KAS­PAROV MAKES COME­BACK

Ex-world cham­pion comes out of 12-year re­tire­ment

New Straits Times - - World -

IN a move elec­tri­fy­ing the world of chess, for­mer world cham­pion Garry Kas­parov is com­ing out of a 12-year re­tire­ment to­day to take on a new gen­er­a­tion of play­ers who have long wor­shiped him as the clos­est thing to a “chess god”.

Kas­parov ut­terly dom­i­nated the sport from 1985 to 2000. Since his with­drawal from a tour­na­ment in Linares, Spain, in March 2005, the Rus­sian’s ab­sence has left chess fa­nat­ics feel­ing or­phaned.

So there was con­sid­er­able sur­prise when he agreed to play in the new Rapid and Blitz tour­na­ment here, which fol­lows closely af­ter the an­nual Sin­que­field Cup com­pe­ti­tion, in the same city on the Mis­sis­sippi River.

Kas­parov, who be­came the youngest world cham­pion ever at age 22 in 1985, is now 54, more than a decade past the age when pro­fes­sional chess play­ers re­tire.

From to­day to Satur­day, the Rus­sian will put aside the busi­ness that has kept him busy in re­tire­ment — his vo­cal and de­ter­mined op­po­si­tion to Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin — to play against some of chess’s big guns, like fel­low Rus­sian Sergey Kar­jakin.

The world’s cur­rent No. 1 player, Mag­nus Carlsen of Nor­way, will not be there, how­ever.

Still, the re­turn to com­pe­ti­tion of the Azer­bai­jan-born Kas­parov — a man once dubbed the “Beast of Baku”, whose epic clashes with Ana­toli Kar­pov are part of chess leg­end — has had an ex­plo­sive im­pact in the chess world.

“Ev­ery­one is talk­ing about it,” Amer­i­can chess grand­mas­ter Ale­jan­dro Ramirez said.

“Peo­ple are fly­ing from In­dia and China to see this dude play.”

Kas­parov’s “un­par­al­leled” dom­i­nance of the chess world made him “a cul­tural icon”, said Ramirez, a United States Open cham­pion who coaches the chess team at Saint Louis Uni­ver­sity.

The younger gen­er­a­tion, which Ramirez sees emerg­ing al­most by the day, “cer­tainly looks up to him”, he said.

“His con­tri­bu­tion to chess the­ory and our un­der­stand­ing of the game res­onate still to­day.”

But what are Kas­parov’s re­al­is­tic chances af­ter so many years away from the gru­elling com­pe­ti­tion of pro­fes­sional chess?

The man him­self dodged the ques­tion in his only tweet men­tion­ing his come­back: “Looks like I’m go­ing to raise the av­er­age age of the field and lower the av­er­age rat­ing!” he quipped, in a bit of self-dep­re­cat­ing hu­mor.

“Garry Kas­parov has al­ways had a fight­ing spirit sec­ond to none, and he is ex­tremely com­pet­i­tive,” Ramirez said.

“But he is go­ing to be fac­ing very stiff com­pe­ti­tion,” in­clud­ing “some of the best of the best of the world”.

The high-pres­sure, speed­chess for­mat of the St Louis tour­na­ment, where play­ers are forced to make their moves far more rapidly than dur­ing nor­mal com­pe­ti­tions, could be tough on the gray­ing Kas­parov, as he takes on much younger play­ers who spe­cialise in that ap­proach.

“I ex­pect him to be fight­ing for the top spots, but I would be sur­prised if he wins it all,” said Ramirez, 29, who be­came a grand­mas­ter at 15.

But in a tour­na­ment that will in­clude four of the world’s top 10 play­ers, Kas­parov was not ex­pected to be a pushover, said Syl­vain Ravot of France, who has a mas­ter rat­ing.

Ac­cus­tomed to be­ing a step ahead of the field, the Rus­sian “chose the venue well, more or less within his reach, for his come­back”, Ravot said, adding that the mere fact of Kas­parov’s re­turn might be more im­por­tant than his ac­tual per­for­mance.

“It’s a bit like Pete Sam­pras mak­ing a come­back” to ten­nis, he said.

Kas­parov would ap­pear to be mo­ti­vated more by love of the game than any­thing else, though the win­ner’s purse is US$150,000 (RM660,000). AFP

AFP PIC

Garry Kas­parov, who be­came the youngest world cham­pion ever at age 22 in 1985, is now 54, more than a decade past the age when pro­fes­sional chess play­ers re­tire.

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