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?
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.
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.
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.
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.