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Thread: Kasparov to turn politician?

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    Exclamation Kasparov to turn politician?

    Afternoon tea with the FT: Garry Kasparov

    By Simon Kuper

    Published: November 7 2003 19:31 | Last Updated: November 7 2003 19:31

    Garry Kasparov sits at a table in Somerset House in London holding forth on his favourite subject: politics. Kasparov is the best chess player in history, about to play the biggest match yet between man and computer in New York, but getting him to discuss the sport is tough. The greying man with the flat boxer's nose is lecturing his entourage on Russian politics. Someone asks him about Mikhail Gorbachev.

    "A communist," Kasparov responds in excellent English, marred only by a Russian tendency to misuse articles. But was Gorbachev genuine?

    "A genuine communist."

    A public relations man interrupts the seminar. "Time is marching on," he cajoles. "Not in Russia!" replies Kasparov, and bellows with laughter. Still, he pulls on a blue peaked cap of the sort worn by Heroes of Soviet Labour in old propaganda posters, and marches into the Strand.

    There, by mistake, I trip him. He stares at me with deep black eyes. You don't want to sit across a chessboard from this man. He accepts my apology. But he is tired - he has just arrived from New York - and offers me only a 10-minute interview. There is a battle of wills. I win: Kasparov agrees to return to Home House, his London club, for a chat before dinner.

    We go by taxi, crawling through the Saturday evening traffic of the West End. Like any citizen of the world, Kasparov feels at home in London. He lives in Moscow but travels most of the time and long ago renounced his home town of Baku. Kasparov was raised there, a half-Jewish, half-Armenian Soviet citizen, but after the town became capital of an independent Azerbaijan, there was "a massacre of Armenian people".

    "If I visit Baku it will be as any ordinary Armenian citizen," he says. "When I can, I will be happy to go back and visit the graves of my relatives."

    Home House is an 18th century mansion on Portman Square. It used to be the Courtauld Institute of Art, run by the Soviet spy Anthony Blunt. The upstairs drawing room has the deep sofas and subtle lights of an English gentleman's club. A chess set stands on a side table. It is a favourite among ex-Soviets, particularly chess players, perhaps because it exudes the sense of untroubled history they can't get at home.

    Sitting upright on his sofa, Kasparov orders a pot of Earl Grey tea. He has been drinking Earl Grey all day. He prefers coffee but has cut down on it because of the acid. He is virtually teetotal, excepting only the odd glass of excellent red wine. To be the world's highest-ranked chess player at 40, you have to look after yourself. In fact, you have to be superhuman: nobody has dominated a modern sport for as long as Kasparov has chess. Tomorrow it will be 18 years since he defeated Anatoly Karpov to become the game's youngest-ever world champion. And as he will explain, at 40 his mind is declining. But first, more politics. Since Somerset House, Kasparov has been firing off opinions on many topics: Vladimir Putin (bad), Israel (treated unfairly by the BBC), General Pinochet ("an angel" compared with the leaders of Syria, Libya or North Korea).

    Does his chess mind help him think about politics? "It helps to some extent, because in chess if you make the wrong decision on the big picture, you will be wiped out. The problem with modern politics is that it's concentrating on micromanagement.

    "I mean Ronald Reagan was probably not the most intelligent president, but he was right on some big things, on the 'evil empire'. He was the one to conclude successfully the crusade against communism, and I think it was important that he did not concentrate on details. It's quite amazing that the people that dealt with the big picture, like Reagan and Thatcher to some extent, were replaced by people who didn't like big pictures and dealt only with details, like Major and Bush [senior]."

    I suggest that the current President Bush does have a Kasparovian "big picture" of good versus evil. "Hmm. His big picture is result of drawing some lessons from his father's mistakes. It's not a conviction."

    Kasparov talks in a torrent. His Earl Grey is forgotten. So is the thought of giving me only 10 minutes. Allowed to talk politics, he is happy. And yet, if chess geniuses have special political insight, shouldn't this apply to Bobby Fischer, the former world champion turned paranoid anti-semite? Does understanding chess really translate into understanding politics?

    "It doesn't. My views could be damned wrong. Because my views are quite strong views. It's reflection of my chess style. With the strong views and very little flexibility, you don't make a good politician. Except maybe in some crucial moments."

    Kasparov has been asked to enter politics - Russia's answer to Arnold Schwarzenegger - but is undecided. Soon he may have time for it. Surely, at 40, his chess mind is in decline? "Absolutely! You can't throw energy of nuclear size into the game. Obviously you're losing concentration with age. Because at age 20, you have virtually nothing to worry about. At age 40 you have family, or kids, you have maybe businesses, you have other problems. You have bunch of problems!"

    Does he identify with ageing champions in other sports, like Andre Agassi in tennis? "My record has no comparison, because I'm number one for 18 years in rating and also, in chess, you have to come up with new concept."

    As opponents work out how to counter his ploys, Kasparov constantly has to reinvent his game. "Ooooh! Today you have to come up with new ideas for each competition. Yeah. Because the pace of information exchange is dramatic. Today the games are played at the European Championship in Plovdiv. So I go to internet, 'Oh, here are the new moves'. If you play in another tournament, you have to look at these games, because next day you can face your opponent playing something that was played 24 hours ago."

    So it's harder to stay top in chess than in physical sports? "Today chess presents one of the greatest challenges because of computers... every club player who has enough time to work with his computer could come up with the final solution of a position! In tennis, Agassi is still Agassi, and you can't beat him even if you know all the movements. In chess, eventually Garry Kasparov could face a defeat if he is sitting against a weak player who is assisted by a computer!"

    From Tuesday in New York, Kasparov faces a great player who is himself a computer. In 1997 Kasparov lost to IBM's Deep Blue. Fritz is better than Deep Blue. "Machines are making huge progress," says Kasparov patronisingly. Do humans retain any advantages? "Yeah, because humans are flexible. Machine, even the greatest, has one problem: it's inflexible. So if it's the king's safety on top, it will be the king's safety on top forever. In the long future I see the man versus machine experiment to be conducted in a very simple fashion. We play four, six games and if human player, the world champion, wins one game it's over. That's it: we are still superior. Because we're not there to test physical ability of human being. You could have family problem, you could have a bad weather, you can have a headache, you can have whatever. But I still think that for a few years to come we're able to win the whole match."

    Whatever Kasparov's result against Fritz, it will have the feel of an afterthought, like everything else in his 18 years at the top. Never again has he played a match that transfixed the world as his encounters with Karpov did nearly 20 years ago. He shrugs. "This is something you can only do once in your life. Because that was the match that symbolised for millions of my compatriots the change in the political regime. I had many people younger than me coming to me saying, 'We remember our fathers, grandfathers, grandmothers, talking in the kitchen about young brave boy from Baku fighting the darling of the communist system.'" And when you see Karpov now? "The man is..." Kasparov sighs. "He hasn't changed. He goes with power."

    Kasparov could discuss power all night, but I have to go. He offers to pay for the drinks, then bounds off to talk some more.

    Simon Kuper is an FT writer based in Paris

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    Kasparov is of Jewish/Armenian heritage (real name: Weinstein).

    Don't be fooled.

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    Quote Originally Posted by The Blond Beast
    Kasparov is of Jewish/Armenian heritage (real name: Weinstein).

    Don't be fooled.
    A great man is a great man - regardless of whether we would allow him to date our sister, or even cross the threshold of our doorstep
    If I rest, I rust.
    - Martin Luther

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