Union. After retiring from chess in 2005 he became one of the leaders of the opposition to the Putin regime in Russia and has remained politically active ever since.

Straight to the top

Kasparov was born Garik Kimovich Weinstein but adopted a Russified version of his Armenian mother’s surname Gasparyan after his father died when he was seven. From the age of ten he trained at Mikhail Botvinnik’s school and the scale of his talent soon became evident. He won the Soviet Junior Championship in 1976 and 1977 and as a 15-year-old was the youngest ever qualifier for the adult championship a year later. Kasparov’s triumph in the 1979 Banja Luka tournament in Yugoslavia saw him shoot up to number 15 on the January 1980 rating list, and he won the World Junior Championship later that year.

Ivan Morovich (bronze), Garry Kasparov (gold) and Nigel Short (silver) after the 1980 World Junior Championship | photo: Gerhard Hund / Wikipedia 

The World Championship years

When Kasparov qualified for the Candidates Matches the 19-year-old was already rated no. 2 in the world, and after convincingly winning matches against Alexander Beliavsky (6-3), Viktor Korchnoi (7-4) and Vasily Smyslov (8.5-4.5) he topped the rating list. 

His 1984 World Championship match against Anatoly Karpov represented an altogether different challenge, however, and nine games in he was facing a humiliating defeat after four losses. Kasparov then dug in with a sequence of 17 draws, but when he lost the next game it seemed inevitable Karpov would score the sixth win he required to win the match. Instead, when the match was controversially abandoned 21 games later, Kasparov had scored three wins.

Kasparov won the rematch a year later to become the youngest ever World Champion at 22.

He held on to the title in another three closely fought matches against Karpov in 1986 (12.5-11.5), 1987 (12-12) and 1990 (12.5-11.5). England’s Nigel Short surprisingly beat Karpov in the next cycle, which was to have fateful consequences for world chess. Short and Kasparov were unhappy with decisions taken by the World Chess Federation and set up a rival Professional Chess Association for their match. Although Kasparov eventually scored an easy 12.5-7.5 victory he later regretted their decision, as it ushered in 13 years of split titles.

Kasparov defended his title once more against Viswanathan Anand in 1995, winning 10.5-7.5 after his opponent collapsed to lose four out of five games despite being the first to score a win after eight draws. Vladimir Kramnik had worked as Kasparov’s second for that match, which Kasparov may have regretted when he ultimately lost the title to his fellow Russian in 2000. Kramnik managed to stifle his opponent’s aggressive intentions, most famously with the Berlin Defence, to the extent that Kasparov failed to win a game, the first time that had happened to a reigning champion since Emanuel Lasker’s match against Capablanca in 1921.

Retirement from chess

After that setback Kasparov continued to win tournaments and remained no. 1 on the rating list, but he refused to take part in qualifying events for a new World Championship match, insisting he should be granted an automatic rematch. Other potential routes to the title through matches against the FIDE champions also fell through, and Kasparov decided to quit at the top - still rated no. 1 and at the age of just 41.

He's never played another official classical game of chess since, but chess fans have been treated to a series of mini-comebacks in rapid and blitz. In 2011 he played an 8-game blitz match against Nigel Short, but the fun really began when Rex Sinquefield transformed Saint Louis into the US chess capital and together with Garry launched the Grand Chess Tour in 2015. 

At first there was another exhibition match against Nigel Short, where Garry claimed a brutal 8.5:1.5 win. Emboldened, he took on the US Top 3 of Caruana, Nakamura and So in the Ultimate Blitz Challenge in 2016 (finishing 3rd, above Fabiano), then in 2017 he played in a competitive event, the St. Louis Rapid and Blitz. Most recently he took part in the Chess 9LX event in 2019, where he played a match against world no. 2 Caruana. 

Politics, writing, coaching and more

As well as helping to organise the Grand Chess Tour, Garry set up the Kasparov Chess Foundation to support chess education and has been active as a coach in particular for talented US youngsters, while before that he worked individually with young stars Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura at crucial moments of their careers. He ventured into chess politics on a number of occasions, losing a FIDE Presidential Election in 2014.

He's become a prolific author, with his books ranging from the landmark My Great Predecessors series on chess history, to what chess can teach us in How Life Imitates Chess, to politics in Winter is Coming and most recently AI in Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins. He was at the centre of the early AI debates after losing a game in 1996 and then a whole match to IBM's Deep Blue in 1997. 

Kasparov is probably still the world’s best-known chess player.

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