‘Chess god’ Kasparov emerges from 12-year retirement

A-      A+

ST LOUIS — In a move electrifying the world of chess, former world champion Garry Kasparov is coming out of a 12-year retirement today to take on a new generation of players who have long worshipped him as the closest thing to a “chess god”.

Kasparov utterly dominated the sport from 1985 to 2000. Since his withdrawal from a tournament in Linares, Spain, in March 2005, the Russian’s absence has left many chess fanatics feeling orphaned.

So there was considerable surprise when he agreed to play in the new Rapid and Blitz tournament in St Louis, Missouri, which follows closely after the annual Sinquefield Cup competition, a major stop on the world tour, in the same city on the Mississippi River.

Kasparov, who became the youngest world champion ever at age 22 in 1985, is now 54, more than a decade past the age when professional chess players typically retire.

From today to Saturday, the Russian will put aside the business that has kept him busy in retirement — his vocal and determined opposition to President Vladimir Putin — to play against some of chess’s big guns, like fellow Russian Sergey Karjakin.

The world’s current No. 1 player, Magnus Carlsen of Norway, will not be there, however.

Still, the return to competition of the Azerbaijan-born Kasparov — a man once dubbed the “Beast of Baku,” whose epic clashes with Anatoli Karpov are part of chess legend — has had an explosive impact in the chess world, particularly here.

“Everyone is talking about it,” American chess grandmaster Alejandro Ramirez said. “People are flying from India and China to see this dude play.”

Kasparov’s long and “unparalleled” dominance of the chess world made him “a cultural icon”, said Ramirez, a US Open champion who coaches the chess team at Saint Louis University. “His contribution to chess theory and our understanding of the game resonate still today.”

But what are Kasparov’s realistic chances after so many years away from the gruelling competition of professional chess?

The man himself dodged the question in his only tweet mentioning his comeback: “Looks like I’m going to raise the average age of the field and lower the average rating!” he quipped, in a bit of self-deprecating humour. — AFP