Who’s king of the castle?
At first, playing chess against Garry Kasparov is much like playing chess against anyone else. Take the pieces. They look the same as when you are playing against other people. They move the same way. For some reason this is surprising to me, and so is the fact that we are five moves in and he has not checkmated me yet. He must be off his game, or, just maybe, dare I hope, I am a lot smarter than I thought I was?
But there he is, across the table, actually thinking about his next move. I have a rush of satisfaction. Brain the size of a planet, the greatest chess player who ever lived, and I have made him think.
This moment has been a long time coming. When I had originally explained to Kasparov’s assistant that I wanted to play chess against the great man himself, she had made it clear that this was asking quite a lot, but she would see what she could do.
Then, when I arrive at his flat, I have to re-explain my errand to his mother, who seems to run the PR show for Garry Kasparov Inc. “What rank are you?” she finally asks.
“Um, no rank really. But I know the rules,” I say helpfully.
“No problem, I’ll put out the board. You know where the pieces go?”
When her son comes into the living room, I have a weak-kneed, gibbering moment where I can’t stop grinning. Kasparov, radiating the kind of charisma you tend to radiate if you recreationally play chess against supercomputers, takes his seat behind the board, and rearranges the kings and queens. I have put them on the wrong squares.
He is a bit plumper and greyer than when he played his famous marathon match against Anatoly Karpov almost 30 years ago, but has none of the arrogance or ill temper one expects of great sportsmen.
“What should we talk about first?” I ask. “Politics or chess?”
“I think your readership is more interested in politics? We can talk chess later,” he says.