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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Soviet Emigre Bests Chess Champ

JERUSALEM -- Garry Kasparov shuffled his feet in discontent.


The world chess champion faced 25 Israeli opponents, including 15 Grand Masters. But he was vexed by a pesky amateur: former Russian Natan Sharansky, who spent nine years in Soviet prisons before being allowed to emigrate, going to Israel in 1986.


The former dissident tied Kasparov in 1994. To beat him would cap off a banner year in which his Russian immigrants' party won a stunning seven seats in the 120-member Knesset last May, transforming him into trade and industry minister and one of the closest confidants of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.


While some contestants clutched their skulls as if willing the pieces to move, Sharansky remained cool, sipping coffee and surveying the other players. He said his strategy was "to keep a deep defense and then go on the attack."


Kasparov had come to Israel this week to promote a $1 million chess academy which is to open next year in Tel Aviv and is being billed as the first of its kind in the world.


"I think it's very helpful for kids to see a better future ... and learn qualities like self-discipline, logic and responsibility," said Kasparov, 33, who is half Jewish.


He noted that many of the best Israeli players came with the wave of immigration that brought 700,000 newcomers from the former Soviet Union since 1990. Several dozen Grand Masters now reside in the Jewish state, making it a chess power.


Sharansky learned the game from his mother as a child. He says he honed his game in prison, where he would play entire games in his mind to keep his sanity.


On Monday, during a friendly meeting in Sharansky's office, the two joked that chess helped both of them survive communist Russia. But Tuesday, at the exhibition in the Gerard Bachar Center, the atmosphere was all business.


Sharansky quickly captured a white pawn. Kasparov, his face taut with concentration, twiddled a piece in one hand. Sharansky leaned back in his chair and smiled.


Kasparov moved quickly from player to player, usually taking but a second or two to make a swift, jerky move.


Coming around to Sharansky's table, Kasparov found himself in check. Kasparov protected his king with a rook. Sharansky captured it, again threatening Kasparov's king.


Later, the two traded queens. Kasparov mopped sweat from his eyes. Sharansky sent his rook across the board to place Kasparov in check again. The crowd gasped, drawing a loud demand for silence from organizers.


Kasparov moved his king forward. Sharansky moved a second rook into position. Looking haggard, Kasparov knocked over his king in resignation and silently offered his hand. Sharansky had won.


Kasparov lost two more matches -- to amateurs Michael Kraitsberg, 21, and Michael Lauria, 14 -- and tied four more before the end of the night. Lauria is Israel's 14-and-under champion.


After the last game, Kasparov stormed angrily out of the room and would not talk to reporters.