— GameTripper | Matt Gardner (@GameTripperUK) May 26, 2021
By Matt Gardner
Garry Kasparov has returned to chess, and not in the way you may expect–but it could lead to the next Garry Kasparov emerging in the years to come.
The 58-year-old grandmaster, who retired at the height of his power as world number one in 2005, hasn’t lost any love for the game that turned him into the most recognizable name in modern chess history–and with his all-new esports platform Kasparovchess, he hopes to encourage and teach the champions of tomorrow.
Kasparovchess aims to be a hub for everything about the game. Alongside the competitive basis of the website, which allows anyone to play live on desktop and mobile, Kasparovchess also teaches people through videos, articles, analyses, podcasts, and more, in a clear bid to become the world’s foremost resource for anyone who loves the pastime.
Created in conjunction with the Vivendi Group–the French media conglomerate that owns the Universal Music Group, Canal+, and Dailymotion among countless others–Kasparovchess is the result of a joint effort involving experts in chess, video production, social media, and publishing.
Real stars of the international chess scene are helping develop the new resource, too–”great communicators and teachers,” Kasparov himself explains–including incredible talent such as Levon Aronian (world number five), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (#10), Jovanka Houska (British women’s champion), and Elisabeth Pähtz (German women’s #1).
Kasparov, who held world number one status for a record 255 months before becoming a figurehead in pro-democracy politics, says that this return to the game with Kasparovchess is the result of “many good ideas combined with the right team at the right time.”
He continues: “I wanted to create something special for the global chess community, a place to learn and have fun. It’s also personal: Kasparovchess is a legacy project to give back to the game that has given me so much.”
Kasparov knows his status as a historic figure in chess, but wants a modern role in shaping the game for years to come. “There is already a generation of kids who might think I’m ancient history like [José Raúl] Capablanca or [Bobby] Fischer,” he says. “I want Kasparovchess to be a permanent home for chess and players of all levels, not just those who appreciate the long history of the game and its greatest players.”
Kasparov has form for online chess, pioneering Kasparov Versus the World in 1999–”ancient history by internet standards,” he says. His desire to promote the game online hasn’t diminished since then, but now, “the technology available is so far superior that the user experience is incomparably better and at a fraction of the cost.” He adds: “We can create an interactive, immersive chess experience we couldn’t dream of even ten years ago, let alone 20.”
Its launch was unsurprisingly delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, as several components required in-person collaboration, such as recording his masterclass lessons. Given that the outbreak of the virus has led to millions of people newly embracing gaming and esports online, the wait may be very much worth it for Kasparov–a man with all the patience in the world, when it comes to getting what he wants.
After his retirement from chess, Kasparov swiftly moved into politics, founding the United Civil Front–an organization that works to “preserve electoral democracy in Russia”–and The Other Russia, through which he attempted to run against Vladimir Putin in the 2008 presidential race.
Things hardly went to plan; Kasparov found himself briefly imprisoned, unable to hold the very meeting that would seal his candidacy, and beaten by police when attending the verdict of anti-establishment band Pussy Riot. He has lived in New York City since 2013–where he continues to work as chairman of the Human Rights Foundation–and became a Croatian citizen in 2014 to escape conditions in Russia, which he felt were untenable.
“I entered politics in Russia because my dream was to have my children grow up in a free country,” he says. “They are, but because I had to leave for my safety, that has been Croatia and the United States, not Russia.”
While his ideal living situation may remain impossible, Kasparov is still free to explore the world of chess. He says: “I want to indulge players’ love of chess, or to develop it. It’s important to me to share the beauty of the game, but chess is also a sport, not just an art, and that means you want to play better and win more, and that’s a big part of what we are offering to our members.”
However, Kasparov’s desire for competition remains strictly amicable. Despite training and seeing the successes of American grandmaster and esports champion Hikaru Nakamura–who became 2020’s seventh-highest earner in esports–he has no plans to enter the lucrative competitive online chess scene.
Kasparov looks forward to playing a few casual games against Kasparovchess members–plus the occasional formal event that will be announced in advance–but declares himself retired, and wants his rare playing appearances to promote the game and “have fun in person with old friends and new stars.”
He adds: “Playing competitive chess online is stressful and without that nostalgic bonhomie for me, although that’s partly a generation gap. However, I’m impressed by Nakamura and others who have demonstrated once again that chess adapts well to any environment.”
While he may have made his return to the game with Kasparovchess, a return to Russia is not on the cards for Kasparov, who continues to “work against Putin’s dictatorship from exile” in his ongoing efforts with the Renew Democracy Initiative. He concludes: “I will go back to a free Russia, but have no desire to be a martyr to Putin’s brutality.
“Democracy will prevail because it is human nature to seek individual freedom. Dictatorships do not last forever. Even the strong ones are brittle and can crack and collapse suddenly. I don’t know when or how Putin will fall, and that’s the bad news. The good news is that he doesn’t know either.”