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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kasparov Quits Chess in Biggest Gambit Yet

APGarry Kasparov
Garry Kasparov, the world's top chess player for two decades and considered by many the greatest player in history, has announced his retirement from professional chess in an ambitious gambit and vowed to devote his energy to battling what he called the "dictatorship" of President Vladimir Putin.

Kasparov, 41, a former world champion who has been No. 1 in the rankings since 1984, made his announcement Thursday in Spain after winning the annual Linares chess tournament, one of the game's most prestigious events, on a tiebreak despite losing his final-round game to Bulgarian grandmaster Veselin Topalov.

"Before this tournament I made a conscious decision that Linares 2005 will be my last professional tournament, and today I played my last professional game," Kasparov said at a news conference.

Kasparov, one of Putin's most vociferous liberal critics, released a statement Friday on his web site, kasparov.ru, saying that Russia was "moving in the wrong direction," and that he would "do everything possible to fight Putin's dictatorship."

"I did everything that I could in chess, even more," he said in the statement. "Now I intend to use my intellect and strategic thinking in Russian politics."

Kasparov has accused Putin of rolling back democracy in the country and creating a police state. In a Wall Street Journal comment last month titled "Caligula in Moscow," Kasparov called Putin's nomination of Anton Ivanov, a senior official at Gazprom-Media from Putin's hometown of St. Petersburg, as the new chairman of the Supreme Arbitration Court, "a move akin to Caligula's naming a horse to the Senate."

Kasparov is chairman of Committee 2008: Free Choice, a group formed by prominent liberal opposition leaders, including former Union of Right Forces leader Boris Nemtsov, independent State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov and Irina Khakamada, who ran against Putin in 2004.

Denis Bilunov, Kasparov's assistant in Moscow, said by telephone Friday that Kasparov and Ryzhkov were planning to travel together to at least 10 regions in the coming months to give political speeches.

Ryzhkov declined to comment on Kasparov's future plans when contacted by e-mail Friday.

Nemtsov said by telephone that he hoped Kasparov would be "as successful in politics as he was in chess."

In his chess career, Kasparov never shied away from political battles, going back even to before he became world champion by defeating the Soviet establishment favorite, Anatoly Karpov, in Moscow in 1985.

In 1984, the rivals' first world championship match, also in Moscow, broke up in controversy after five months when Florencio Campomanes, president of the international chess federation, FIDE, stopped the match after 48 games when the score stood at 5-3 to Karpov, citing concerns for the players' health.

Karpov had led the match 5-0, but after a long series of draws, Kasparov had won two games in a row, prompting speculation that Karpov was on the verge of physical and mental collapse.

At a news conference covered by Western television, Kasparov loudly protested the decision, and while a new match was being organized, he angered top Soviet officials by giving interviews to Western media insinuating that FIDE, the Soviet Chess Federation and Karpov's team were conspiring against him.

In November 1985, Kasparov won the second match to become the 13th world chess champion, and successfully defended his title against Karpov in 1986, 1987 and 1990.

In a 1987 autobiography, "Child of Change," Kasparov, a vocal proponent of perestroika, wrote that he was saved by the intervention of Mikhail Gorbachev's pro-reform ideology chief Alexander Yakovlev. "The (chess) authorities were told in no uncertain terms that our dispute had to be settled at the chess board. There could be no more dirty tricks," Kasparov wrote. "[Yakovlev] prevented them from attacking me in the Soviet press, trying to ruin my image in the country. It was their last chance, and he stopped them."

Kasparov, who later dubbed Gorbachev the "Louis XVI of communism," was aligned with several short-lived liberal movements in the early 1990s, including the Democratic Party of Russia. Infighting in the party prompted Kasparov to help form a breakaway faction, the Liberal-Conservative Union, shortly after the DPR's creation. Kasparov eventually threw his support behind Boris Yeltsin, but later switched allegiances, backing Alexander Lebed's bid for the presidency after Lebed predicted that an ailing Yeltsin would not finish his second term of office.

Political analyst Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of the Panorama think tank, said he thought Kasparov would not remain in politics for long, given his previous forays into the political arena.

"With the exception of chess, he has never proven himself capable of committing fully to any project," Pribylovsky said. "He will do something very well for one month, and then he'll take a trip abroad and disappear completely."

Pribylovsky conceded, however, that Kasparov appeared to be serious about his activities with Committee 2008, which he helped found during last year's presidential election campaign.

"It's the longest he's ever stuck with a political movement," Pribylovsky said.

Internet chess journalist Mig Greengard, a close friend and associate of Kasparov's, said the fact that he was giving up the game that made him famous was the best indicator of his intentions.

"He could have continued being a political dilettante while remaining the No. 1 player in the world," Greengard, editor of chessninja.com, said by telephone from New York on Sunday. "He could have continued using his chess success to bring publicity to his political cause. If there were any questions about how serious he is [about politics], his retirement should answer them."

Kasparov was as controversial as he was dominant in the world of chess.

In 1993, he broke away from FIDE, taking the title of world champion with him. He subsequently staged and won a series of world championship matches, while FIDE, now led by the mercurial president of Kalmykia, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, refused to recognize Kasparov's claim and held its own championships.

In 2000, Kasparov lost a championship match he arranged with Russian grandmaster Vladimir Kramnik.

Two years later, the warring factions agreed on a reunification plan to attract sponsors and interest back to the game, but talks repeatedly broke down, and in January, Kasparov announced he was withdrawing from the process altogether.

Alexander Roshal, editor of the Russian chess magazine 64, said he was not surprised that Kasparov had retired.

"Once he saw that the reunification process was hopeless and that he would not be able to win back his title, he realized there was nothing more for him to accomplish in chess," Roshal said.

Born Garrik Vainshtein in Baku, Azerbaijan, in 1963 to a Jewish father and an Armenian mother, Kasparov began studying at the Soviet Union's most prestigious chess school, run by former world champion Mikhail Botvinnik, at age 10. After the death of his father, Kim Vainshtein, Kasparov adopted his mother's surname. At 12, Kasparov became the youngest player to win the Soviet junior championship, and became a grandmaster on his 17th birthday.

Kasparov, famed for his aggressive play built on fearsome calculation skills and deep preparation, was renowned for intimidating and distracting opponents with wild gesticulations and fierce facial expressions during games.

Computers, however, proved more difficult to intimidate, and in 1997 he lost a controversial match against IBM supercomputer Deep Blue. Kasparov later accused the IBM programmers of interfering with the computer's play.

Greengard said it was too early to tell whether Kasparov would eventually make a return to top-level competitive chess, or stick to his promise to play only in speed chess tournaments and exhibition matches.

"You can never say never, but he's completely serious about it right now," Greengard said of Kasparov's retirement. "After doing this for 30 years, it must feel strange to give it up. But we'll see how he feels a year or two from now."