My car crash interview with Garry Kasparov

My car crash interview with Garry Kasparov

There's only one way to describe my interview with retired chess great, and my personal hero, Garry Kasparov. It was a car crash.

Grandmaster crash: Garry Kasparov recovers from an untimely bump CREDIT: EDDIE MULHOLLAND/THE TELEGRAPH

Quite literally. About an hour before we were due to meet last week, I got a call from a slightly flustered PR to inform me that Garry had been involved in a shunt in east London and was now in A&E.

"A&E?" I said, trying to process the information. "Is he alright?"

Now, I have a confession here. I've waited all my adult life to interview Garry Kasparov, the man who reigned supreme in the chess world from 1986 until his retirement in 2005. But I've also spent my entire career as a news journalist. In my head, compassion was competing with excitement. Had I just chanced upon an incredible scoop? Alas – sorry, thankfully – I learned that yes, Kasparov was going to be fine, though he'd suffered a nasty bang on the head in the taxi journey from the airport and was now waiting to be seen by medics. "You know what A&E departments are like," said the PR. "He might be there a while."
 
  We rearranged for the next day
It's impossible to overstate the impact Garry Kasparov had on the chess world. He's the big daddy, the living legend; the idol who legions of club players – myself included – tried to emulate.
It's impossible to overstate the impact Garry Kasparov had on the chess world. He's the big daddy, the living legend; the idol who legions of club players – myself included – tried to emulate.
Born in Baku in Azerbaijan in 1963, his assault on the chess world started at the age of just ten, when he entered an elite school. Two years later he was the USSR's junior champion; at 16, he won the world junior championship. In 1985 and at the age of 22, Kasparov became the youngest-ever world champion, dispatching Anatoly Karpov in the first of five world championship finals between the two – Kasparov won three, one was drawn, and one controversially aborted. Kasparov breathed drama into the chess arena. His physical presence was surly and intimidating over the board – and his play could be breathtakingly aggressive, featuring jaw-dropping sacrifices of his own pieces and deeply-calculated mating nets. Kasparov was exhilarating to watch. I remember him dispatching the challenge of the English Grandmaster – and our mutual friend – Nigel Short at the Savoy Theatre in 1993. Incredible as it is to think now, that match was televised live on Channel 4, with a Match of the Day-style highlights round-up. In the build-up, a bullish, brooding Kasparov goaded Short. "My opponent is Short and the match will be short", he intoned. It was an early example of chess trash-talk. Kasparov won convincingly: 12½ to 7½

Karpov Vs Kasparov in 1985 CREDIT: DPA

But – much as our interview – Kasparov is also remembered for his car crash moments.
The Short match was held under the auspices of Kasparov's breakaway Professional Chess Association, a rival to the international federation Fide. The split bitterly divided the world of chess. Ultimately the PCA failed, folding three years later when it lost Intel as its major sponsor, although Kasparov's parallel world championship limped on until 2006. A year later Kasparov had another famous reverse, losing against the IBM computer Deep Blue in a short six-game match he probably should have won. He did not take defeat well, later accusing the programmers of cheating. The king finally lost his world crown in 2000 to the Russian Vladimir Kramnik, who nullified his attacking flair with a solid – some would say mind-numbingly boring – opening called the Berlin Defence. In the years after his retirement in 2015, Kasparov turned his energy to politics, becoming a fierce critic of Russian president Vladimir Putin. He has since been arrested and detained several times for his activism, including in 2012 when he was accused of biting a police officer’s hand at a protest.

Kasparov answers journalists' questions after losing the Fide presidential election in Tromso, Norway, in 2014 CREDIT: RUNE STOLTZ BERTINUSSEN/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

More recently, he has been writing and speaking about the subject of Artificial Intelligence (Kasparov was one of the first chess players to use computers to enhance his game, something all chess players now do). And it was due to this AI fascination that I was handed the chance to meet him. He was in town to speak for Avast Security, the anti-malware giant, on his pet subject: how humans and machines can get the most out of each other – a subject that I had my own thoughts about on the morning of our second interview attempt, as a cancelled train and plodding Tube made me embarrassingly late for the appointment.
I was keeping the big guy waiting. Fortunately, the photographer was there to make my excuses – although his blood was pumping too, after an altercation with someone in the queue who had objected to him using a press pass. Late and angry: this wasn't how I'd expected to meet my hero.
 Leon Watson 9 OCTOBER 2017 • 12:00PM telegraph.co.uk
     
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