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Gary Kasparov

For a varety of reasons I was delighted to hear the podcast of Gary Kasparov on Desert Island Discs. Firstly the castaway is normally some high achieving woman of whom I have never heard. Secondly, whereas you don’t have to listen to the BBC radio too long for a critique of Donald Trump, they are less disposed to give Vladimir Putin the same treatment which Kasparov has certainly made up for. Thirdly, it was an opportunity to listen to Kasparov.

The introduction by Kirsty Wark heralded the Russina Grand Master as the greatest of all time, but was he?

In some sports and games it is hard to measure this.

For example Formula One’s “greatest” driver is affected by the car he drives, golf by the clubs – I saw Jon Rahm drive over 350 yards the other day, a distance 18 time major winner Jack Nicklaus could not achieve.

You would have thought the simplicity, a word rarely used to describe chess, of two opponents facing each other across the board of 16 chessmen would make this an easy task, but not so.

The criterion the programme adopted was length at the top.

Kasparov was champion for 20 years, far longer than Bobby Fischer, but Fischer had the higher grade and his mastery of rivals was the more complete.

If we analyse games Fischer’s move of knight to rook four, the outer rank 4 spaces ahead of the rook on the perimeter of the board broke all conventions (“knight on the rim, that’s dim”) but it totally threw Boris Spassky in Reykjavik.

Fischer also had to take on a whole system totally weighted by the Soviets in their favour.

Kasparov can argue – and did – that his opponent Anatoly Karpov was equally part of the Soviet machine.

Certainly off the board Kasparov proved the braver as, not to put too fine point of it Fischer went mad, became an anti-semite and was banned for playing in Serbia.

Thus, after beating Spassky in one of the few times that chess became a global event, he never bothered to maintain his hegemony.

A case can also be put forward for 3 Grand Masters of the 20th Century  – Capablanca, Lasker and Alekhine – whilst Fischer himself argues the 19th century American Grand Master Paul Morphy could have beaten anyone. At roughly the same time was Wilhelm Steinitz who had his regular game with God. You can revisit all their games. The Cuban Capablanca was very tall and it is said his height, stooping over the board and ready to swoop, intimidated his opponents.

My own favourite for his gloriously attacking game was Mikhail Tal.

The “Magician of Riga” was world champion for a short time but his game could be picked apart by a strategist like Tigran Petrosian who could foresee a minor but ultimately winning advantage some 20 moves ahead.

Ultimately in his brave fight against Putin, resulting him in living in exile in New York and unable to visit  Russia, Kasparov might become better known after putting his chessmen in a box.

Though he is not acknowledged in his native Baku, . he is known everywhere else.

About Jakub Celakovsky

An irregular club player without pretensions to greatness, Jakub Celakovsky is a student of chess and has contributed articles to many publications on the subject over the years. He came to Britain with his parents in 1981 and runs a pub on the outskirts of Milton Keynes, where he lives with his wife and two children. More Posts