Kasparov comes to Harvard
I couldn’t help wondering whether, if Anatoly Karpov had been there to start his chess clock ticking at 7 pm, Garry Kasparov would have dared appear 25 minutes late Monday evening at the First Unitarian Church in Harvard Square. Not that the packed house seemed at all impatient for the 44-year-old former world chess champion from Baku (and the only modern player you could speak of in the same breath with Bobby Fischer) to take the podium. He was preceded by Mig Greengard, the “with” co-author of his new How Life Imitates Chess: Making the Right Moves — From the Board to the Boardroom (Bloomsbury), who explained that he met Garry back in 1998, “when the enemies were [chess players] Karpov, Kramnik, and Anand. Now they’re Putin and the KGB.”
Kasparov is, of course, no ordinary former world chess champion — in 2005 he retired, at age 41, to take up politics, with the hope of challenging Vladimir Putin and creating a more democratic Russia. “Thanks for missing Red Sox,” he said, camera flashes popping. (Greengard, no less eager to make a good local impression, had called Kasparov “the Bill Belichick of chess.”)
Rather than read from his book, Kasparov told us about its tortuous journey, how there are three versions — the original; the American, which is more streamlined; and the Russian, which is more philosophical. Bloomsbury, it seems, made him take some of the chess out of the American version. That might not have been the best move, since it left Kasparov spouting business bromides such as, “First, you have to understand your own abilities, your own strengths and weaknesses. . . . We all have different strengths and weaknesses.”
He did better when he stuck to chess, describing 1960s world champion Tigran Petrosian as the “great master of do nothing and suddenly winning the game,” and remembering how (in a story right out of the book) former champ Boris Spassky advised him on how to beat Petrosian: “Squeeze his balls. But don’t rush. Squeeze one, not both.”
There was some wry humor straight out of David Remnick’s October 1 New Yorker profile: “Our goal is not winning elections. Our goal is having elections.” But he didn’t give any idea of what Other Russia would do if there were elections and it did win. And after a half-hour, he was done, as if this had been speed chess. Well played, Garry.
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