Born to two engineer parents, Kim Moiseyevich Weinstein and Klara Shagenovna Kasparov, in what was then the Soviet Republic, young Kasparov grew up speaking Russian and part of the Russian culture, although his Jewish father and Armenian mother’s cultures also influenced his life. Obviously gifted, his parents were still surprised when, at the age of 5, Garry provided a solution to a newspaper chess challenge question, marking the beginning of an unmatched career. And knowing why Russians are so good at Chess, with the game being in their culture, also having a natural gift it was clear Garry was something special.
As Kasparov’s chess acumen spread like wildfire, so did his wins. He decided unequivocally to make chess his career upon participating in the Sokolsky Memorial tournament in Minsk in 1978. He was invited as an exception rather than the regular qualifying route, but when he won it was apparent to Kasparov that his skill and determination were enough to propel him to the top of the chess world. But even Kasparov couldn’t have anticipated the dominating force he would soon become.
In 1985 the World Champion streak started for Kasparov, and he would go on to hold this title until 2000 when he lost to Vladimir Kramnik, another Russian player who also began his auspicious chess career with a win at the under-18 World Championships at the age of 16.
In a foreshadowing of his future challenging of the direction of the world of chess, in 1986 Kasparov created the GMA, or Grandmasters Association, to support and represent professional chess players, like the modern-day Association of Chess Professionals, or ACP. This created a rift with FIDE, and ultimately led to his split from FIDE, a move he later lamented as a mistake since it ultimately hurt the game of chess in the long run by fracturing players and tournaments.
As the world watched the collapse of the USSR, Kasparov and his family fled Baku upon fear of ethnic violence. But his lifelong spark to action in support of the Soviet’s breakup and a call for democratic and market reforms was lit. Kasparov will now begin to enter the political realm more and more, championing not only the free world but also individual worldwide liberty as he continues to dominate the chess world.
As Kasparov marched up the world rankings, his dissatisfaction with FIDE grew, and in 1993 he created a rival organization, the Professional Chess Association or PCA, and held a World Championship tournament. Upon winning it himself, Kasparov and Karpov, the FIDE World Champion, became the only two players to simultaneously hold a world title. When PCA’s title sponsor’s funding dried up in 1996, PCA shut down. The World Champion title from PCA, sometimes called the “Classical” title retrospectively, was last held by Kasparov.
The Grandmaster Kasparov went on to famously play against Deep Blue, IBM’s chess-playing computer, in 1996 as a six-game human vs computer chess match where engineers managed the programming to learn and reprogram the computer between games. Kasparov won the first match, and Deep Blue overcame Kasparov in 1997’s rematch.
Retiring in 2005, the same year he was inducted into the World Chess Hall of Fame, Kasparov’s democracy for all aspirations were just warming up. He led New York’s Human Rights Federation in 2012, moving there the next year from Moscow to distance himself from Putin. Kasparov’s arrest was imminent for his advocation of freedoms and organization of “The Other Russia,” created to fight fascism in the country. Once arrested and beaten outside of a Moscow courthouse when he was demonstrating in support of a punk band, but quick-thinking journalists and observers provided video and photographic evidence that he was peaceful, contradicting police reports. Not one to shy away from speaking out, Kasparov has maintained constant scrutiny from the Kremlin during his lifetime encouraged him to ultimately settle in Croatia, applying for naturalized citizenship there in 2014.
Within two years, Kasparov’s father Kim passed away from leukemia, but Garry had already begun his love affair with chess as he began playing and learning in earnest the year before. Highly encouraged and supported by his mother Klara, Garry started training at the Young Pioneer Palace school in Baku and then was asked to being serious training with Vladimir Makogonov at the famous Russian Mikhail Botvinnik chess academy by age 10. Of his childhood training and involvement in the world of chess, Kasparov says that “for me, chess is a language, and if it’s not my native tongue, it is one I learned via the immersion method at a young age.”
Already a standout player, by the age of 13 he had won the Junior Soviet Championship in Tbilisi, scoring 7 points out of 9, and won again the following year with a score of 8.5 out of 9. By this time, future Grandmaster Kasparov had already learned the Caro-Kann Defense and the Queen’s Gambit Declined of the Tarkatower System, setting the stage for Kasparov’s brilliant mind to utilize and formulate some of the most challenging and agressive strategies ever used by a chess player in the world.
An acute combination of training under the rigid playing of world champion Botvinnik merged with the increasingly focused intensity Kasparov is still known for, creating a player known for his surprising ability to be flexible with his game outcome. This ability first showed its strengths at a young age when Kasparov as he earned the coveted Grandmaster title at the astonishing age of 17. Looking back, Kasparov’s perspective on his unmatched abilities reflects on his inner approach to facing challenges. Kasparov noted as an adult that “winning is not a secret that belongs to a very few, winning is something that we can learn by studying ourselves, studying the environment and making ourselves ready for any challenge that is in front of us.”
Described as aggressive as well as analytical. Constantly reevaluating his own moves, Kasparov is known for holding the belief that planning the opening strategy wins or loses matches. Additionally, he also has an unusually strong endgame understanding, with his style described as dynamic and creative. Pattern recognition through constant study of possibilities, in games or specifically in texts or databases, have been Kasparov’s method of study and preparation. His philosophy of being “over the board” rather than behind a computer screen or looking at a text served him well, since the real-time pressures of being face to face with an opponent are unmatched with non-game playing preparations.
Kasparov’s ability to make masterful decisions based on opening strategies is seen in his use of the Sicilian, Ruy Lopez, and Nimzo Indian as his top three most used for white pieces. Switching colors, when black pieces are played, he also used the Sicilian opening most often but followed it up with the King’s Indian and Sicilian Najdorf openings.
Unlike others, Kasparov was highly motivated to win because, in his words, he was a sore loser. He felt that his ability to take on new challenges, face the uncomfortable, and take risks were all part of what made him the greatest player of all time. His style of play reflected his belief that a “mental robustness is rare, even among elite Grandmasters,” as he said in his book Deep Thinking. As a result, Kasparov intentionally fought to maintain a positive mental outcome when he was challenged by a loss of momentum that can come with losses or even poor playing, influencing his sometimes-risky stylistic choices of openings and aggressive strategies.
Kasparov has too many notable tournaments to list here, but we listed some of the career changing tournaments that Garry competed in.
Candidates Tournament, 1982
Kasparov won the Candidates Tournament in 1982 and became #1 player ranked in the world and only 2nd youngest Candidate next to Bobby Fischer.
World Championship, 1984
In the final match with Anatoly Karpov was abandoned by FIDE President Campomanes after 48 matches over five months (the winner was Karpov).
47th USSR Championship
We cover a couple games from this tournament, if you’d like to see more of them, you can visit the collection of games.
Kasparov was part of a big moment in Chess history. In 1996, Garry Kasparov faced the Chess engine known as Deep Blue for the second time. Kasparov won the first match the prior year, but in 1996, Kasparov won beaten overall in the match against the IBM Chess computer marking the first time in history that a computer beat the best Chess player in the world.
As the highest rated player ever at an Elo rating of 2851, Kasparov not only held the highest rating ever for a chess player but also held that honor for 13 years until surpassed by Magnus Carlson in 2013. As his tutor, Kasparov coached and played against Carlson who was a prodigy in his own right as well. Kasparov’s love of the game and desire to encourage and foster players around the world is evidenced in his training of Carlson, much like his own game was bolstered and influenced by Botvinnik in his own youth.
I hope you enjoyed reading about Garry Kasparov. If you like learning about the lives of the best Chess players in history, you may also want to read the Chess player profiles of Paul Morphy and Magnus Carlsen.