Garry Kasparov: The Beast of Baku

Garry Kasparov is a chess grandmaster from Russia. He was the chess world champion between 1985 and 2000, and was ranked #1 in the world for more than 20 years!

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Since you’re reading this post, we can assume you’ve heard of chess great Garry Kasparov. After all, he was world champion and a large number of chess enthusiasts consider him to be the strongest player of all time – even above the legendary Bobby Fischer!

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Estimated reading time: 15 minutes

Garry Kasparov – Dawn of a Chess Giant

Kasparov was born in Baku, Azerbaijan, in 1963. Did you know his original last name was Weinstein? He later changed it to his mother’s maiden name, Kasparov, to avoid political and religious tensions that were common in the USSR at that time.

Garry Kasparov was drawn to chess at a very early age, and it is said he offered a solution to a position problem his parents had set up. The rest, as they say, is chess history.

His father died of Leukemia when Garry was 7 years old.

By age 10, the young Garry Kasparov was already studying the game seriously in Mikhail Botvinnik’s now-infamous school of chess, which he later helped run.

The first actual openings Garry Kasparov learned seriously were the Caro-Kann Defense for black and the Queen’s Gambit Declined, Tartakower system for white. This is rather uncommon, as most new chess players pick up 1.e4 as their white opening.

The training paid off. In 1976, Kasparov won the Soviet Junior Championship, scoring seven points of a possible nine! He was only 13 years old.


Just two years later, at 15 years old, he won the Sokolsky Memorial tournament in Minsk and was quoted saying:

“I will remember the Sokolsky Memorial as long as I live.”

Garry Kasparov also believes that this victory paved the way to his eventual chess world championship title.

That same year, he won the Soviet Chess Championship, which consisted of 64 very good, very experienced players!

In 1979, he was added to an elite tournament as a replacement for legendary chess player Viktor Korchnoi, who had defected from the Soviet Union and was not able to play.

Although there were no expectations from the young Garry Kasparov, he won the tournament and gained his first provisional rating: 2595! At the time, there were only fifteen people in the world whose ratings were higher. Wow!

And it only got better from there.

Kasparov entered and won the World Junior Chess Championship in Dortmund, West Germany, the very next year.

1980 was also the year he was awarded the grandmaster (GM) title.

Teenaged Kasparov tied for first in the ’81-’82 USSR Chess Championship

He also qualified for the prestigious candidates tournament at age 19—just four years older than Bobby Fischer, who qualified when he was 15.

Garry Kasparov was slated to play Viktor Korchnoi to see who would challenge the sitting champion, Russian GM Anatoly Karpov, who was unbelievably strong.

Politics got in the way, and they did not play their scheduled match in Pasadena, CA. Instead, the rumble went down later in London, having been set up by GM Raymond Keene—remember him from our Queen’s Gambit Declined article? Yeah, not a weak player.

Garry Kasparov won the match 7-4 and was quickly making a name for himself in the chess world.

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By January of 1984 Garry Kasparov was the highest rated player in the world at a staggering 2710 FIDE.

He was also the youngest-ever number-one rated player until 1996, when Vladimir Kramnik surpassed him.

Garry Kasparov smashed the candidate’s match in 1984, as well, against strong Russian GM Vasily Smyslov 8.5-4.5—not an easy feat by any stretch of the imagination!

He was now officially qualified to challenge the extremely powerful GM Anatoly Karpov for the big chess throne.

Here is one of many games by Garry Kasparov showing why he is considered the greatest chess player of all time. All he needed was a slight lead in development to take complete control of the game against a strong GM.

Anatoly Karpov – Garry Kasparov World Championship Match, 1984

The time had come to put his skills to the ultimate test by playing for the world champion title.

And this was to be no easy task, as Anatoly Karpov was an absolute terror on the board—heck, still is, at the time of this writing!

This match is perhaps one of the most interesting, if not the most interesting, world championship match in the history of the game.

It was classical format, which means they would play until one competitor won six games and draws didn’t count. That’s rough!

But wait, it gets worse.

These two hard-hitters were so equally matched, the contest went on, and on, and on, and then on some more! The sheer number of draws was astounding.

It wasn’t until game 27 that Anatoly Karpov secured his fifth win. He was one victory away from retaining the title, decisively!

But that’s when Garry Kasparov turned on the heat and won game 32—the first victory for him in the entire match! Karpov still remained one win away from going home the victor.

Garry Kasparov vs Anatoly Karpov #1

Then it was Drawville again for a long while until Kasparov won games 47 and 48, bringing the match score to a nail-biting 5-3, Karpov’s favor.

Then-FIDE President Florencio Campomanes stepped in at this point and cried Uncle for the players, stopping the match in its tracks.

Both Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov were disappointed and wished the match to proceed, but the FIDE president wouldn’t have it, as he was worried about the actual health of the players.

He was quoted saying that the contest had “exhausted the physical, if not the psychological resources, of not only the participants but all those connected with the match…” and waved the flag for the contestants.

It is reported that during the course of their battles, Karpov had shed 22 pounds and was looking… not so great. Kasparov, on the other hand, who had begun to win game after game, appeared in great physical shape and was eager to win more.

The official match was rescheduled and played the next year. Karpov retained the title.

To this day, it is the longest world championship chess match in recorded history. The grueling thing stretched from September 10, 1984 to February 8, 1985.

Garry Kasparov vs Anatoly Karpov #2

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Anatoly Karpov – Garry Kasparov Championship Match, 1985

To prepare for their second showdown, Garry Kasparov said he did his best to keep in good physical shape.

“Tennis… and swimming, in my opinion, are the perfect combination of physical activity, allowing one to be in excellent condition.”

To prepare for the match chess-wise, Kasparov engaged in bouts with Robert Huebner and Ulf Andersson, and said he felt more than prepared for another title shot.

“…by September … I felt far more confident than a year earlier. I had become stronger and had more stamina. My store of opening ideas had been thoroughly replenished.”

For this match, FIDE employed a 24-game limit with a draw result favoring the current champion, Karpov. They weren’t going to risk another 48-game Herculean battle, it seemed.

The prize fund was a whopping $1.7 million for this epic clashing of titans. Adding in for inflation, that’s approximately $2.4 million today!

This chess match saw a lot of back-and-forth action, until accusations of Karpov receiving questionable support money appeared in a newspaper, shaking him. He was later cleared but by then, it was too late.

Kasparov said that the real turning point happened in game 16 which, in his mind, is one of the most beautifully played of the match.

“After this game I felt I could win the title, that I must win it. At the same time it became clear that Karpov felt the exact opposite.”

Garry Kasparov vs Anatoly Karpov #3

Game 24 was the match decider. Karpov had launched one heck of an attack with the white pieces and had Garry Kasparov somewhat on the ropes. Kasparov kept his cool and sacrificed not one but two pawns and secured the win.

Garry Kasparov was officially the thirteenth chess world champion!

Whew! So, finally, Kasparov was done with Karpov, once and for all. Right?



Garry Kasparov – Anatoly Karpov World Championship Match, 1986

Contractually, Anatoly Karpov had the right to challenge Garry Kasparov to a rematch, which he did in December of 1985—he wanted that crown back and wasted no time!

Although the FIDE president wanted the match to be held in February, just three months after the last one, Garry Kasparov refused, said he wanted more time.

Their third rumble began near the end of July, 1986, and was played in both London and Leningrad.

It was the first chess world championship match played between Russians that did not occur actually in Russia.

This match also lasted 24 games, with the final game being played on October 8, 1986.

Garry Kasparov had defended the title successfully and was still the chess world champion.

Garry Kasparov vs Anatoly Karpov #4

FIDE Drama and Garry Kasparov

It was about this time that Garry Kasparov began publicly having issues with FIDE and its politics, the way it was being run and handled by its organizers.

Over the next decade or so, he spoke out against FIDE quite vocally.

But it didn’t really get weird until 1993 when Garry Kasparov broke from FIDE entirely and started his own chess organization in hopes of better politics and fair treatment for all.

Because of this split, FIDE appointed Karpov as again the reigning world FIDE champion.

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Garry Kasparov has created several governing bodies, but none really stuck. He later said breaking from FIDE in ’93 was likely the worst decision of his entire chess career and that doing so likely hurt the game instead of helped.

Eventually, Kasparov created the Professional Chess Association, or PCA.

In 1993, a new world championship qualifier had shown up and was waiting his turn: GM Nigel Short, a British powerhouse with a lot of promise.

Because Garry Kasparov had split from FIDE, their match was played under the auspices of the PCA.

Garry’s split with FIDE may have done the game of chess no favors, but Kasparov vs. Short certainly didn’t hurt, as support and coverage in the UK was sizable. The match was even televised on the news there.

Garry Kasparov handily won their skirmish, finishing with a score of 12.5-7.5.

Kasparov vs Short

But because of the match, both Garry Kasparov and Nigel Short were removed from all FIDE rating lists, and there were now two world chess champions: Kasparov with the PCA and Karpov with FIDE.

Confusing, to say the least. What a mess!

And it would stay this way, split, for the next thirteen years.

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Another Successful Title Defense by Garry Kasparov

Garry Kasparov defended his title once again in 1995, also under the PCA umbrella, against GM Viswanathan Anand. Shortly after this match win, a major backer pulled out and the PCA collapsed.

He had a little more fight left in him though, it seemed, as he tried one more time to create a world championship match under yet another organization—this time, the World Chess Association, or WCO.

Vladimir Kramnik and GM Alexei Shirov played a match to determine who would challenge Garry Kasparov. In a surprising result, Shirov won and was set to do battle with the king.

However, more funding woes struck and that, too, collapsed. So, Garry Kasparov tucked his tail and headed back to FIDE, right?


Remember our buddy GM Raymond Keene? Well, he stepped up once again and offered his organization to aid in a world championship contest.

No match with Shirov was ever put into motion. Instead, it was decided that Vladimir Kramnik would play Garry Kasparov for the title.

And that, folks, was the beginning of the end.

Garry Kasparov – Vladimir Kramnik, World Championship Match, 2000

Giants Garry Kasparov and Vladimir Kramnik clashed their swords in Y2K, as some of you may still remember the year 2000. Strangely enough, Kramnik had been a student of Garry’s in the Botvinnik school of chess many years prior.

Probably not the best kid to pick on, but OK.

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Game 10 is where it really started to go wrong for Garry Kasparov, as he was having trouble finding enough teeth to chew up Kramnik’s Berlin Defense, an opening he is well known for using.

The challenger took this game in just 25 moves!

Kramnik vs Kasparov

After the loss of his title, Garry Kasparov won quite a few major tournaments and continued to top the FIDE rating list.

He also refused an invitation to the next candidates tournament, citing that his recent tourney results should speak for themselves, making him the obvious choice to challenge Kramnik.

Finally, after winning the strong Linares chess tournament (he won this nine times!) in 2005, Garry Kasparov announced his official retirement from competitive chess.

That isn’t to say there was any drop in the level of chess that Garry Kasparov played. In this video GM Damian Lemos will show you how Kasparov beat another chess legend, Viktor Korchnoi, in 2006.

Man vs. Machine – Garry Kasparov Plays the Bots

For whatever reason, Garry Kasparov simply loves chess engines—particularly, playing against them!

In 1996 he entered a six-game match with IBM big boy computer Deep Blue. Kasparov won that match.

The very next year, IBM came after him again, and Kasparov lost 3.5-2.5, citing that he wasn’t prepared for the machine this time.

Interestingly, this was the first time in history that a machine had defeated a sitting world champion in chess! Neat, huh?

In 2003 he entered another machine match, dubbed “Man vs. Machine,” against chess program Deep Junior. The match was tied up and Garry offered a draw, which the Deep Blue team accepted readily.

When asked later why he offered the draw instead of going for the win, Garry Kasparov said that he was terrified of making a blunder.

I mean, wouldn’t you be?

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Garry Kasparov and Politics

While the aim of this article is not to highlight the political career of Garry Kasparov, it must be mentioned since it’s such a huge part of his life.

He is an outspoken opposer of Russian President Vladimir Putin, although Garry Kasparov himself was a part of the Communist Party for some time in his younger years.

This has created some scary controversy along the way, and many believe his life has been in danger more than a few times.

He has created several human rights organizations and continues to speak on political platforms against Putin and his ideals.

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Garry Kasparov, A Legend in his Own Time

Not many people can pull off what Garry Kasparov has, being one of the most powerful chess players in the world and a staunch, spotlighted human rights/political activist.

His playing style is likened to that of Alexander Alekhine, Fischer, and Tal. Namely, brutal and attacking!

In fact, Garry Kasparov himself said that Alexander Alekhine and Bobby Fischer were huge influences in his own chess development. Go figure!

He was the thirteenth chess world champion who, until Vladimir Kramnik, only had one real rival: Anatoly Karpov.

Garry Kasparov’s peak FIDE rating was a blistering 2851 and his rating at retirement was 2812. Not too shabby!

To find out more about this powerful and eclectic chess behemoth, check out the links below!

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