Chess story fascinates

I’m sure all journalists and writers have events in history that stand out in their minds.

Those are the stories that made us want to become writers in the first place.

I have dozens. Too many to cover in much detail in any one column. Stories like D.B. Cooper, who hijacked a plane somewhere between Seattle and the Oregon-Washington border and then disappeared into thin air and thick forest.

As a golf fan, I’m enthralled with the history of the sport that dates back several centuries. As a baseball fan, I’m captivated by stories of the Negro Leagues and pre-desegregation stars like Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell and Satchel Paige.

Another that has always struck me is that of chess legend Garry Kasparov and his match against the IBM supercomputer Deep Blue. Kasparov had the weight of the entire human race on his shoulders. He was our real-life John Conner fighting against the Terminators.

The humans sent Kasparov, a man with an IQ of 190 who was ranked No. 1 in the world for almost 20 years. Skynet — ahem, IBM — sent Deep Blue, backed by an entire team of chess grand masters and computer whizzes.

We all know the outcome. Deep Blue became the first computer to defeat a world chess champion in a time-constrained match.

People who believe machines will someday overtake humanity (I try not to be one of them, but if the shoe fits… ) point to that moment in 1997 as a sign of the changing tide and the beginning of the rise of the machines.

However, there’s much more to the Kasparov legacy — including his own rise to dominance — that reveals a fascinating story.

In 1985, Kasparov became the youngest undisputed world chess champion ever at age 22. One year earlier, he had been locked in an epic championship match against fellow Russian Anatoly Karpov, the defending champion, in quite possibly the greatest chess match in the history of the game. The first to win six games would win the championship.

Karpov took a 4-0 lead within the first nine games and extended his advantage to 5-0 after the 27th game. Yet, Kasparov would not lose again, capturing his first win in the 32nd game and earning back-to-back wins in games 47 and 48 — a record-breaking five months after the match had started.

Kasparov had clearly figured out the tactics of the older grandmaster.

But with momentum in his favor and the possibility of completing a major comeback, the match was unexpectedly called off. Officials cited health concerns, despite both players expressing their desire to continue.

The decision leaves one of the world’s greatest feats of endurance and intelligence without a final outcome. We know that both players are considered to be legends of the game, and that Kasparov, in particular, would be considered by many to be the greatest in history.

But was he capable of pulling off the monumental comeback in the winter of 1985?

Someday we may know what happened to D.B. Cooper and his heisted loot.

But the outcome of that legendary chess match will always remain a mystery.

Garrett Rudolph is the managing editor of The Chronicle. He can be reached at 509-826-1110 or via email at


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