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Playboy Interview: Garry Kasparov
  • March 07, 2010 : 00:03
  • comments

Playboy: But assassinations of journalists and opposition leaders? The arrest of business leaders? At what point will he no longer be welcomed by Bush in Texas?

Kasparov: I don't know.

Playboy: Many people speculated Putin would try to change the constitution so he could run for president again. What was your view?

Kasparov: I didn't know. I don't think Putin knew what he was going to do. He knew he couldn't violate the constitution, so he has looked for a compromise. He wants to stay in power but doesn't want to lose his credibility in the West. He has had to be careful. He cannot fully alienate the West because, as I said, he and his friends must have access to their money and property in the West. They have to play a game. It's why Putin is getting nervous. I don't know what scenario will unfold, so we'll wait. In chess if your opponent has an overwhelming material advantage, you let him make the move. Then you create a strategy based on that move. So we wait and see how the game unfolds.

Playboy: If the Putin government is determined to stop its enemies, why are you allowed to continue to travel the globe, criticizing the regime? Why are you allowed to lead demonstrations?

Kasparov: Our demonstrations are disrupted. Each time they bring in the police. Three thousand or 5,000 demonstrators are met with 10,000 police. Almost all demonstrations end with arrests.

Playboy: Why would the government show such force against relatively small demonstrations? If they control the polls, elections, police and courts, what's the risk to the regime if people like you protest? You're like gnats on an elephant.

Kasparov: Because next time there would be 100,000. Instead, people are scared, and the government has to keep this fear going. Fear is their only weapon.

Playboy: How worried are you personally? Do you take some consolation in the fact that, other than your brief arrests, you haven't been targeted?

Kasparov: It's not the end of the story.

Playboy: Do you take for granted it would be politically disastrous for Putin's regime to have you harmed?

Kasparov: It's a tough choice for them. If something goes wrong with me or my family, I don't think there's a chance for them to say they aren't guilty. For many Russians, I'm a symbol of national pride. I was the Soviet champion even for the left wing, even for the nationalists. I'm not Garry Kasparov, half Armenian, half Jewish born, but the Soviet champion, the man who was on top of the world of chess, the pride of the nation. To tell the public I'm an agent of foreign influence doesn't work.

Playboy: How do you protect yourself?

Kasparov: In Russia I have armed bodyguards. The government can't get as close to me as they could to Politkovskaya.

Playboy: Could you push too far?

Kasparov: How do I know? Shall I stop pushing? That is what they want, but instead we're continuing.

Playboy: Why did you run for president if you knew the Kremlin's regulations would prevent you from appearing on the ballot?

Kasparov: These elections are deciding nothing in Russia. I was running to help change the mentality of the Russian public.

Playboy: Were you disheartened when you had to withdraw from the race?

Kasparov: Of course not. Life goes on in Russia, as we have come to expect. One of the many requirements designed to keep people out of the race is a meeting with 500 supporters, whose names must be notarized at the meeting. To hold our meeting, we made a contract with a cinema, but they broke it. We had many other refusals. We asked to rent space, the people said yes, and then we got calls: "I'm sorry, it won't work out. We cannot rent to you."

Playboy: How do you know Putin's people were behind this?

Kasparov: The theater owner claimed he had technical problems, but he had other events immediately before and after our meeting was scheduled. There were no technical problems. There was a visit or call from someone. There was a warning. At other venues we heard, "Certainly we have a place for rent," but when they heard who we were, they said, "Not for Kasparov." It's not surprising the government would prevent us from being an official candidate, but we will continue. We will campaign door-to-door. We will protest.

Playboy: How do Western politicians respond when you tell them about these conditions in Russia?

Kasparov: Many are beginning to come around. Foreign journalists are looking with a closer eye.

Playboy: Have you been able to raise these issues with President Bush?

Kasparov: I had 30 seconds to talk to Bush at a conference in Prague. I said, "Mr. President, when you talk to Dr. Putin, make it public. He hates daylight. You can't negotiate behind closed doors with him. He's a KGB guy. You must bring your difference to the public because it is the only way to expose him." Bush isn't listening.

Playboy: Are any of the U.S. presidential candidates bold enough to challenge Putin?

Kasparov: None are talking about Russia. The current debate doesn't make me happy. It is sad because people in Russia and Eastern Europe believed in America. America symbolized democracy and respect for human rights. Now political necessity has replaced America's fight for those values.

Playboy: Could it be argued that, by protesting, you're playing into the Kremlin's hands? They can claim Russia allows dissent.

Kasparov: First of all, as I have said, our rallies are always interrupted with clear violations of our constitutional rights. They aren't allowing protest. And they aren't allowing real elections, which the world is finally seeing. Yet Bush says nothing because the laws are made by a "democratically elected government." I could argue that, in 1935, the democratically elected German government made some regulations about Jews: Of course it shouldn't jeopardize business relations between U.S. corporations and German financial groups! It's just a domestic affair. If you start investigating the regulations imposed on us by Putin's puppet parliament, you'll find none of us can participate in political life the same way you can in the West.

Playboy: Before you were stopped, did people in Russia even know you were running for president? Did they know the Kremlin's rules prevented you from getting on the ballot?

Kasparov: Very few. Some knew in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Meanwhile, two documentaries were released that revealed the truth about me and Other Russia: We're American spies. These are Soviet-type documentaries, the same kind they made about Andrei Sakharov, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Vladimir Bukovsky. Thanks to these documentaries, people knew about us.

Playboy: Have the documentaries discredited you?

Kasparov: [Laughs] They were so Soviet-style, people recognized what was behind them. Now there's a book by one of those Kremlin guys about Putin's enemies. There are several key enemies; one is me. Well, if this were chess, the opponent has exposed himself -- his true self is revealed. Often it's his fatal move.

Playboy: Much of your thinking -- your business theories and politics -- comes back to chess. Have you considered challenging Putin to a chess match?

Kasparov: I don't think he knows chess. He relies on brute force.

Playboy: Do you still follow chess?

Kasparov: I follow chess for fun.

Playboy: In your view, who is the best up-and-coming player?

Kasparov: The most talented kid under 20 is Magnus Carlsen from Norway.

Playboy: Do you still play?

Kasparov: I play for fun. Old habits die hard. I relax by looking at the game, moving the pieces, following some competitions, going online to watch my ex-colleagues make mistakes.

Playboy: Do you miss the intensity and the pressure?

Kasparov: I have a lot of intensity and pressure from elsewhere now.

Playboy: Like sports, is chess generally for the young?

Kasparov: In the pre-computer era, experience played a very important role. You learned when you were a kid. Now with computers you can learn in a few years more than Bobby Fischer learned in his entire life. Much of chess is about energy, freshness and your ability to withstand pressure, so yes, it is for the young.

Playboy: You have said IBM cheated in the final Deep Blue match, in which you were defeated. Do you have proof?

Kasparov: At the end of the day it's "I say, they say," but I have reasons to think they cheated.

Playboy: What reasons?

Kasparov: I wrote about them in my book, but basically these matches were important to IBM. They got a lot of attention.

Playboy: A Newsweek cover story on one of the matches was titled "The Brain's Last Stand."

Kasparov: I won the first time in 1996 and then lost the rematch. I tried to have a third match that would settle it once and for all, but IBM refused. During the match the computer did not play moves it would logically have played. I believe there was human control. Was it worth it for them to cheat for a win worth billions of dollars in free publicity?

Playboy: That sounds like sour grapes. In fact, computer scientist Feng-hsiung Hsu has described your charges as "the unsportsmanlike whining of a sore loser."

Kasparov: I am guilty of this. But there is proof. When you start going through the games I played with Deep Blue, but using new and much more advanced computers, Deep Blue's moves show a superior quality except at a crucial moment. Suddenly the machines are still machines, while Deep Blue shows human flexibility. So I am fairly certain IBM cheated, though of course there is no hard proof because immediately after the match IBM shut down Deep Blue and dismantled it. So no one will ever know for sure. But I wonder why they would destroy it if they had nothing to hide.

Playboy: You have said you paid a high price to become chess champion, that you lost your childhood to chess. Do you resent it?

Kasparov: Lost is too strong a word, but I couldn't enjoy years with no responsibility. I was still riding a bicycle and playing sports but felt different from other kids. I matured way in advance.

Playboy: You once said chess is usually accorded either too much or too little respect by people who don't play. What did you mean?

Kasparov: Actually, both of those feelings can be mixed in one person. Many people give chess too much respect because of the complexity and intellectual nature of the game, but they also disrespect it for the same reasons; it can seem like a game for freaks. In fact chess is neither. It's a game. An aptitude for playing chess is no more than an aptitude for playing chess.

Playboy: Why are there relatively few women chess players?

Kasparov: Tradition. How many women composers are there? Architects? Things are changing in this. We have Judit Polgar, who proved a woman can make the top 10, though she didn't come even close to number one.

Playboy: Do chess masters have groupies?

Kasparov: No. I think chess is low-key compared with other sports, so there's very little publicity, except for the Fischer -- Boris Spassky match and when I played Karpov or the computer. Otherwise it's low-key with a relatively small amount of money available. So women...maybe they aren't that impressed with me. [laughs]

Playboy: Is your life in politics more or less stressful than your life playing chess?

Kasparov: More now. We are playing for human lives.

Playboy: Facing upcoming protests and the near certainty of more arrests, are you afraid?

Kasparov: Yes, I feel scared. It's terrifying. But people who are on the streets with us recognize there's no other way. I'm scared, but I feel very proud, too. We know the risk. In spite of it, having these few thousand people following you shows your work is not wasted. And I think we will win. The problem is, destroying Putin's regime is only part of the work. If we succeed and bring democracy back to Russia -- if we save the country from disaster -- what then? We must rebuild. We must start again. But winning this is no certainty. Every day I know we may well lose the country. It's like an illness that has gone too far, a cancer. I hope it's not too late to treat it.

Playboy: Does your wife worry about your political work?

Kasparov: She's supportive but knows the risks we face.

Playboy: Your mother?

Kasparov: It's not that she's thrilled -- she recognizes all the dangers -- but she knows someone has to take a stand. I have to do it. It's like a forced move in chess.

Playboy: Do you take extra precautions because of your young children?

Kasparov: I am as careful as I can be, but I fight for what I believe in for them.

Playboy: Is your family's life curtailed because of security concerns?

Kasparov: I feel much better outside Russia because I don't need bodyguards. But look, I can't destroy my life thinking about it all the time. In New York I love walking with my wife. In Russia I go with bodyguards.

Playboy: Are your phones tapped?

Kasparov: Everything's tapped. As far as I understand, though, Skype [an Internet telephone service] cannot be intercepted, so we use it to talk. But who cares? I believe some people in the organization are also working for the government. What can you do? I'm telling all the people in the organization, "Don't hide." Our only strength is publicity. We must be open in part to distinguish ourselves from our opponents. To a degree it makes life easier when you don't have to hide because you can't.

Playboy: The truth is, you don't have to live in Russia. You could probably have a very nice life with your family in New York, Paris or elsewhere.

Kasparov: Why "probably"? Of course I could.

Playboy: Yet you choose to stay in Russia. Why?

Kasparov: It may sound pathetic, but there are just things you must do. I always believe I do things that could make a difference. At a certain point I had to think about my future engagements after my chess career. I wanted to be useful. It's my nature. I have to fight. I can't see the injustice, especially if it's in my country, and do nothing. Facing Putin's regime -- watching him destroy my country -- I had a choice to make. I could either emigrate or stay. Emigrating is wrong. This is my country. I want my country to succeed. My country is in trouble, so I won't leave. Putin wishes I would. He would like to expel me. Maybe instead I should try to expel him.

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