It is a bleak scene that Gary Kasparov surveys as he gazes out the window of his hotel room in the Soviet capital. The trees that line the Moscow River are bare. The river is frozen. Kasparov is locked in a world championship chess match that seems as interminable as the Russian winter, a match that has been going on so long it’s hard to recall when it began. “Try to remember the kind of September….”
Striding toward the chess board on the stage of the glittering Hall of Columns in Moscow’s House of Trade Unions, Gary Kasparov was the picture of confidence. At 21, he is the youngest person ever to play for the world chess title, and he exuded the cocksure arrogance of youth. Across the table sat Anatoly Karpov, 33, world champion since 1975 and a cool customer if ever there was one. The match would go to the first man to win six games; draws do not count. After four weeks Karpov had built a 4-0 lead, and the challenger’s confidence fell to pieces like crumb cake. His play was too aggressive, the experts said, and at least twice he failed to capitalize on winning opportunities. But in the games that followed, Kasparov became more conservative and a potential rout turned into a grueling test of wills. As of January 22, after a world-record 38 draws, Karpov was leading 5-1, still one victory away from retaining the crown. So near and yet so far.
By dint of his (under)dogged persistence, Kasparov has earned the Soviet people’s support. He is emotional and energetic, as opposed to Karpov, who is methodical and colorless. “Style,” Karpov once said, “I have no style.” One chess analyst went so far as to equate Karpov with Brezhnev and Kasparov with Baryshnikov. Kasparov’s swarthy good looks have made him a favorite with the female fans, particularly one Marina Neyolova, a 36-year-old actress, who has been called “Miss Draw” by some during the 19-week contest. Yet the most important lady in Kasparov’s life is his mother, Clara Kasparova, a schoolteacher who has temporarily given up her job to manage her son. “Mama is boss,” say chess officials. At every game Clara sits intently watching from the balcony, although she occasionally reads a book to distract herself.
More than just a tournament, this match has become a way of life. Kasparov begins each day with a light breakfast of tea and buns, either in his three-room suite at the 5,300-room Rossia Hotel overlooking the Kremlin, or at his country house in Pestovo, a village a few hours drive from Moscow. Although he plays soccer, swims, bicycles and runs six miles a day in his hometown of Baku, the Caspian oil town 1,200 miles from Moscow, Kasparov now limits his exercise to a brisk, two-mile walk because of the harsh winter. He has been logging up to 12 hours of sleep a day.
Kasparov was introduced to chess by his father, Kim Weinstein, an engineer and talented violinist who died when Gary was 7. The boy later adopted his mother’s maiden name because it sounded more Russian (and, it is speculated, because it sounded less Jewish). He became a grandmaster at 17. In a sport not known for its courtesy, Kasparov gallantly postponed a game in the elimination series to determine the challenger, because it was his opponent’s birthday. Karpov keeps his personal life shrouded in mystery, but is known to be an avid stamp collector and an enthusiastic tennis player.
Four months ago the 1,300-seat Hall of Columns was packed for every game. Now the auditorium is often only half full. As the longest match in world championship chess competition grinds on, Kasparov seems sure to lose eventually. But in spite of this young knight’s journey into a daze, Kasparov needn’t be discouraged: qualifying for the 1986 world championship has already begun.