Published on April 24, 2020

Under father’s wings no more


Is it possible to win and lose against one and the same player during one World Championship cycle in chess? Grandmaster Gata Kamsky (1974) succeeded in doing this. In July 1994 he beat Anand in a match during the World Championship cycle. After a 4-4 tie, Kamsky won both rapid games in the playoff. Just over six months later, in March 1995, the same Anand was too strong for him during the World Championship cycle: 6½-4½. How on earth was this possible?

The solution to this riddle lies in the breach that had taken place in the chess world – at least in the top of it, in 1993. Kasparov and Short, who were going to play a match for the world title, were dissatisfied with FIDE; they had separated themselves from it and established the PCA (Professional Chess Association). Next, both FIDE and PCA came up with their own World Championship cycles, both quite similar. Kamsky played in both of them. In the FIDE cycle, he was the strongest, beating Paul van der Sterren, Viswanathan Anand and Valery Salov in succession. In the PCA cycle he beat Vladimir Kramnik and Nigel Short, and finally went down against Anand. Because of this, he missed the chance to play two matches for the world title, against Kasparov (PCA) as well as Karpov (FIDE), within a short time span. Now he only played Karpov. In Elista, the latter proved stronger: 10½-7½.

This 1996 match marked at the same time the temporary end of Kamsky’s flourishing chess career. It started in the Soviet Union with two national youth titles, and continued in 1989 in the United States. There he became the national champion at sixteen. Gata Kamsky turned out to be a top player of the first order, but the most striking thing about him was his dominant father, who accompanied him to every event. Father Rustam was a former boxer, and exuded this in every respect. He had one goal: his son had to become a world top player. Gata succeeded in this, as we described above, but after his loss to Karpov apparently the son managed to struggle out of the grasp of his father. Kamsky stopped playing chess, and went on to study first medicine and later law. Only in 2004 he made a serious return in the chess arena.

Can you be a factor of importance again in the top ranks of such a competitive sport as chess after an eight-year break? The answer, surprisingly, is: yes. On the one hand, Kamsky’s convincing return illustrates his tremendous talent, and it also shows that chess understanding isn’t lost so easily. After one year already, he was in the top-20 of the FIDE rating list again, and in the 2006 Olympiad he reappeared on first board for the United States. In 2009, he could even set his sights on the world title again. He played a match with Veselin Topalov to earn the right to challenge World Champion Anand. However, the Bulgarian proved too strong.

Last year, in an interview with Perlen vom Bodensee, Kamsky signalled a remarkable move repetition in his life. He was born in Siberia, moved to Leningrad, and from there left for the United States. In 2015 he moved in with his wife, the Russian Vera Nebolsina, who lived in Siberia. In 2018 they moved to St Petersburg, and at the time of the interview, November 2019, they were strongly considering moving further westward – not to the United States this time, but to Germany.

In 2019, Gata Kamsky also turned up in the Netherlands again, after a long time. Through the agency of his Belgian publisher Daniël Vanheirzeele, he participated in the Hogeschool Zeeland Chess Tournament. In the local newspaper, the Provinciale Zeeuwse Courant, tournament director Hans Groffen called him ‘the biggest fish this tournament has ever landed’. The fish did what was expected from it: it won the tournament. (MbdW)