Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Gary Kasparov on Gary Kasparov

Book Review : Gary Kasparov on Gary Kasparov Part 1 1973-1985
Author : Gary Kasparov
My Rating : 5 out of 5 stars

Gary Kasparov, the 13th World Champion, is often considered the greatest player in the entire history of chess. I am in agreement. When chess was my passion, Kasparov was my hero. Later, my favorite player became Anand, whose natural talent is perhaps a notch better. But Kasparov would always command a special place in my chess brain, however small that brain might be. I used to anxiously wait for the morning newspaper to discover the result of his championship games and the list of moves. It wasn't easy to get access to latest games in those days, when there were no computers, and chess books were hard to come by in India. But whatever games I got to see, were jaw dropping. This young man was from a different planet.

So when he writes a series of books about his own life and games, do I even have a choice ? Of course I am going to buy it as a Christmas present for myself, and of course I am going to love every page of it. But for the sake of review, I will keep my adulation aside and try to be objective. No guarantees though.

In case you don't know, in last 10-12 years or so, Kasparov has been working on a massive project - "My Great Predecessors" - a series of books about the past world champions and their challengers. The aim was to cover their games, a bit of history, and also the impact on the evolution of the game itself. A far-reaching and audacious goal. These books have been a huge success. They are not perfect. Famous chess historian, Edward Winter, has noted a few historical inaccuracies. The translation, from Russian to English, has created some uncomfortable sentences. But overall, these books are simply phenomenal. There is nothing else comparable to the encyclopedic nature of the entire series. I have them all and I am totally in love with them.

Later, he wrote another series of 4 books, Modern Chess, out of which 3 are about the 5 world championship matches between Kasparov and Karpov. Yes, these matches deserve that kind of treatment. Their importance on all aspects of chess, from theory to politics, cannot be overstated.

Why am I mentioning all this ? Because his latest series, about his own games, follows the same style. Lots of games, great analysis, helpful explanations, ample diagrams and the same fantastic production quality. And punctuating the games, is gripping historical narrative. This time, since it's about his own life, the book is in no small part, also an autobiography.

A collection of games by one player is rarely meant to be instructional. True, you can learn a lot about chess by studying how the great masters played the game. Some such works, like Alekhine's or Fischer's, have been suggested for improving your own chess. But that's a side benefit. The main reason is to get great enjoyment, and know more about that player. A lot depends on the quality of the games and the annotations. Well, these are games by Kasparov. The quality is naturally high, amazingly high. Goes without saying. The annotations are superb too. For an expert, there are enough variations, and for an amateur like me, the explanations are very accessible. Kasparov often points out the non-technical aspects as well, such as time trouble, or the psychology behind many key decisions. This has been true for all his books, and that's one of the main reasons to read them.

There is a great deal of personal detail, and it's such a joy to read. Kasparov is illuminating his life to show how he became Kasparov, the living legend. How did he start, who helped him, the turning points in his life and the emotional impact of every win or loss. To those who are unfamiliar with his persona, the great thing about Kasparov is, he is very human. He is not a chess machine. His emotional reactions during the game are well known. His attitude is famous - he wants to strike fear in his opponents' heart, he wants to dominate, he wants a crushing victory. He is a fighter who makes chess a sport rather than a game.

Please don't let that give you an impression that this book is used as a platform for bragging. The opposite is true. The tone is absolutely honest and humble. All successful people need a lucky hand once in a while. Kasparov writes freely about how luck played a part here and there. At a very young age, his talents were noticed by the great teacher, an ex-champion and a legend himself - Botvinnik. This patronage was crucial to Kasparov's success. In those days, Soviet Union had more talented chess players than there are fish in the Caspian Sea. Who was going to invite a young schoolboy to master tournaments ? Botvinnik put his respect on line, when he lobbied for Kasparov's inclusion on many occasions. Of course, Kasparov proved him right by winning in a spectacular fashion. But without Botvinnik's training and help, Kasparov would have undoubtedly taken longer to reach the pinnacle. And he admits it gratefully.

And not just about Botvinnik, Kasparov also talks about the guidance and support he received from many other players. And he talks about his losses. Yes, there are games here that he lost ! He explains how the losses he suffered at the hands of ex-champions, Spassky and Petrosian, helped him grow as a player. This is a rarity, and transcends the book into more than just "My Best Games" type of books.

We also get to glimpse how life was behind the iron curtain. Kasparov is Jewish, and had to change his last name to have a shot at success. Chess was more than a game to Soviet Union. There was always politics and intrigue. Ever since Kasparov was a teenager, he was on Karpov's radar. Karpov actively avoided playing him, but his assistants were always present at Kasparov's tournaments, studying him, assessing his strengths and weaknesses. Incredible ! There are many juicy tidbits - again like his other books - that make this series such an interesting read.

I highly recommend this book. Perhaps his best so far. Now I am waiting for the next two parts. And I hope, Kasparov will eventually write about his successors - Anand, Kramnik, Topalov and so on. If you have any interest in chess, get this book. Now.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent Review, Abhay! Will get this book some day (not now!:))


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