by David Remnick
On a recent summer evening, the greatest player in the history of chess, Garry Kasparov, wrapped up an exhausting series of meetings devoted to the defeat of the Kremlin regime. After days of debate, a motley pride of unlikely revolutionaries—bearded politicos, earnest academics, and multigrained environmentalists—collected their cigarettes and left Kasparov’s apartment, divided and worn out. Little had been accomplished. Crumpled drafts of fevered proclamations lay scattered on the kitchen table. Puffy-eyed and unsmiling, Kasparov grunted a curt farewell to his comrades and went off to make yet another urgent telephone call.
Kasparov is forty-four. He was the world chess champion for fifteen years. Until his retirement, two years ago, his dominance was unprecedented. Lasker, Capablanca, Alekhine, Fischer—none came close. Chess has outsized meaning in Russia, and Kasparov at home was a cross between the greatest of athletes and a revered intellectual; with his status came celebrity, foreign investment accounts, summers on the Adriatic, an apartment along the Hudson River, friendships among Western politicians and businessmen, and the attentions of beautiful women. Now he has volunteered for grim and, very likely, futile duty. As the most conspicuous leader of Drugaya Rossiya (the Other Russia), an umbrella group of liberals, neo-Bolsheviks, and just about anyone else wishing to speak ill of Vladimir Putin, he is in nominal charge of opposition politics in a country that, in actuality, has no real politics except for that which takes place in the narrow and inscrutable space between the ears of its President.
Kasparov’s mother, Klara, shares his apartment and his travails. “It is like we are soldiers together in the ditches,” she once said. “Even when we are at a great distance, Garry and I can feel each other’s mood.” Like her son, Klara Kasparova is impossibly energetic, deeply intelligent, and a touch melodramatic. It had been a tedious few days of marathon jawing and internal spats. The Other Russia was scheduled to hold its annual conference the next morning at a Holiday Inn in central Moscow, but some of its leading figures had decided to boycott over the question of whether to unify immediately behind a single Presidential candidate for the March, 2008, election.