Kasparov's Political Gambit
Saturday, October 20, 2007
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Life imitates chess, except when it doesn't.
Garry Kasparov, one of the greatest players the game has seen, swings through the United States this month to promote his new book on how to apply strategies from the world of chess to personal decision-making.
"How Life Imitates Chess: Making the Right Moves -- From the Board to the Boardroom" is sprinkled with bits of the grandmaster's biography, simplified musings on his key games and a copious dose of pithy quotations from the likes of Emerson, Edison and Picasso. Kasparov argues that by trusting one's intuition, understanding one's strengths and weaknesses, and calmly surveying the big picture, one can make better decisions -- or, as he put it to a hushed audience near Harvard Square this week, "create your own unique formula of success."
But as he shuttles from Cambridge to Capitol Hill to the New York set of "The Colbert Report," the 44-year-old Kasparov is also pushing a lesson drawn from his new role as the leader of Russia's political opposition and a presidential candidate: In the game of politics, at least in Russia, strategy can get you only so far.
"It's not exactly a chess game anymore," he admitted in an interview. "It's more like a game of chance."
Kasparov, who says he intends to dismantle the "regime" of President Vladimir Putin, is waiting for an opening that may be long in coming.
He insists he is making good use of the clock, trying to consolidate a core opposition movement drawn from across the ideological spectrum. But for now, the five-time world champion who became famous for an aggressive, explosive style of chess can do little but apply steady pressure and bide his time.
"I think that four more years of this regime and Russia as a political entity will simply fall apart," he said. "But I can't force this time to come; I can only work so that when this X-hour comes, I will be in the right place. I don't have the resources to play the game on my own."
Kasparov speaks Russian with an arrhythmic intensity and a slight accent that evokes his roots in the Caucasus. His English is almost perfect, if sometimes lacking definite articles. Over lunch with his wife, Daria Tarasova, and his ghostwriter, Mig Greengard, he occasionally broke into English to describe concepts, such as the word "challenge."
In Russia, Kasparov constantly fends off accusations that he has a U.S. passport or that he is an agent of shadowy Western interests. His wife gave birth to their first daughter in a New York hospital just over a year ago because, Kasparov said, they were concerned about the baby's security.
But when he appears abroad, insisting that democratic leaders should treat Putin as a dictator rather than as one of their own, Kasparov says he runs into a different problem. "The thing is that in America as well as in Western Europe, it is very hard for an established democracy to understand the atmosphere in which resistance to authoritarian or totalitarian regimes happens," he said.
In the Q&A session after Kasparov's speech here, an older man asked, "Why don't you run for mayor of Moscow to establish a political beachhead or something?" Kasparov appeared flustered and said that few people understood the state of Russian politics today. He did not even mention that Moscow's mayor no longer is elected, but rather appointed by the Russian president.