Kasparov speaks on chess & innovation

On April 2, Garry Kasparov gave an evening lecture at Graham Chapel on his lessons learned in becoming the highest ranked chess player in the world, running as a Russian presidential candidate against Putin, and advocating for vertical innovation in technology.Charles Chen | Student Life

On April 2, Garry Kasparov gave an evening lecture at Graham Chapel on his lessons learned in becoming the highest ranked chess player in the world, running as a Russian presidential candidate against Putin, and advocating for vertical innovation in technology.

Chess may be a serious, cranial game, but a former World Champion had no problem cracking jokes.

“I was born in the Deep South of the Soviet Union, near Georgia,” Garry Kasparov said about his birth in the Caucasus.

Graham Chapel was filled to capacity on Monday with students, parents and even a few children eager to listen to Kasparov speak about chess, politics and innovation.

Kasparov’s fame derives not only from his dominance in chess but also from a career as a political activist and writer.

The lecture began with a brief autobiography. Kasparov earned the title of World Champion in 1985 at age 22 by defeating Anatoly Karpov. Before Kasparov’s victory was decisive, the pair played 72 games over the course of one year. A former champion, Petrosian, offered unforgettable advice to the young player.

“Squeeze his balls,” Petrosian suggested, advising Kasparov after five losses to pressure his opponent and avoid rushing play.

Kasparov’s lessons from chess have shaped his perspective and inform his strategy in other, more dangerous games, like Russian politics.

“I’m not comfortable calling what we have in Russia ‘politics,’” Kasparov said.

He claims democracy in Russia faces fundamental challenges.

“In America, you have an election to have a fight. In Russia, we fight to have an election,” Kasparov said.

The grandmaster’s words for the Russian government, led by Vladimir Putin, were direct. He compared the Russian government to a Mafia, where “corruption isn’t a problem, it’s the system.” Putin’s grip on the country, Kasparov states, originates in a “genetic fear of the KGB.” In 2007, he was incarcerated for his work.

“It was not very pleasant. I have always been a critic of Putin,” Kasparov said.

Even with this level of suppression, Kasparov remains optimistic for the political future in Russia and other countries restricted from basic civil liberties. He believes that democracy is the only political system that people can tolerate and that dictatorships are old-fashioned.

The lecture then shifted to a discussion of technology. Kasparov described Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, as the new Johannes Gutenberg, inventor of the printing press. Both men’s creations, he argued, facilitated the dissemination of information to unprecedented levels.

Kasparov then proceeded to talk about the state of technological innovation. He said that the world has reached a plateau because society has lost vertical innovation to what he calls horizontal innovation.

Vertical innovation occurs when societies are willing to take risks and make sacrifices to create jobs and progress. Horizontal innovation is created with a defensive approach: by taking fewer chances and providing fewer opportunities to people with ideas.

Kasparov argues that the world is stuck in horizontal innovation, which is constrains progress.

“If Magellan approached the Spanish government today and asked for support for his expedition, would he have gotten it? They would ask, do you have a plan? No. Do you have a map? Somewhat. Will you survive? No. He would have been turned away,” Kasparov said.

After the lecture, Kasparov attended a reception with the first 50 people to line up for the event. He signed autographs and posed for pictures with attendees.

Kasparov also played chess with a member of the audience as a demonstration. As the match progressed into the endgame, the grandmaster allowed two children to finish the game for him, teaching them strategy in the process.

Students in attendance were excited to hear from the chess legend.

“I got to listen to one of the smartest men in the world. I am psyched,” freshman Michael Mojtahedi said.

Still, some were surprised that the lecture was not focused on the game for which Kasparov is famous.

“I was expecting more chess, but politics is interesting,” sophomore Lawrence Yen said.

“We are very happy with the turnout and are super excited to host Mr. Kasparov,” President of the Washington University Chess Club Jacob Zax said.

With additional reporting by Davis Sargeant.

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