The great, the good and a sad history of destruction

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The Independent Online

Ruy Lopez, a Spanish bishop of the 16th century, developed a chess opening that is still being used by players today; indeed, it has even been used in the current match between Garry Kasparov and Vladimir Kramnik at the Riverside Studios in London.

Ruy Lopez, a Spanish bishop of the 16th century, developed a chess opening that is still being used by players today; indeed, it has even been used in the current match between Garry Kasparov and Vladimir Kramnik at the Riverside Studios in London.

In the same way, new elements introduced by great players have been been worked on and refined by their successors.

There have been only 13 official world champions in chess since 1886, all geniuses in their own way. Howard Staunton, the English player after whom this tournament is named and who was never officially world champion because he predated the tournaments, was known as one of the game's great strategists.

Wilhelm Steinitz, the first world champion, refined Staunton's strategies and is remembered as a great positional player. José Raoul Capablanca, the Cuban champion, was able to make complex situations appear simple.

To be a great player requires vision, calculation, imagination and an innate talent that cannot be learned. It is an art and a science as well as a sport.

It can also be a very destructive sport and can lead to excessive behaviour; there is perhaps only one world champion, the Dutch player Max Euwe, who could be said to have lived a normal life.

It is crucial that chess respects its history. What has made these players today great is a knowledge and understanding of the past.

Kasparov - or "Gazza" as he is known - is a fiery player on the board, but he has an enormous armoury of tactics built on long preparation and meticulous study - in the same way as the Russian champion of the Twenties and Thirties, Alexander Alekhine.

But in one great respect, Kasparov is trying to break with one of chess's great traditions: he is determined not to be beaten by a younger challenger and says he wants to stay on as champion until his four-year-old son can grasp what his father represents.

If there is one person who knows Kasparov well enough to beat him, it is Kramnik. The 25-year-old was a member of Kasparov's back-up team when he beat the Indian challenger Vishy Anand. Indeed, Kramnik knows him inside out.

* The author is the editor of 'Chess' magazine.

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