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Thursday, 2 November, 2000, 20:22 GMT
Garry Kasparov: A king deposed
Garry Kasparov
By Chris Jones of the BBC's News Profiles Unit

He was perhaps the best the world had ever seen, a tiger of the chessboard who would seize an opportunity to go for the jugular and destroy his opponent's ego.

But at 37, Garry Kasparov, the dominant male, has had to submit to the young pretender, the 25-year-old Russian, Vladimir Kramnik.

And the experts and enthusiasts, whether watching at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, or following every move on the internet, have been baffled by the demise of the king of the chess jungle.

Kasparov plays Kramnik in London
Hullabooloo in Hammersmith
The man who became the youngest-ever world champion at 22 had sent away all previous challengers with their tails between their legs.

Kasparov, once described by the former British Number One, Nigel Short, as a "thoroughly unpleasant person" is, by consensus, usually arrogant and aggressive, but had mobilised these traits, together with his enormous energy, to undermine his opponents.

That is, until Kramnik came along. A tired-looking Kasparov surprised everyone by offering quick draws to Kramnik, a quiet, calm character without a hint of volatility.

Kasparov offered broad hints that he had been handicapped by personal reasons.


Kasparov was like Samson, but his hair has been shorn

Chess historian Nathan Divinsky
But grandmaster Raymond Keene, the director of the championship organisers, Brain Games, believes Kasparov simply misjudged Kramnik, who once studied at Kasparov's Moscow chess school and acted as one of his seconds in his last title defence.

"Kramnik is like an iceberg", says Keene, "very solid and seven-eighths below the surface".

Others, including Adam Black, the first secretary of the Professional Chess Association, which Kasparov founded when he broke away from the Federation Internationale des Echecs (Fide) in 1993, feel that the crucial body blow might have been struck three years ago, by a machine.

It was then that Kasparov suffered his only previous defeat, by an IBM super-computer, Deep Blue, who beat him in a six-game match.

Kramnik makes a move
Nemesis: Kramnik ending Kasparov's 15-year reign
Although Kasparov never accepted the result as legitimate, implying that the machine was receiving help from humans, Black believes the computer removed his aura of invincibility. "Before, he thought he was omnipotent," he says.

Garry Kasparov had been prepared for greatness from his early life in Baku, the capital of the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan, where he was born Garik Weinstein to a Jewish father and an Armenian mother.

He first acquired an interest in chess by watching his parents as a small boy and at seven, his ambitious mother took him to the Palace of Young Pioneers for tuition. By the time he was 11, he had his own mentor, a former world champion, Mikhail Botvinnik.

In a country where anti-Semitism was rife, he adopted his present name in the 1970s to further his career and at 19 joined the Communist Party.


He thought he was omnipotent

Adam Black, Professional Chess Association
But when the Soviet system started to crumble, Kasparov extended an equally warm embrace to Gorbachev's perestroika, becoming a leading light in the Democratic Party of Russia.

Now, although Kasparov lives in Moscow with his second wife, Yulia, and four-year-old son, his contribution to Russian politics is confined to articles in the Wall Street Journal.

He sees that most Western of inventions, the internet, as the saviour of the game dominated by the Soviet Union and its successors.

A despondent Kasparov
Is this checkmate for Kasparov's career?
His own internet company, Kasparov Chess, is aimed at restoring chess to the front pages where it was once featured. "Only the internet gives us the chance to re-establish the game," he says.

Unfortunately for Kasparov, it is his defeat which has put chess back in the headlines, and he may no longer be the prime player in its technology-driven future. The chess historian, Nathan Divinsky, says "Kasparov was like Samson, but his hair has been shorn."

There is another possible explanation for his failure to capture the 1.4 million prize. In a young man's game, Garry Kasparov is over the hill.

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02 Nov 00 | Europe
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