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Beating Back A Game Challenge
William Nack
October 13, 1986
Anatoly Karpov played valiantly in their Leningrad showdown, but Gary Kasparov outlasted his rival to retain the world chess championship
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October 13, 1986

Beating Back A Game Challenge

Anatoly Karpov played valiantly in their Leningrad showdown, but Gary Kasparov outlasted his rival to retain the world chess championship

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"In my mind, I will be happy if we have a draw between the Soviet Union and the United States," said Gufeld. "Every time our two countries play, we must draw."

But it was chess, not world politics, that had this town buzzing last week. Over drinks late one night, two members of the staff of the First Medical Institute in Leningrad were comparing notes. "The patients all have their favorites," said Emile Hersi, a doctor at the institute. "We know which ones support Kasparov and which ones support Karpov. We joke about it in the mornings when we make our rounds. Even among the doctors there are two classes. The class of Karpov and the class of Kasparov. In my clinic, the majority supports Kasparov."

"In our clinic, Karpov," said Mustafa Eldin, a medical student there. "In the world there are many problems, but the most important question here is what is happening in the match." "Am I following the match?" asked Igor Smirnov, a jazz musician. "Every game! Kasparov should have won the match by now. Why is he playing so aggressively? He should be playing for draws. He is an idiot."

And there was the young student from Baku, an ardent follower of Kasparov, who stood in the chilling wind outside the Leningrad Hotel with a dozen others, their breath clouding the glass as they peered through the hotel window to follow the game as it was reported, move by move, on a large screen inside the lobby. It was impossible to buy tickets, and guards at the hotel door were turning back all those who had no business there. So there was Nezami Davedov, a forestry student, scribbling the moves into a notebook with a shivering hand. "Chess is a sickness with me," he said. "I am a Kasparov fan. All the young people in the Soviet Union are Kasparov fans. It is very exciting, but I was really suffering for him when he lost those three games."

Suffering is not an uncommon word when people talk about chess in these latitudes. Those who have played the game—those who know the physical, emotional and intellectual drain that the game exacts on players at this level of competition—sympathized with the champion and challenger over what they had been going through week after week. Tell Nikoli Samarin, a cab driver, that you are here to see the chess match, and he asks, quite seriously, "And who are you suffering for?"

Chess may be merely a game—albeit, the most challenging in the world—but in the Soviet Union it is the national pastime. It was no accident that the two men sitting across the board from each other in the concert hall were Soviet grand masters. Nor is it mere coincidence that as the match was going on two other Soviet grand masters, Artur Yusupov and Andrei Sokolov, were playing in Riga to determine who might next get a chance to play for the world title. Kasparov and Karpov may be worlds apart in their lifestyles and their approaches to the game, but they shared a common experience as children and young adults as they rose through the chess establishment.

Like the homegrown dancers of the Kirov and Bolshoi ballets, both Kasparov and Karpov were members of the Young Pioneers, an organization for which there is no equivalent in the United States. There are hundreds of Young Pioneers clubs around the Soviet Union, where, after school, youths from 6 to 18 voluntarily attend special classes in everything from dancing and acting to sewing and sailing—and, of course, chess.

The Russians have a venerable chess tradition, but it was not until after World War II that they took such a firm grip on the world title. And no wonder. There are more than a dozen Young Pioneers clubs in Leningrad alone, but in every major Soviet city there is a "central palace," the main club where only the most gifted and promising youngsters go for study. Last week, in Leningrad's central palace, hundreds of children moved about a complex of buildings once inhabited by Czarist royalty.

Some of the rooms were devoted to the study of chess. The chess section's senior coach, Alexi Unieev, said that there are 450 chess students at the palace studying under 11 full-time coaches. There are four whole rooms set aside for the study of chess theory. In one room, 11 children snapped to attention at the approach of visitors. They had been taking notes as an instructor lectured them in front of a large demonstration chess board. Though only 12 and 13 years old, they were following the championship match closely, they said, studying all the games as they were played.

"I like Kasparov," said Mikhail Veselov, 12. "He's aggresive."

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