Lifestyle

My Kingston - Garry Kasparov

Sunday, April 13, 2014    

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Former World Chess Champion, Human Rights Activist

Welcome to Jamaica. How have you been enjoying your island experience?

I haven't had much of an experience here, but we stopped at a statue of Bob Marley and took a picture. I am quite pleased, I just had a meeting with the Jamaica Chess Club Federation and Digicel about the possibility of supporting chess education programmes here and across the region. It's a 36-hour trip as is many of my trips around the world, but I'm quite happy that I picked up Jamaica as a destination for the first Caribbean tour. I came from Mexico and will be going to El Salvador. I don't have much experience in the Caribbean area, but I'm impressed by the Jamaican Chess Federation and the foundation connected to it [and they] have been very active by any global standard in aggressively promoting chess for education, which is my priority.

You were crowned World Chess Champion at age 22. How has chess shaped your life?

If you are competing in professional sports, the competition and nature of the game shapes your character. I've been playing chess since I was six; it has a tremendous impact on my life because I remember I was the youngest in the competition for quite a while. It also helped me to mature quicker. I became the youngest champion ever and I had to fight to maintain it. From early days I followed the motto my mother hung over my bed: "If not you, who else?" So I believed if something went wrong, you did something wrong so don't complain about the rest of the world, see how you can improve. I understood early the principles of cause and effect and concentration, which are important qualities you can learn from the game of chess.

What have been the highlights of your career?

The day you become number one in anything -- that's the highlight. I could proudly say that while quite a few reached this stage, I kept the longest domination for 15 years. I was on top of the rating list for just over two decades, which was quite an accomplishment and that was part of my natural challenge. I was not looking just to win the game; for me it was about making the difference so it was important for contributing something to make progress.

Why is promoting the exposure of children to chess important to you?

It was my long-standing dream to have chess as part of education and I already have five foundations working on this in New York, Brussels, Johannesburg, Singapore, and a few days ago, in Mexico. There are a number of benefits that chess brings to kids. What kids learn from chess can have a lasting effect; they are still forming their decision-making hardware for the future. It helps to concentrate and broaden their mental capacity and it teaches them to follow the rules and operate in a legal framework. Separately, all the things look not as imporant, but when you combine them, you recognise chess is a profitable educational tool, which is effective and inexpensive that is a strong argument for elementary schooling.

You're a human rights activist known for your outspoken views against the Putin administration. What's your take on the current situation in Ukraine?

It's extremely explosive. The world we used to live in is based on agreements and treaties. We used to have negotiations and as a result came up with documents that are respected. It's such a blatant violation of territorial integrity. It brings us back to the darkest stages of the 20th century, and what makes it even worse is that Ukranian territorial integrity has been guaranteed by the protocol memorandum signed in Budapest in 1994 by Russia, America and the United Kingdom, and it was a swap for Ukraine giving up nuclear weapons from the Soviet era in exchange for territorial integrity, so ignoring and violating that and challenging the existence of this Ukranian state, Putin creates extremely dangerous precedence. If the situation is not cured and Putin is not stopped, it will lead to dramatic rise of international tension.

What's your beverage of choice?

Normally, it's water or tonic water but I enjoy good red wine with good company.

Share the title of the last book you read.

Success: Three Years in the Life of a Province by Lion Feuchtwanger.

What cologne are you splashing?

None right now, it's just after-shave cream -- Aveeno. But I always do Gillette.

Fave places in your travel black book?

Cities have different elements of beauty and I always try to measure the energy of the city. Of the places I've travelled to in the last year, I liked Barcelona very much as I like cities close to the sea. I enjoy Prague and Cape Town. I like Marrakech; it's not by the sea but there is a great cultural mix there. I visited Copehagen last year and it was very romantic there. I am due to visit Sydney so perhaps I will like the city.

What's the last bit of music you listened to that impressed you?

I am very conservative so it's classical. I went with my wife to see the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Centre play Symphonies 39, 40 and 41.

What do you love most about being a New Yorker?

I live on the upper West Side, but I travel too much to consider myself a New Yorker. My seven-year-old daughter, who was born there, is more a New Yorker. But I feel comfortable and I love the positive, creative energy of the city and that's what I love.

How involved are you presently in activism?

I am the chairman of a New York-based human rights foundation. I am also part of the largest dissident forum, the Oslo Dissident Forum, which is the largest gathering of human rights activists and dissidents from all over the world, and I am actively engaged in writing my own articles. In the last three weeks, I had editorials for five major US publications -- The Wall Street Journal, The Daily News, the Sunday edition of Politico, The Washington Post and the digitial version of Time magazine.

What is your philosophy?

To make the difference. I feel that it makes life meaningful if I can make a contribution that changes something.

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