It's been a wild week or two here on the Russian front, even if I'm still in Brooklyn. US president Barack Obama is in Russia -- if you noticed amid all the gnashing and wailing over the death of Michael Jackson. Today Obama gave a speech in Moscow and early in the evening he met with a group of opposition figures, including my boss Garry Kasparov. Here is the statement Garry made at the meeting and a brief post-meeting interview on his impressions.
In short, Garry was pretty impressed with the guy, and this wasn't a speech at a football stadium. Obama was clearly worn out from a long day but he was still engaged and active in the wide-ranging discussion. You can tell most of the rest from the interview above, as far as Garry's impressions about what Obama actually said and didn't say.
But you come here for the dirt, so here's one amusing exchange that isn't going to make the press. When there was a little informal talk after the statements and discussion, Obama chatted briefly with Garry and former reform parliamentarian Vladimir Ryzhkov. Obama says to Garry, "it's not often you get to meet someone who is the best in the world." "Well I was," Garry replied, "for 20 years, but that's the past." Obama: "Oh, so we're talking like Federer or Tiger Woods." Ryzhkov jumps in, "No, even more!"
Yah, because who'd want to be compared to those losers Federer and Woods? Okay, not a riveting story, but it's all I got.
So how about some chess? I wasn't sure when the Spanish press was going to run it so I didn't tip it here first, but Kasparov is going to play a short exhibition match against none other than his great predecessor Anatoly Karpov in Valencia, Spain, September 21-24. The four rapid games and eight blitz games commemorate the 25th anniversary of their first world championship match. It's also part of a set of events the Spanish city is organizing around a "Valencia, birthplace of modern chess" program. This refers to the fairly recent discovery that the newly empowered queen was first documented there in the 15th century.
Before trying to pump up the old rivalry, recall that Kasparov was very much touched by Karpov's attempt to visit him in jail in 2007, when Garry was arrested for leading a pro-democracy march in Moscow. I'm not saying they're going to film "The Bucket List 2" together, but I'd expect more nostalgia and mutual respect than trash-talk this time around. Of course the competitive juices will still get flowing, no doubt. As for the quality, who knows? Garry hasn't played more than some online blitz and a few simuls in years while Karpov is 12 years older, so it might be tight.
But we'd watch these two play checkers or have a pillow fight. Anyone old enough to remember their epic five world championship matches knows how relatively pale the chess world seems today without a white-hot rivalry like theirs. More top players now, and more big events, but still not the same. Wow, two unrelated Karpov items in a row and Karpov makes the cloud!