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Panel Discussion with Garry Kasparov, World Chess Champion

The panel discussion featuring Garry Kasparov is a component of the "Limits of Performance" symposium that will be taking place on campus May 7-8.

[Schedule of Symposium Events in May] [Topic Description for Limits Symposium]

Garry Kasparov (pronounced: Kas-PAH-rof) was born in 1963 in Baku, Azerbaijan. In 1980 he was the world junior champion, in 1981 the Soviet champion, and in 1985, at the age of 22, the youngest ever world chess champion, after defeating Anatoly Karpov. He has now been the top chess player in the world for 14 years and there are no signs of his winning streak stopping anytime soon.

A month ago, Kasparov played in one of the world's most competitive chess events held in Linares, Spain. Kasparov showed the world again why he is number one in the world, going undefeated. An addition of 18 points to his rating in this tournament, and of 9 more points in another world-class tournament in Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands, resulted in a record rating of 2839 points. This is the highest rating that has been achieved in the history of chess. Because of the way the rating system works, Kasparov will need to show the same caliber performance in the future in order to maintain his rating. The next best players in the world suffered significant losses in Linares, and unless they compensate for this damage soon, there will be only five or six grandmasters with a rating greater than 2700.

The road to this chess champion's success appears to have been quite smooth. Garryck Weinstein (his mother changed the family name to Kasparov when Garry was 7 years old), the prodigal child of an Armenian mother and a Jewish father, started to play chess at age 4. In 1976 Kasparov won the USSR youth championships. At 1980, at age 17, Kasparov won the world youth championships and became a grandmaster. One year later he conquered the USSR championships (together with grandmaster Lev Psakhis). In 1985, Kasparov became the 13th world chess champion as the youngest champion ever to hold the title.

When twenty-two-year-old Garry Kasparov made his winning move in the final game of the World Chess Championship, on November 9, 1985, giving him a 13-11 point victory in the series of 24 games against the then-reigning champion, Anatoly Karpov, spectators packed into Moscow's Tchaikovsky Hall surged to their feet, chanting "Garry, Garry." Spontaneous celebrations erupted in the lobby for the triumph of the youngest world chess champion in history, with fans from the Soviet Union's southern republics jumping, hugging, and kissing each other. One fan explained Kasparov's enormous popularity as follows: "Because he is young, because he is more pleasant than the other one, and because he is not just a chess player, but an artist."

Garry is indeed more than a chess player. In the time remaining after his chess activities, Kasparov takes an active role in politics. For him, politics were as irresistible as chess.

He realized early on that there was something terribly rotten in the state of Russia. Kasparov never trusted Gorbachev, stating "If you listened to what Gorbachev repeatedly said, he wanted to improve the Communist system. Every time he repeated the same story: 'We wanted the socialism with a human face.' My constant reply was that Frankenstein also had a human face." His fears were horribly realized when Azerbaijanis in Baku and elsewhere turned on their Armenian neighbors, including many of Kasparov's friends and relatives. It was an ethnic blood bath Kasparov believed was provoked by Gorbachev to quash independence and keep the Communists in power. Garry helped sixty-four people to leave Azerbaijan. He is not sure that he will ever return to his homeland.

To say that Garry is involved in the politics of chess would be an understatement. Kasparov has had a number of disputes with the International Chess Federation (FIDE), a dominant power in the international chess scene. So Kasparov began to organize his own tournaments. In 1987 he founded the Grandmasters' Association (GMA) which launched a World Cup of six tournaments. In 1993 he and Britain's Nigel Short founded the Professional Chess Association (PCA). The two men arranged a match in London to compete with the FIDE-sponsored Karpov-Timman match being played simultaneously in the Netherlands. To make it more appealing to casual spectators, Garry shorted the time controls.

The world chess champion also set up his own chess academy outside of Moscow in Podolsk. He strongly encourages youth chess activity, even sponsoring players to come to Moscow to compete in the Kasparov Cup, a traditional open tournament he created for the strongest chess players under 17 years old. Usually there are between 30 and 40 of the strongest young chess players from Russia, former USSR republics, and foreign countries. Many players in past Kasparov Cups have become active chess professionals. Kasparov Cup-99 just started in Moscow on March 23.

With his appearances on David Letterman's show and hundreds of public events, Garry Kasparov is the most publicized chess player since Bobby Fischer in the 1970s. However, many people remember him most in association with Deep Blue, from the epic "human vs. computer" matches. In 1997, Kasparov was invited by IBM to play against an improved version of Deep Blue, which he had formerly defeated. This new chess computer was given the name "Deeper Blue". Kasparov lost in a six-game match, but he points out that the tournament conditions were very unfair.

Kasparov was never allowed to see the computer. The computer was located in another building from the tournament hall. Garry was not allowed to see any games played by the computer. This is very different from normal playing conditions, since Kasparov's usual opponents have well-charted histories, and their former games can be retrieved from databases. He uses these games to get an idea of his opponent's style and can prepare accordingly for the match. This was disturbing enough to Kasparov, but there were also suspicions of human intervention. There was a very strong team of grandmasters preparing Deeper Blue for the opening stages of the game. They had access to hundreds of Kasparov's games, and could have helped Deeper Blue to find weaknesses in Garry's repertoire. During the match, the Deeper Blue team may have used human intuition to steer the computer away from riskier variations. This would have taken away Garry's primary advantage over the machine.

While Garry realized that Deeper Blue would be disposed to lines where memory and tactical calculations are very important, he was confident that the computer would not out-calculate him. Kasparov tried to use his positional intuition to tackle the program, not letting his pieces come in close contact with those of his adversary under later in the game. However, Garry claims the program did not make computer-like moves, and actually played good positional chess. He stated that while most people would be able to tell from a human vs. computer game which color the computer was playing, not even a grandmaster could guess which side the computer was on in these games.

When he asked for printouts of the computer's thought processes during the match, he was denied. This, Kasparov could not understand: "Suppose it's a sport event, so what would be the first obligatory procedure for anybody who breaks a world record? Doping control. You go to a room and you must give your blood test. A printout is a blood test for computer. Where are the printouts? I don't know what's wrong with them. I would imagine that after such success you would like to trumpet it all over the world, and to show the great minds that are working inside IBM. Though, it didn't happen."

After the match, Kasparov challenged IBM for a rematch, laying his title of world champion on the match. However, the computer was taken apart. Garry warns, "Now, the danger doesn't come from computers. The danger comes, in my opinion, from those, who do not care at what price they achieve their results."

Kasparov is, himself, a proponent of computers. His web site, "Club Kasparov", was set up in the final goal of developing an "integrated chess solution on the Internet". The site contains chess news, tournament commentary, future events, games, an on-line playing area, and articles written by him on a variety of subjects. Garry also launched the idea of "Advanced Chess", where computers are used during a match, reducing the dangers of tactical oversights, and improving the quality of play.

Garry Kasparov is one of the best things that has happened for chess. His creativity, his flare, his imagination are evident in every game he plays. He has inspired countless chess players to become better and open up their minds to the incredible opportunities that chess provides. His efforts in the political and organizational realms will have a lasting positive effect for generations to come. Kasparov is truly one of the great figures of our era.

By Adrian Keatinge-Clay
Senior, Biology and Chemistry, Stanford University


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