Photo: Britta Pedersen/DPA/PA Images

"Complacency enables every evil"—chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov on morality, time machines, and giving back to the game

"I believe that most people have a good moral centre and would do the right thing, if only they would speak up, and act"
August 11, 2017
First news/historical event you can recall?

The 1970 football World Cup. Pelé and the phenomenal Brazilian champions, the legendary semi-final between West Germany and Italy, and the controversial extra-time goal that eliminated the Soviet Union in the quarter-final game against Uruguay.

The book you are most embarrassed you have never yet read?

Sun-Tzu’s The Art of War. One of those books that is quoted all the time and people are always citing it to me regarding chess and politics, but I’ve never read the actual book.

One bit of advice you’d give to your younger self?

I dislike “time machine” questions. My decisions, good and bad, have made me who I am and created the wonderful life I am lucky to lead. I would not risk changing anything that might alter it.

What is your favourite saying or quotation?

I have a dangerous addiction to aphorisms, I’m afraid, especially from great speeches by the likes of Churchill and Lincoln. But I’ll go with one that has special pertinence to my life, a saying of the Soviet dissidents that my mother put on my wall as a youth: “If not you, who else?”

Where do you want to be buried/have your ashes scattered?

In a free and democratic Russia.

If you were given £1m to spend on other people, what would you spend it on and why?

In my role as the chairman of the Human Rights Foundation, I know far too many people and causes in desperate need of support in their battles against authoritarian regimes. It would be too hard to choose among them. But I know there would be tremendous “bang for the buck” by donating it to chess education programmes in Africa, where the Kasparov Chess Foundation has seen fantastic results. And giving back to the game that has done so much for me would be ideal.

The talent you wish you had?

To draw.

The best and worst presents you’ve ever received

Best is easy. The morning of my sixth birthday I awoke to find a large globe next to my bed. My father, who died not long afterward, would sit with me for hours and trace the paths of the great explorers we would read about. I would not want to insult anyone who has given me a present from the heart, but over the years at events I have been presented with quite a few ceremonial gifts that were obviously far too large to pack in my luggage, leaving me in an awkward situation.

What have you changed your mind about?

I used to believe that all successful people in the free world deserved their success in some way, perhaps the naive view of someone raised under the coerced and false equality of Communism, or the influence of the relative meritocracy of the chessboard. But I’ve become much more inclined to look for the hand of good fortune, and to distinguish that from success based on real wisdom and excellence. Even in chess, the winner is often the one who made the next-to-last mistake.

What is the biggest problem of all?

Complacency, both on an individual or societal level. Complacency enables every evil and exacerbates every crisis. Of course, industriousness can be put to the service of evil, and often has, but I believe that most people have a good moral centre and would do the right thing, if only they would speak up, and act.

Garry Kasparov’s new book “Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins” (John Murray) is out now