Friday, March 11, 2005

MOSCOW — Garry Kasparov, the world’s leading chess player, has decided to give up competitive chess and devote his time to Russian politics in an attempt to bring down the regime of President Vladimir Putin.

Mr. Kasparov is already chairman of the opposition Committee 2008, a group of reformers fighting to halt Russia’s slide to autocracy and to ensure that Mr. Putin resigns when his second term in office ends in three years.

The committee was set up amid growing fears that Mr. Putin and his close associates, many of them from the old KGB, will be reluctant to relinquish office and may try to manipulate the constitution to hang on to power.

Since the committee was formed a little over a year ago, Mr. Kasparov has become one of the most outspoken critics of the Putin regime, lambasting its decision to clamp down on the news media and its stranglehold over the courts and parliament.

At a late-night press conference Thursday, Mr. Kasparov finally took the plunge and declared he was leaving competitive chess for good.

He said professional chess no longer held any challenges, but he would continue to play speed chess for fun.

In comments published on the Web site of the Russian weekly journal Yezhednevny Zhurnal, he said: “In chess I have done all I could and even more. Now I intend to use my intellect and strategic thinking in Russian politics. … I will do all I can to oppose Putin’s dictatorship.”

Mr. Kasparov, 41, was born in Baku in Azerbaijan when it was part of the Soviet Union and has dominated international chess tournaments since becoming world champion at age 22.

In 1985, after a 48-game marathon against the champion Anatoly Karpov ended inconclusively when Mr. Karpov’s health failed, he won a rematch to become the youngest-ever world champion.

But Mr. Kasparov is often remembered for a rare defeat — against the computer Deep Blue, a moment many thought marked machine’s superiority over man. Six years later he drew 3-3 against Deep Junior, which calculated 3 million moves per second.

Shay Bushinsky, one of Deep Junior’s two programmers, said Mr. Kasparov was “the closest thing to a computer that I know as a man. … Kasparov has the most incredible look-ahead and memory capabilities I have ever seen.”

But such skills may not serve him well in the cut-and-thrust of politics.

Andrei Piontkowsky, a political analyst with the Strategic Studies Center, said Mr. Kasparov may not have a big future as a politician.

Considering the state of the democratic opposition in Russia, a leader should be a great communicator and capable of compromises, he said.

“Garry couldn’t even unify international chess, which is split into two federations.”

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