As a twelve-year-old he defeated the former World Championship Candidate Mark Taimanov. That was in 1986, the onslaught of the prodigy from southwestern Siberia on the chess throne had begun. Ten years later he faced Anatoly Karpov in a match over 20 games. At stake was nothing less than the world title. Kamsky lost – and retired from chess.
Since 2004 the former world’s number four is back. He tried to get to the very top once again – and almost made it: In 2007 he won the World Cup, eliminated Magnus Carlsen among others, and played a match against Veselin Topalov for the right to challenge World Champion Visvanathan Anand.
Today Gata Kamsky is a chess traveler – and a traveler for love. He moved from the USA to Siberia in order to live with his wife, later the two of them moved to Saint Petersburg in order to be closer to Europe.
In Germany we may see him regularly in the near future: Gata Kamsky strongly considers settling here. During the 23rd Open International Bavarian Championships he told us what attracts him to Germany, what he thinks about the current World Championship Cycle, about chess in Russia and in the Bundesliga.
You’ve gotten around recently, played in the Netherlands, in Spain, on the Isle of Man, now here on Lake Tegernsee. When did you last see your home?
Some time ago. Already during the summer I’ve been traveling a lot. What can I do, that’s my work. Now I hope to be back home next month. I am glad that my wife travels with me, so I don’t have to miss her.
“What can I do” doesn’t sound like you love it. You wouldn’t describe chess professional as a dream job, I guess?
It’s different when you’re young. You travel, see the world, that feels like a dream indeed. But somebody like me needs rest in between. I would like to work on my books and of course help my wife with her chess. She is a grandmaster, but her rating needs to rise a bit. For us it is not ideal to be on the move all the time. But the traveling life also has upsides of course. We see a lot, share many experiences, that’s a good thing. Amazingly, in 30 years as a chess professional I had never been to Bavaria.
Well, I’ve been to Germany of course, playing Bundesliga for instance. I know Berlin, Baden-Baden, Karlsruhe. But Bayern? Somehow it never happened.
How do you like it?
The area is special, the houses too, very colorful, that does not seem so German actually. I’m not sure yet how to classify it, but I like it here, I can say that already. We especially enjoyed the sunny days and how warm it was even at the end of October. Then we were amazed how quickly it gets cold in the evening. Like Siberia! In South Germany! I could hardly believe that. I hope we have enough warm clothes with us. When we packed, it was still late summer.
By elo you are the favorite here. What do you expect?
Oh, let’s see. I’m a bit tired after the recent hardships, but I’ll do my job as well as I can. I like having a lot of intense games around me here. And to see many young players. There could be more women, I would like that, too.
You faced a twelve-year-old from India in the first round, and you conceded a draw. How did that happen?
Playing against strong Indians happens regularly in international tournament chess. And this boy is a strong player. He played the second, third engine proposal every move. Regardless of the rating, someone who plays like that can compete with anyone. In retrospect, I looked at games of him and found that the game against me was probably exceptionally good compared to his previous level. Nevertheless, a great talent.
In the Bundesliga you play for Deizisau, one of the teams with the fewest legionnaires. How is that?
My wife already played for the club in the women’s Bundesliga, hence the connection. The Deizisau manager asked me if I’d like to play for the club as well. We were still in the second division when I joined them. Peter Leko on board one, me on two, some young guys behind us…
… young German guys especially, Vincent Keymer for instance.
And we promoted! Last year we had a good season in the Bundesliga. I managed to beat MVL with the black pieces…
… and next to you was Peter Leko, beating Fabiano Caruana.
The old men can still play a bit, we showed that day! (Laughs)
Actually, I wanted to ask you about US chess. You play under American flag.
But I have not lived in the US since I moved in with my wife in 2015.
She lived in Siberia, I moved there and settled down where I was born once. At the end of 2018 we went to Saint Petersburg, a cultural city closer to Europe that suited us better. Since then I have been wondering if my life is repeating itself. Born in Siberia, moved to Leningrad, then to the USA. And now exactly the same way back. Incidentally, we plan to move to Central Europe.
Do you know where to go?
We tend towards Germany. I like Germany. Things are very methodical here, that’s good. My wife speaks German, she has lived here, knows country and people. She has just passed her B2 language exam and could now study in Germany. Which city we will live in will probably depend on which university she studies at.
Have you already looked at universities?
How could we, we were traveling so much. And then I fell ill on the Isle of Man.
Yes, in such an important tournament! I had come there ambitious actually, wanted to get in shape during the tournament. But during the first half I was ill, I could not play chess. And then it was over.
Your wife has also played, how did that happen in a tournament full of 2700s?
She had qualified through chess.com. But the tournament was just too strong.
Strong opponents can help you grow.
Not if the difference is too big. On the Isle of Man, 2600s were playing at the ten bottom boards, and she, with her 2200, was sitting with them. That does not help.
What do you think about the Grand Swiss format?
The idea of the “American Dream” resonates in a tournament like that. Anyone can make it, everyone can fight for the World Championship. Look at Alekseenko, hardly anyone knew him, but he almost made it.
Because of this third place he could even get the wildcard for the Candidates Tournament.
I’ve known about this guy’s potential for a long time. In 2016 we played in St. Petersburg in a tournament. He won, I finished second. Since I’ve seen him there I know there’s a big talent rising. Now he almost became a World Championship candidate.
He seems to lack one level at least to seriously challenge the World Champion. And he is 24 already. Do you really think he can make it?
Who knows? Alekseev is far from being the only young Russian with potential. Dubov, for example, reminds me of Tal. Or Artemiev. He is a few years younger, and I have closely followed his path for some time. Magnus Carlsen will be 30 soon. The longer he has the title, the more we should look for potential successors.