Chess, business and machines
Exclusive interview of Garry Kasparov, considered by most as the best chess player of all time.
You run several foundations promoting chess around the world. Why should people play chess?
The best thing about chess is that everyone gets something different from it. First off, it’s fun. Chess has survived and thrived for centuries because it is very enjoyable for people of any demographic—age, gender, rich or poor—and at any skill level. You can enjoy it as a casual hobby or enjoy the rich artistry and literature of immersing yourself and raising your level. For kids, it builds concentration and mental discipline. For everyone, it develops creative problem-solving. And studies show that cognitively demanding activities like chess can delay and combat dementia. My Kasparov Chess Foundations around the world are dedicated to bringing chess into the classroom curriculum because of all the proven benefits for kids, and we’ve had great success.
Players like Carlsen & Karjakin use computers a lot. Do you think that this has made the game more predictable and less attractive?
The use of computers is like the use of books, only
accelerated: it still depends on what the human does with all of this knowledge. If the professional game is more predictable today, it’s not because of computers, but because the players themselves aren’t working enough to innovate. In fact, the use of strong computer programs and databases and encourage players to try out wild and entertaining variations they would otherwise be afraid to try. But few do.
How are machines impacting our economies
The same way they always have, by taking over tasks from humans at a faster and faster pace. This makes us more productive, and potentially more creative as machines take over mundane and laborious work. This has been true since the first machines were invented, and the worries today are similar, about job losses. It’s different now because instead of agriculture and manufacturing, the machines are coming after the work of people with college degrees! But I am an optimist in this regard. If we humans continue to dream big, explore, and create new industries, there will always be jobs, even if we cannot imagine what they are today.
You also organized such a championship in New York – in the twin towers – back in 1995 with the PCA. What prevented you from securing major corporate sponsors after such a spectacular event back then?
It’s a big question with many answers. The lack of unity in the chess world was a big element of losing Intel, which sponsored the PCA and that 1995 match. Players and the chess press spent more time attacking each other than uniting to promote the game. Of course, I was partly to blame for that lack of unity, since Nigel Short and I broke away from FIDE in 1993.
Do you think that Agon, the organizer is going in the right direction?
What direction is that? Russia? From all I can tell, Agon is continuing to follow the same direction FIDE went with Ilyumzhinov, helping oligarchs and their friends move money around the world. Unfortunately, the inevitable scandals that result, like Ilyumzhinov being put on a US Treasury sanctions list, is very bad for the grassroots development of chess, which is going fine on its own.
Do you think that the World Championship should adapt its format in order to make the sport more attractive for mass-media and the public? (For example with a blitz game after each draw, or by forcing players to use a larger repertoire of openings)
Chess should be willing to experiment, and I’m in favor of a wide range of events, including rapid, blitz, and trying out balloted openings, where the openings are selected at random in advance. But we shouldn’t forget that classical chess has had tremendous successes, and should still be our centerpiece. Compare it to classical music. Justin Bieber is more popular at the moment, but people will always listen
to Bach, Mozart, and Laurent Menager!
« If we humans continue to dream big, explore, and create new industries, there will always be jobs. »
Why is the business of chess under developped, compared to other alternative sports like Poker or video games. How would you fix this?
I tried to do so more directly by running for FIDE president in 2014. My team and I wanted to establish a real professionalism of sponsorship and an emphasis on education. The only global chess entity, FIDE, and many national federations, are corrupt or incompetent. But let’s be clear, chess is not a simple card game like poker, where an amateur might win millions. Nor is it like League of Legends, with pretty graphics and team play. Anyone can learn and enjoy chess, but it takes a certain level of skill and dedication to appreciate elite play. Professional video
commentary is helping break down those barriers.
Are chess and politics still closely linked? Why and with which effects on the game?
Today at the top level it’s almost as closely linked as during the Soviet days. But instead of promoting the game and its players as representatives of cultural success, today chess is used as a front for gangsters and others who don’t care about the game at all. These people scare away legitimate sponsors in the free world, which is why so many events have unknown and shady sponsors from the states. They
are moving money around, using the federation as a shield for Russian intelligence operations, and other things that will continue to come to light. FIFA got more attention because the numbers were much bigger, billions instead of millions.
You published this book a year ago. How is your vision evolving after the Brexit and the election of Trump?
Well, as people keep telling me in recent weeks, “Garry, you warned us!” With Brexit, and the scandals around Trump and Putin and Russian hacking in America, many of my dark visions are coming true. The anti-democratic forces of the world, led by Putin, are active and aggressive, and they are gaining strength, even in the most reliable places. The free
world is still refusing to defend itself. It’s an incredibly
dangerous time. When you don’t stand up to relatively minor things, you embolden the aggressors. Eventually they become too bold. This is the lesson of Winter Is Coming, and of history, that appeasement is far more dangerous in the long run than deterrence. We must stand up to the forces of chaos early and often, instead of waiting until they are even stronger.