Chess News

The new man in charge

By Tiago Santos – Rádio Xadrez
Translated by Leandro Salles – Rádio Xadrez

Garry Kasparov is different. However, it’s neither his physical appearance nor his way of walking into a wave of applause that is changed in the former world champion. The 48-years-old new man is free of the pressure that surrounded him when he visited Brazil last time. His attitude is soft, his speech is warm and his relation with the public is by far more receptive.

Apart from being retired and a candidate for elections – for FIDE or Russia, two of his current political struggles – he now acts as someone who has been recently approved, with excellence, in the School of Oratory and Charisma for the World’s Most Successful Businessmen.

Wearing a blue shirt and with his suit and shoes in a light tone, the once awesome Ogre from Baku came smiling and waving timidly to the audience applauding him in the Gauguin conference room, where he would open the 1st ADX Chess Festival, promoted by the Association for Chess Development, the sponsor of his visit to Brazil. He was content, flattered by the Brazilian reception and, for the first time, seemed to demonstrate a feeling of gratitude and humility, although in a subtle way, never seen in his public career of more than 20 years.

Garry Kasparov speaking during the lecture

In firm and confident steps, Garry headed to the ceremony table and briefly greeted the sitting organizers, guests and Grandmasters, like GM Jaime Sunye Neto from the State of Paraná, with whom he has disputed one of his best games, and GM Giovanni Vescovi of São Paulo who represents his interests in Latin America. When IM Herman Claudius van Riemsdijk announced him as being the “greatest chess player of all times” he smiled quietly, as if such statement was exaggerated.

Garry greeted again his old Dutch friend and asked for the interpreter, concerned about the full comprehension of the audience which he would address in a few seconds. By seeing her just behind him, he straightened his suit for the third or fourth time already, adjusted the height of the microphone and prepared himself to begin his speech about the Kasparov Chess Foundation and the press conference that would follow.

It was almost 10:40h in the morning of August the 30th, and there was bright sunshine outside the WTC Sheraton Hotel in São Paulo, when Garry began to talk: “If my memory is not failing, I was here seven years ago, across the street, at the Hilton hotel”, said the Russian, as if, by any chance, failing was a possibility for the memory of a genius with IQ higher than Albert Einstein’s.

Garry Kasparov, author of this article Tiago Santos and GM Giovanni Vescovi

The difference in the tone and the timbre from the muffled and hurried voice of the last visit was remarkable. This was a much more planned, inspiring and persuasive speech. It seemed he had practiced it to exhaustion, the same way he once practiced his Sicilian Defense. Kasparov was no longer the egocentric genius known to destroy the ego of his opponents at the chessboard; he was a sociable man, trying to convince more and more people.

Everything was different now, as he insisted on highlighting: “it’s not just the hotel that changed, many things have changed since last time”, he said. Be it due to the retirement or due to his new objectives in life, the Garry Kasparov which is in charge now has another personality. Seven years later, he came back less arrogant and less self-sufficient. “Many things happened since last time. One of them, as you know, is that I retired, in 2005, but that doesn’t mean that I lost my interest and my passion for the magic game of chess”, he said.

The enthusiasm, with which he played his games, always taking risks and looking for the most aggressive positions, was now transferred to his talk. Even in the simplest questions, he reflected and sought to answer in a manner to include, and to be understood by, the largest number of people. The concern with the ones who are at the receiving end, which was never a forte during his lifetime, was defining his new attitudes. The new Garry is sharing his ideas and assembling an army of people who believe and defend the same ideology. He talks about his plans as if they were a divine mission. “I believe that, as someone who represented the game of chess for so many years, I have a special responsibility towards it”.

Even Anatoly Karpov, with whom he engaged in the most exciting and tense battles, receives now a special affection from the ex-communist Russian. When the interpreter translated “arch-rival” as “enemy” in his remark about Karpov, Kasparov insisted on correcting her, demonstrating some knowledge of the Portuguese language: “my friend, friend!”, joked with his well-known irony. When he was questioned by a reporter, from the Terra website, whether he would give him the honor of a chess game, he answered smiling in the same ironic way: “of course not”.

Garry Kasparov with GM Krikor Sevag Mekhitarian

His good mood and his belief that he will change the history of chess, even if he is not competing professionally anymore, seemed as unshaken and solid as the Berlin Defense in which he lost the World Championship match to his once disciple Vladimir Kramnik, in 2000. Nevertheless, one thing is not different in this new Garry: there is sufficient strength in his character to undermine his opponents. He retired, indeed, but is still very far from having given up the fight. In less than an hour of interview, Kasparov distilled his strong convictions: about the current FIDE President, who, according to him, is “wasting his time counting how many spaceships land on Earth or visiting his dictator friends such as Libya’s Gaddafi”; about Vladimir Putin’s regime, which he called “oligarchic dictatorship”; about the World Championship cycles, that “abandoned the big cities”; and even about Kramnik himself, who’s playing strength, according to Kasparov, is “being dismantled the same way as Deep Blue was”.

Being political, he answered everyone and was full of enthusiasm when the questions concerned the game of chess itself. He promised to establish an office for his Foundation in Brazil and another in Argentina, and later to expand his activities to South Africa. He talked about discovering talents in chess, about video games and about the use of technology and the Internet to attract children to the sport. He also commented about his best games and revealed his dream of facing the best computer of all times. “The question is whether, in the peak of our performance, we can still beat them, even once”, he said.

After almost two hours, between lecture, press conference and recording for TV, Garry Kasparov retired to his room, leaving the men in the hall astonished the same way they would be if they had just seen one of his masterpieces, such as the one against the Bulgarian Veselin Topalov, in 1999, which he compared to “as if lightning from the sky had struck my head directly”. To the ones present who felt all his energy, remained no doubts that Garry is also shooting lightning wherever he passes by.

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