KASPAROV MAKES COMEBACK
Ex-world champion comes out of 12-year retirement
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
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.