A Weekend with Garry Kasparov
By IM Akshat Chandra   
January 27, 2015
Former World Champion Garry Kasparov with Ashritha Eswaran
Since the program began a few years ago, it has become a tradition in US Chess.  Young chess players are invited to have their games reviewed in a session with Garry Kasparov, the 13th World Champion and one of the greatest players of all time. This is the "Young Stars - Team USA" program, sponsored by the Kasparov Chess Foundation (KCF) and the Chess Club & Scholastic Center of Saint Louis (CCSCSL).  The program has been running since 2012 with two group sessions a year, and individual training for selected players. This group session is assessed and evaluated by Garry himself, along with KCF President and FIDE Senior Trainer Michael Khodarkovsky.  

It was this session I was headed to on a bitterly chilly December morning in New York City. The gray, opaque clouds were staring down, and the whistling wind was incessantly slashing across my face. But I was still in high spirits, of course!

The 5 players invited to this session were:

Ashritha Eswaran
Jennifer Yu
Samuel Sevian
Kayden Troff
Akshat Chandra  

Jennifer, the 2014 World Youth U-12 Girls champion, and Ashritha, who played in the US Women's Championship 2014, were attending this evaluation for the first time. Meanwhile, Kayden and Samuel were seasoned veterans (and GMs!), and have been attending these sessions since the program's inception.  This was the second time I was attending a KCF session, almost a year after my first visit.  I was no longer a rookie, and was hoping to make a stronger impression this time so I could be accepted into KCF's individual training program, which provides coaching and sponsored tournament trips.  One of the coaching team's most prominent trainer is GM Alexander Chernin, who has worked with many promising youngsters, and has been training Kayden and Samuel since 2012.

I reached the session's venue, a giant conference room in a law firm located in mid-town Manhattan.  A short while later, Garry paced into the room. You could instantly feel his striking aura.  He took his seat at the maple-colored conference table, and acknowledged us.


Now, it was time for Garry to go through our games. Before the session, we were asked to annotate 6 games, although there is usually not sufficient time to see them all.  "The journalist!" Garry smiled, referring to me, "Let's start with his games first."


I eagerly took my seat next to Garry, and began to show the games I had prepared for him. They were against GM's with an average rating of 2650, as I felt those games would be most instructive. During the presentation, I noticed the "chess instinct" which Gary had harnessed over his illustrious career.  He was constantly coming up with accurate thoughts and ideas, and his first instinct turned out to be right nearly all the time!  He was even aware of the latest developments in modern theory. You wouldn't be able to tell that he retired nearly 10 years ago!  Another remarkable trait of Garry's is his prodigious memory. Throughout the session, he would suddenly go quiet and close his eyes. No, he wasn't sleeping! Instead, he was deep in thought, and his mind was whirring, trying to recall a particular game played several years ago which was similar to the position on-hand.  Here is an example.


6. Bxc6 We were looking at one of Samuel's games, and upon seeing this move, Garry immediately told us that this was a bad line. He then remembered the game Ivanchuk-Kramnik 2001, and even recalled finer details, such as that Ivanchuk was winning, only to lose in the end:


The final game I showed Garry was against the Ukranian prodigy GM Illya Nyzhnyk. This game was truly amazing, as unbeknownst to Illya and I, we played out the exact Carlsen-Gelfand game from the 2013 Candidates for exactly 30 moves! Of course, Garry remembered that game from the Candidates, and promptly said "This is Magnus' game."


Over the next day and a half, we all finished presenting our games to Garry.  Each time Garry would start-off by inquiring about our progress in 2014 in terms of rating gain, and an update on the tournaments we played. 

The post-lunch session of the second day is reserved for a key component of KCF's evaluation - solving study compositions. This evaluation plays a large part in determining our abilities in Garry's mind.  The onus was now on me to qualify for KCF's specialized training, and so I had to deliver on the studies. I recalled how I had struggled to solve them last time, as it was the first time I was even attempting to solve a study. As Garry explained then, it helps build precision. He gave each one of us a separate study to solve.  The evaluation in this section is based on success in solving the study, time taken, and number of meaningful hints that were provided. 

After a few minutes, I had the study figured out and noted it down on my pad. I walked over to Garry, who went through the sequence, and told me I was correct. That felt good! Garry then left the room, while Michael remained with us to keep our time and check our answers. Michael then gave me the second study to work on.  This one was much harder. After some thought, I found the critical move after which everything fell into place. I went over to Michael, who approved of my solution.  He then told me to wait, as the two studies I worked on were all Garry had intended for me to solve.  I went back to my seat feeling pleased, as I had done a good job on both the studies. 

Garry returned to the room after a while, and Michael informed him that I had solved the studies.  To me, Garry seemed surprised! Overall, I think everyone put in a great effort on the studies. 

Thanks to the sponsors KCF and CCSCSL for providing an opportunity to us youngsters to review our games with a chess legend!

Below are three of the studies.  Enjoy!


White to Move and Draw 

Show Solution


White to Move and Win 

Show Solution


White to Move and Draw 

Show Solution

Find out more about Akshat on QuesttoGM.com and see his latest article on CLO, Dueling in the Dunes, here. Also look for a piece by him on chessbase, which includes more studies from his weekend with Kasparov.