Mortal Games --- By Fred Waitzkin
Note: the following is an excerpt of the novel. Click the book to read the rest, by ordering Mortal Games.
Kasparov dined in only the finest restaurants in Paris, Dan-Antoine was a master of selection. One night we ate beside a lovely river, another at the edge of a forest. One night Le Grand Véfour, the next, Les Jardins de Bagatelle, the next, La Tour d’Argent. The food arrived looking more like a sculpture than a lobster, or bass or duck. At an outdoor restaurant, with the air fragrant with spring flowers and peacocks strolling nearby, Kasparov looked at the gorgeous dishes before us and roared like a barbarian. “Food, food.” But more often than not, Kasparov was wired with political insights and barely noticed the food growing cold before him. At more than a few of these fantastic meals, his face grew dark with fury over Gorbachev and with me for asking annoying questions. “Go away, Fred...go back to America. We will remember who our friends were.” Then he would grow silent. It was hard for me to eat under such conditions. I became sorry I had ever heard of Gorbachev. “In the West, Gorbachev is viewed as the man who wants to destroy the communist system,” he told me frequently. “I believe that he is trying to save the system. He is the last communist dictator. Why else does he organize ethnic clashes within the various republics? Russians against Moldavians, Georgians against Abkhazians.” One fantastic course after the next grew cold while he talked and then he threw down his food in seconds. “Now is the time when we must defeat communism. We must do it now. History
does not often give a second chance.â€? Kasparov was in such a rush to get his ideas out, as if the ideas would fly away, the moment would be lost. I had rarely in my life had a chance to sample food like this, but Kasparov spoke with such fervor that picking up a fork felt rude and inappropriate. And then, when I tried to scarf down the langouste, novelette or canard at his pace, my stomach was in a knot. Throughout France, Garry was rushing - rushing to eat, rushing to walk, rushing to drive. For all that, he was always late. If he was due somewhere across Paris at eight, that was the time he might think about getting dressed. He left late for exhibitions, fancy dinners and even appointments on television, which gave his publicists heart failure and promoters headaches. I think he warmed up that way, prepared himself by allowing the tension to build, forestalled leaving until he felt purpose and fire. I also think he believed that being world champion, being Kasparov, gave him the right to be spoiled and even outrageous. Lateness was his calling card. He was never guilty about it. Why? He was busy doing something else. Then, when everyone was irritated, he came striding into the press conference or the three-star restaurant at a walk that was nearly a sprint, radiating energy, smiling, a modern hero. In chess, as in life, Garry knew that his colossal energy was his most effective ally. When he was inspired and vigorous, his expression was fixed and impenetrable, his body hard, bridling itself back and bursting to begin, like a runner before a race; he had no doubt he would win. Without his energy, Garry felt nervous about playing chess or meeting an important business contact or giving an interview. Kasparov searched for energy, mined it in strange ways, such as arriving late, or allowing his anger to build and then transforming it into inspired moves or passionate ideas. One afternoon, he reluctantly agreed to talk a little about chess. We began walking through Paris to find the right place to talk. He decided that we would find a bench to sit on. We passed
many benches along broad tree-lined avenues. Each was not quite right. One was in the sun. One was in the shade. One had old bird droppings. He was becoming a little tense, rejecting benches. We returned to his suite at the St. James Club, walked past a halfdozen people seated formally on leather couches in the lobby waiting to see Kasparov as if he were a head of state. He walked briskly past them without noticing. The St. James Club, in the center of Paris, is a small exclusive hotel built within a courtyard. Garry’s room was decorated in an art deco style and had a view of the rear of the courtyard, which is landscaped to duplicate a peaceful country scene. Garry wanted to raise the curtain, but didn’t know how, which surprised me, for he had been living there a week. I found a hidden button and showed him. He paced a little and then asked sharply if I was ready. He was a little angry and wired. Then finally, for the first time, Kasparov and I were talking about chess, but it hardly seemed like chess at all. No variations. No chess moves. To hear him, chess was an abstract struggle, a psychological and philosophical confrontation more than a game. At its center was a grappling against dark forces. “When you understand the essence of chess, the hidden mechanisms, you can make something brilliant from what might appear really stupid. Some positions are so complex that you cannot calculate two moves ahead. You must use your intuition. Sometimes I play by my hand, by my smell.” At one point, I said that he sounded like a captain trying to navigate his ship through a blinding storm. He took that in for a minute. “It is like comparing different dimensions. It takes imagination. At the highest level, chess is a talent to control unrelated things. It is like controlling chaos.” at this he sat up from his chair. He had never thought of chess this way before. “It is like controlling chaos,” he repeated. About this time, the doorbell rang. It was a reporter from the newspaper Figaro, who had been waiting for an hour in the lobby. She was thin and beautiful. Garry invited her in and then gave me a
high five in the manner of Magic Johnson complimenting James Worthy after a sensational slam dunk. â€œWe did great,â€? he said. We nailed it, baby. He was very excited about controlling the chaos. I was tired. Usually after he talked, I felt tired. After a minute or two, Garry was speaking with great passion about Gorbachev and Azerbaijan to the woman, who nodded and smoked a cigarette. Kasparov builds upon his energy, gearing himself up from a good interview to a better one, constantly revising his best ideas. The lady journalist was nodding to the cadence of his sentences, getting high on this chess champion with a troubled soul. I overheard Garry talking about controlling the chaos in his country, as if the two of them had just come upon the idea. Click the book to read the rest, by ordering Mortal Games.
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