“I finished my professional career in 2005 when machines were not as powerful as today. But naturally in the last ten years of my career, I had to deal with the increasing power of the machines. I was the first one who introduced these machines, computer machines, and used them as the most important training tool.”
“Have they become a kind of Frankenstein monster in a way?”
“Hmm...” he pauses. “The young generation has great difficulty in resisting the power of the computer. Watching the computer screen sometimes...it’s like most of them become hypnotized. Because it’s hard to take your eyes off the machine. One of the greatest things about Magnus [Carlsen] is that he doesn’t care what machine says. When I worked with him, he could sit at the screen following the machine but not being paralyzed by it.”
“He could see things the machine would not show him?”
“By brute force of calculations the machine has recommendations, but Magnus was never impressed not to look for his own solutions. For him it was like a calculator: You will use calculator, but you have to use your own brains. Magnus was always able to play his own game.”
“Do you think that in your prime you could have beaten him?”
“I always resist the question of comparing people. We live at different times, so Garry Kasparov in ’85 was once the champion, but my knowledge of chess was way, way less. It was 25 years ago.”
“That’s what’s so interesting about chess, isn’t it? That it’s an endless process of learning.”
“Exactly. It’s like in science, people know so much more now. So how can you compare even me in ’89 with Magnus?”At the end of our conversation I return to the geopolitical chess game hanging in the balance and he makes a surprising prediction about the fate of Vladimir Putin.
I ask him what he thinks the next move by the protesters in Ukraine should be. As a chess player. As a human rights activist. As a human—someone who knows the price of a violent outcome.
“They have to stay firm and they have to show confidence. We’re talking, of course, about a very diversified crowd, so there are people who are on the street, ordinary people who are fighting the future, and politicians who are also fighting for a future but they do it sometimes with a very brute force of calculation. I think that it’s going to be a great turning point not only for Ukraine but for the rest of the former Soviet Union—including Russia. The strengths and the determination of young Ukrainians on the streets of Kiev might be a deciding factor for the future.”
“What’s going to happen after Putin dies?”
“I think he will not die [before he leaves office]; I think he will be removed, and unfortunately in Russia, I’m afraid it will not happen peacefully.”
“So things could get worse.”
“No, I didn’t say worse. Because I still think that any removal of dictator is positive. The question is how violent this removal is, whether there’s bloodshed, whether it’s limited to the capital or just to the palace. Whether it’s backed by public demonstrations, whether they’re purely democratic or sometimes nationalistic.”
I admit I am stunned by his prediction of Putin’s fall. I wonder how many moves ahead Kasparov is really seeing. I’d asked him when he played, how many he could see ahead, and after hedging he said “five or six.”
When I ask Kasparov if he has any future political ambitions, he says he does not. But that denial may just be the right move now. Looking five or six moves ahead, I wonder if we won’t see Garry Kasparov mount another attack on the opposing king.