A chess champ’s riskiest move: Facing off against the Kremlin

Garry Kasparov is trying to unite Russia’s opposition to a bid to undo Putin’s legacy
December 23, 2006
Michael Mainville
Special to the Star

MOSCOW–In his 20 years at the top of the professional chess world, Garry Kasparov was known as a risk taker, a relentless aggressor who loved to throw his opponents off balance. A year after his retirement, Kasparov is still taking risks, but against a very different kind of opponent.

Kasparov, 43, has thrown himself into the murky and sometimes dangerous world of Russian politics. A fierce opponent of President Vladimir Putin, Kasparov has become the driving force behind a movement to unite opposition forces in Russia ahead of the country’s 2008 presidential election. In the process, he’s been threatened, his offices have been raided and he’s even been struck on the head with a chessboard by a disgruntled former fan.

“I’m discovering that politics, especially in Russia, is very different from chess,” Kasparov says. “The rules can change. You think you’re playing chess but you’re actually in the casino.”

Kasparov is no stranger to controversy, but until recently his political experience had been limited to the arcane world of chess politics.

He burst onto the chess world in 1984 as a 21-year-old protégé challenging the reigning world champion, Anatoly Karpov, in a “first to six wins” match. He fought back from a disappointing start to hold Karpov to a seemingly endless series of draws and eventually began to whittle away at Karpov’s lead. Then the World Chess Federation called off the contest, citing the players’ health. The match had lasted six months and Karpov had lost 22 pounds.

The decision to cancel infuriated Kasparov, who went on to win a rematch the following year, and he began a long feud that eventually led him to set up a rival chess association.

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