Friday, March 11, 2005

Garry Kasparov Has Retired

...and international chess has lost the last vestiges of interest it could possibly hold for any true fan of the game.

Read and despair.

This truly is a devastating blow to international chess, and it is difficult to be truly hyperbolic about the effect this will have on the game and its popularity. Garry Kasparov is considered by many to be ("have been" is more appropriate - with such a heavy hand do I write that, though!) the best player in the game's long history. He was a natural talent who work relentlessly to improve on his own play. The casual observer of the game sometimes misconceives chess genius as something entirely inborn, with the chess savant needing only a little practice to keep himself in top form. This is simply not true. Chess at the highest level (and Kasparov has been at that highest level, in fact the top-rated player in the world, for two decades) requires intensive study and hard work. One of Kasparov's early teachers was Mikhail Botvinnik, and Botvinnik's influence on Kasparov has been evident throughout his career in the enormous amount of work Kasparov is known to have done in improving his game, finding innovations in the opening, and keeping himself in top physical and psychological form to compete over the board. Kasparov's opening preparation is especially legendary, and the man has laptop computers full of opening moves he has studied, many of which he has never played, and apparently will never play, in a game.

Kasparov was hardly characterized merely by intense work at the game, though. His style was tactically and postionally brilliant, deep, and beautiful. His was not the bold (some would say reckless), "messy" style of Mikhail Tal; but Kasparov was ruthless with the initiative and his calculations were most often accurate. Nor did Kasparov possess Tigran Petrosian's dry, subtle positional style of prophylaxis; but he could strategically outplay even Anatoly Karpov and had a deep understanding of strategic nuances in his positions. It might be said that Kasparov's weakness was the endgame, but this is only half-true: Kasparov seemed to be deficient in the endgame because he rarely seemed to reach an endgame, finishing off his poor opponent with superior opening preparation and flawless middlegame play.

Kasparov was a genius, and his position as the absolute best in the world was never in doubt. Where there might be doubt whether Anand were really a better player than Kramnik, because the positions right behind Kasparov seemed so fluid, there was never any doubt that Kasparov was above the pack. And this complete dominance was almost constant for twenty years, with only minor slumps for Kasparov. He did not seem in the same league as his contemporaries. Kasparov's games were too deep and too precisely played to compare to others of his time, though those others were brilliant players themselves. Kasparov seemed to belong to the time of Alekhine, and it is no surprise that he idolized that man.

I will not now delve into the political wrangling that disgusted Kasparov and forced his decision to quit. I would like to make one thing clear, to those who might scoff when Kasparov says things like "I have nothing left to prove" and "I have accomplished all my goals." Kasparov truly did prove himself beyond any doubt to be a chess genius and one of the best of all time. He decimated his competitors so well and for so long a time that there really was no reason for him to play anymore. Since the 1980's and early 1990's, when Karpov was still in his prime, no one has been a worthy challenge for Kasparov, and it must have been frustrating for him to prepare so intensely only to find his hard work barely needed.

What Kasparov will do after chess is a fair question, but a better and more worrisome one is what will become of international chess without Kasparov. Kasparov was a great player and colorful personality, and with his strong opposition to FIDE gone, it seems likely that chess will fall into mediocrity.

Congratulations to Garry Kimovich, and let us hope this will not be a requiem for chess.


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