GARY Kasparov turned 50 this week, and that has prompted many chess observers to wonder once again why the man who is arguably the best chess player in history has decided not to compete any more.
Kasparov became the youngest world champion in history when he won the crown in 1985 at the age of 23. He waged a fierce rivalry with fellow Soviet grandmaster and former champion Anatoly Karpov, and convincingly came out on top in every important encounter.
Kasparov successfully defended his title five times, and dominated virtually every tournament he entered. He was loud and boisterous, always entertaining, and if some thought him arrogant, no one could deny he was the very best at what he did.
But his reign coincided with the breakup of the Soviet Union, and politics infused many of his thoughts and actions. He famously split with FIDE, the world chess federation, and started his own separatist grouping. He wasn't afraid to take controversial stands. In 1997 Kasparov lost a celebrated match with Deep Blue, the IBM computer. It was a blow to his ego, even though he later suggested the computer team may have been cheating. But it shattered the image of his invincibility, and suddenly other players realized they might be able to beat him.
Vladimir Kramnik emerged as a credible rival, and showed he could handle Kasparov. Suddenly, as he entered his 40s, Kasparov began staring at a more uncertain future.
Then came a bombshell. In 2005, at 42, he announced his retirement from active tournament chess. He devoted his time to writing, business and political activity. Kasparov remains active in the Russian political opposition movement, constantly criticizing Vladimir Putin at every turn.
That opposition landed him in jail last year, but he persists in his campaign against the Russian leadership. He also keeps his hand in chess activity, mainly through his foundation that supports chess education in the schools worldwide.
But many still lament his decision to quit playing. He was clearly the top player in the world for more than a decade, and no one has replicated that status since. Even today, there is no single player who can dominate the scene the way he could.
How many more chess brilliancies could he have uncorked at the chessboard had he decided to keep playing? We will never know. But even at age 50, it's still not too late to re-enter the arena. Many older players, like Viktor Korchnoi, have shown that the mind can still function at a high level well into the senior years.
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Today is the date for the second Tyndall Park Open at the Philippine-Canadian Centre of Manitoba. A generous prize fund of $2,000 is up for grabs.
If you're an early riser and newspaper reader, you may still have time to enter the event before 9 a.m. Otherwise, head down to the centre to watch the action.
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This week's problem: White to move and mate in 2 (Macleod). Solution to last problem: white mates with 1.Qd3.