Chess star Karpov faults rival's political plans

Ex-world champion visiting UMBC this week to offer private training

April 07, 2005|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

In a sign that one of the most prominent rivalries in modern chess has not abated, former world chess champion Anatoly Karpov criticized yesterday the recent decision by his onetime nemesis Garry Kasparov, the world's top-ranked player, to retire from professional chess and instead devote his energy to the effort to unseat Russian President Vladimir V. Putin.

Karpov's remarks came during an interview at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where Karpov is spending two days this week offering private training to the college's renowned chess team.

The Russian grandmaster, who lost the world title to his countryman Kasparov in the late 1980s, is on a tour of the United States to celebrate the 30th anniversary of his gaining the world championship in 1975, when American Bobby Fischer declined to defend the title.

Karpov, 53, said he could understand why Kasparov, 41, decided to retire from professional chess, saying that Kasparov was probably finding it increasingly challenging to defend his primacy against younger players.

"I think he realized that it is quite hard to continue to play successfully. At the last tournament, the field was difficult for him. He realizes it's probably time to stop," said Karpov, now ranked 29th in the world. "With the style he plays, he has to put a lot of energy into the game."

But Karpov questioned Kasparov's plan, announced in an op-ed column last month in the Wall Street Journal, to devote his time to challenging Putin. Kasparov, a vocal economic liberal, has spoken out in recent years against what he views as Putin's autocratic and anti-democratic tendencies.

Karpov, who served as a deputy in the Russian parliament under then-Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, predicted that Kasparov's political mission wouldn't come to much.

"I don't think he has a big future in politics. I don't think he has traveled much in Russia. Russia is a state within a state. To understand the population of Russia, you need to know the areas of the country, you need an understanding of the people and their interests," he said. "He knows Moscow. He has an understanding of the Russian elite, but not of the people of Russia. This is his problem."

Karpov, who was viewed as the Soviet leadership's favored player in his showdowns with Kasparov, is now an adviser to two legislative committees, he said, and also is involved in politics through his work running a foundation, the International Association of Peace Foundations, that aims to help children who are victims of war. He said that he supports Putin.

"In general, I believe Putin has [done] the necessary things to keep Russia as one country. Putin needs strong moves to keep the country as one," he said. "There is some criticism that he is centralizing power, but in Russia, if you don't centralize power, you have the risk of losing the country."

Karpov also spoke out on Fischer, who made headlines recently when Iceland invited him to live there.

The eccentric ex-champion has been living in exile for years and has grown increasingly estranged from the United States, which he has attacked in occasional pronouncements. He has been sought by the United States since 1992 for breaking international sanctions by playing a chess match in Yugoslavia.

Karpov said that he could not understand why the United States remained so estranged from the man who many believe is the best chess player the country ever produced. He did not agree with Fischer's statements against the United States, he said, but he believed the time had come for a rapprochement.

"I feel pity for him and his situation. I don't think it's the right attitude toward one of the most famous and popular Americans in the world," he said. "He meant so much for the country and the glory of the country. It's strange for [the global chess community] to have the relations so bad. I hope the relations can improve."

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