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Of Low Blows and Low Standards

Without a doubt Garry Kasparov is one of the best chess players in modern times. His famous rivalry with Karpov through the eighties and nineties evoked memories of the epic battles between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. Yet, where Bobby Fischer was feared by his opponents, Kasparov has enticed a certain scorn and cynicism among chess players and journalists. In recent times he is probably more well known for his opposition to the Russian Federation and his attempts to unseat Kirsan Ilyumzhinov who has been the Führer of the World Chess Federation (FIDE) since the mid-nineties. Because of his temper, overt grandiosity, and transformation from World Chess Champion into political crusader, Kasparov has become the punchline of countless chess and political jokes. In the spirit of poking fun at Kasparov, authors Tibor Károlyi and Nick Aplin authored a parody of Kasparov’s penultimate book series Kasparov on Kasparov called Kasparov: How His Predecessors Misled Him About Chess.

For amateur players looking to improve their chess, losses are invaluable assets to a chess portfolio because they provide opportunities to improve one’s game. Yet, Grandmasters rarely publish books composed exclusively of losses, so the idea was unique and intriguing. Unfortunately, the idea itself is the only thing intriguing about the book. As a fan of Kasparov and his books I thought that it would be an enlightening experience to see how professionals attempting to channel his spirit would analyze and interpret some of his losses.

In the book, the authors present the text as if it were written by Kasparov himself. The intention is to present a defiantly humbled player who has decided to present some of his losses along with other key games as excuses for why he lost those games. The idea itself is pretty funny because chess players in general prefer to blame losses on a number of factors including the environment, the quality of the board, time trouble, or distractions caused by other players. Rarely will they look to themselves and simply say that the other player was better than they were. This book continues that tradition in the attempt to show what Garry Kasparov would have to say if he were trying to explain himself to the world.

As far as humor, this is about as far as the book goes. The blows are low and lack any true substance or depth. As far as the chess and analysis, it is even worse. This example is from the game Karpov vs. Markland, Hastings 1972 as presented in the book:

Position after 33…Bb5

44. Bxa7 Finally the ripened fruit drops quietly from the tree. White wins the pawn and so the rest is simple. 44…Ne7 45. Bb6 Nc8 46. Bc5 Kg6 47. a7 Nxa7 48. Bxa7 e5 49. d4 exd4 50. Bxd4 Kf7 51. f4 g5 52. fxg5 hxg5 53. Kg3 Kg6 54. Kf3 Kf5 55. g3 Karpov won this game in impressive style. This plan was implanted in my brain and I was just waiting for an opportune moment to carry it out in one of my own games. Quiet incredibly I had my chance against Karpov himself. 1-01

Here is the complete, unannotated game, which shows the prevalence of missed opportunities for deeper Kasparov analysis:

As far as the games go, they are highly educational pieces of chess history, but the commentary and analysis offered throughout the book simply does not warrant inclusion in a compilation or serious consideration by aspiring or current chess players. The book’s commentary throughout is much similar to the example above. Kasparov will offer a one to two line comment before making a statement such as The rest is obvious or The rest is simple and present 20-30 moves. For most players, ChessBase or an online database would be necessary to play through most games since little analysis is presented throughout.

I rarely write scathing reviews of chess books, but this one was incredibly disappointing. For the person who might be interested in chess history or an obsessive fan of Kasparov himself, having these games in a single collection might be appealing, but all of them are freely available online or in the ChessBase databases. In addition, there is more intriguing commentary for many of them available than what is presented in the book. Instead of being misled by this book, consider spending your money on the real deal and check out Kasparov’s My Great Predecessors or Kasparov on Kasparov.

  1. Tibor Károlyi and Nick Aplin, Kasparov: How His Predecessors Misled Him About Chess (London, UK: Batsford Chess, 2009), Kindle, Location 184.