An interview with A S Nikitin, many-year trainer of Kasparov



"The playing hall became my Olympus when Garry won and turned into Calvary, when he lost.. For a long time I was so well able to "read" him, that I could almost without error guess what move he was thinking about and whether he liked the position or not.

For a few years I was a kind of psychological support, increasing his confidence during the struggle. Even in the most difficult situations, I remained calm and tried to pass it to my pupil. The rare moments when my nerves could not stand going on on the board, left a scar on my heart for life

(A S Nikitin,«С Каспаровым ход за ходом, год за годом», 1998 г.)


Text: Vlad Tkacheiv
Photos: Irina Stepaniuk


No, nobody was better able to describe the experiences of a chess coach. I had to do this interview, I so much at one time wanted to get to school of Botvinnik, Petrosian, or maybe Karpov ... yes I would be one of them! The best teachers of the Soviet Union taught there, as it were developing written programs to launch another satellite into orbit in the chess cosmos. An engineer by profession, Alexander Sergeevich Nikitin designed the most successful of them all, the name of which he himself had picked up, "Kasparov".


Years passed, but my naivety, multiplied by inexperience, did not go away - I really hoped that this interview would easily be accomplished in half an hour. Then suddenly, as soon as we got in the cafe on Gogolevsky Boulevard, time changed its usual course, and the past could not help revealing its secrets. The next day we decided to continue with Alexander Sergeyevich our historical excavations, and now we offer to the reader the first part.

I am sure you will agree, after this first part, there has to be a second.

Vladislav Tkachiev: Why did you part from Garry Kasparov in your time?

Alexander Sergeevich Nikitin: Everything resulted from a different view on the role of the coach in chess in general and in the World Championship match in particular. I rather disliked his description of us as "employees" and gradually the mutual pretensions grew and grew. The cooperation between a student and his trainer is like a marriage, after a while there comes a cooling, if not much is happening. After 5 - 8 years a divorce becomes likely.

But your "marriage" lasted 17 years! 

- Well, I first met Kasparov at Vilnius in 1973, but I only became his official trainer in 1976, after the well-known conflict with Karpov.

But it still seems strange to split after after such a successful partnership. 

- Garry said at the time: "We work on the same thing, and have become one mind, so we should think the same on everything!". I asked: "Whose thoughts?". He replied "Mine!". After which I said that was not how it would work.

And the conflict with Karpov arose, after you told the Sports Committee that he had held secret talks with Fischer in The Philippines, right? 

- There I made a mistake.


The fact is that his visit to the country was not random: the Soviet Union was actively seeking contacts with President Marcos. I inadvertently began to speak out against this match and as a result ...

Lost your head?

- Yes.

Then you publicly promised revenge ...

- Yes, in the presence of four people: Bykhov, Katkov, Antoshin and seems Eletsky.

Still, it strikes me that your "execution" was relatively vegetarian.

- Why, there was to be a trial in which witnesses on my part would include Petrosian and M.Botvinnik - that was not enough for my opponents. So when Ivonin (Deputy Chairman of the USSR State Sports - WhyChess) told me that they had never lost even a single process, I said, 'Well,there is a first time for everything in life! 


So, when you met with Kasparov, you were 38 years old, which means you were a mature enough person.

- It's all relative. When I was 42, while in Kislovodsk, I decided to sleep on the balcony one night. As a result, I got a cold.   I heard Kasparov say to the doctor, "Please, take good care of him, he is fairly old, after all."

I was impressed, how the still quite young Kasparov sent in packages, in addition to purely chess problems, also a set to play Go, historical articles etc..

- Yes, he loved history, and there were a lot of books around then.

Do you think that played an important roile in his quickly becoming such a moinster at chess? After all, he was maybe the best strategist in the history of chess, ie, the most successful in winning the game before it began.

- In any case, it was innovative, because then, all  the books were mainly based on the principle: "I ​​go there, and you're here." The Spanish, for example.

Do you believe that Kasparov got his understanding of the value of space from the study of Go?

 - I can not overstate my role, as Garry's mother, Clara Shagenovna, believes that the most important things for him were done by Botvinnik and herself. However, when I asked Michael Moiseevich to advise something specific for an important meeting, I'm not talking about the analysis of adjourned games, he always protested. Apparently he believed that this should be dealt with the coach. He limited himself to general advice.

How great was Fischer's influence on Kasparov's style? 

I think we were lucky that Fischer had already gone from chess by then. We carefully studied how he played and worked.

That is, you gained very useful experience in Karpov's team, before the failed match with Fischer in 1975.

- Very little,really. When  I went to work with Kasparov, Karpov said that my job on his team has been to a large extent limited. But Kasparov made this same mistake with Kramnik.

Taking him as his second for the match against Anand in 1996 to the year?

- Of course. That was very stupid.  I called him at the time and said he was making a big mistake.


But before that he had a troubled time - when I left, the team fell apart, one sold out and and the other did not want to work. Plus the biggest mistake was that he did not discuss the right to a rematch. He himself suggested that Kramnik play the match in the year 2000.

But if he had demanded from the beginning a right to the rematch, it would have made him look ridiculous the shots he took against Karpov in his book "Unlimited struggle"

- In any case, it was a strange match, I would call it commercial. After all, Kasparov had the crown, issued by FIDE. And he could not just sell it, by which I mean his first match outside the formal framework against Short.

It turns out that if the story of Kasparov and Karpov was a fantastic fairy story, that  you have created a hero who defeated the dragon in his own lair, then the story of Garry's match against Kramnik has a much more hateful character. After all Kasparov, right back from his work at the school together with Botvinnik, created his own undertaker.

- Yes, in general that is true.

In your book, like Kasparov, you constantly emphasized the number 13 ...

- Yes, it is a symbolic number, unlike for most of the people he loves and respects.

Do not you think that the things he often extracts it from the number 13 are sometimes far-fetched?

- You know, whenever  any combination of digits allows him to  retrieve the number 13 ... - this is emphasized, and when it is impossible, it is just not mentioned.

You write about how "failures of coaches'​​" you "had to suffer in silence, with clenched teeth." When did this begin, not in 1984 right?

Yes. It started during the match against Belyavsky, after Chekhov left the team. After the second game with the black pieces, when he should have played the Tarrasch Defence, but right in the elevator on the way to the game decided to play the Nimzoindian instead. After the game, he screamed "Why did yoy land with this isolated pawn?". But I recommended the Tarrasch Defense, in which I consider myself a big specialist, there is equality in all variations. Among other things, he had great results in this opening: 6 wins and 6 draws, then he lost 2 games to Karpov, but even these were not because of the opening.

Is it true that Kasparov's panics before important games sometimes reaches outright hysterics?

- Well, with us he held it back, but in a conversation with Clara, I realized that she got the full treatment. He had to release the negative emotionson somebody. I remember when the score was 0:5, and the Rauser and other openings were not looking good, I suggested to play the Russian Game. Everyone was silent. But it was impossible for him to explain, he poured out variations blindfold, whilst in order to understand what was going on, we had to set the position up on a board. The difference in the speed of our thinking was too great.

If the match between Karpov and Fischer had taken place, what do you think would have happened?

- I was called to the Sportscommittee and asked this very question. I answered that karpov's chances were minimal.  

On what basis did you say this?

- Firstly, the match with Korchnoi in 1974 had shown that karpov lacked sufficient physical stamina. Fishcer would have killed him, by creating such tension! Fischer was deeper at that moment, karpov was notable only for the fact that he knew where to place his pieces well. 


And you and Karpov had an absolutely brilliant team ...

- Ha, Karpov! It employed 18 people, I had a list, but we ...

Well, a big team is not a guarantee of efficiency. In any case, they dug out a lot of things. Why, after all, did Kasparov always win in the end?

- Because he was richer in ideas. Many of them, he bred himself, and those that we offered, either Garry quickly cast aside (which often was absolutely right) or coolly worked out to the end. Kasparov worked a lot himself, wheraes and Anatoly Evgenievich used the services of his seconds. The late Razuvaev told me that Karpov only worked a lot himself at the time of the matches with Spassky and Korchnoi in the early 1970s.

And do you think he started working less because he was too busy, or because of character traits?

- Well, how - he was at once given the World Foundation, he could not refuse, because it greatly tickled his vanity. Like with  Kasparov, there were brilliant bursts while he was engaged in chess, but he had a desire to appear as a businessman or a politician ... In chess, it helped him, but in politics the opposite.

Can you shed some light on the mysterious figure of the parapsychologist Dadasheva? As you know, he had already worked for both camps. Do you really think he came from the KGB?

- Yeah-ah-ah!

And what was he doing there?

- He helped to conduct interrogations. And doesn't the FSB use psychics now?


They all work to the maximum of their abilities to forecast events.

And what do you think in general about the degree of influence of these professionals on match results? I remember when, in 1988, I learned of this fourth dimension of what is happening, I experienced a shock.

- I am very well aware of Dr. Zoukhar, he and I were great friends, though he was in Karpov's team. He told me a lot about his role in the team, when Karpov was exhausted and could not sleep - Hypnosis relieves insomnia.

In 1978, the year in Baguio?

- Yes. He told me how he was immediately forgotten after the victory.

What happened to him?

- He never worked again after this, he was getting on already. Later he died.

And the others? 

Dadashev I did not know before the matches, and do not know what happened to him now. But before the decisive 24th game of the second match, he Kasparov advised to double rooks on the closed line. And Garry found these squares e7 and e8, with his pawn on e6!

That is, you do not deny the supernatural abilities of these people!

- I do not deny it, but I doubt that they in any way affect the game much.

What happened to the Azeri KGB colonel Litvinov, who for several years relentlessly accompanied Kasparov?

- The last thing I learned about 8 years ago, from Clara - h left Azerbaijan, became deputy director of the Voronezh University for administrative purposes. Where is he now? - Probably, retired, his services are hardly needed now in the FSB.

And where is Shakarov now? (in team Kasparov he ran the database, in the mid-1970s. WhyChess)

- In Podolsk. He, along with Plisetsky, is working on writing the third volume of the book Kasparov's "My way of chess." It will be the last in the series, because the financial crisis broke all the publishers of these books.

Have you participated in their creation?

- I participated in writing the first part of the second volume, and then Clara said that they are doing very badly. What I was doing before is now done by Shakarov, so now he has a double load.

In the project "Kasparov" there was an incredible number of happy coincidences: finding a computer –man like Shakarov in Baku, your work with the team of the USSR, which allowed you close contact with the former world champions, and they, in turn, greatly assisted Kasparov with advice ... and many others. It seems that there were so many of them that without all of these coincidences,  Kasparov would not have  become World Champion.

Well, I am far from thinking that had we not met, Garik would not have become champion. But, perhaps, the way would have been more tortuous. Maybe if Aliyev had not been in the right place at the right time, as it it turned out Aliyev's power increased just when Kasparov really needed support. Without Aliyev, the first match with Karpov would not have taken place. By the way, I consider myself an initiator of the name Kasparov. In 1976, I told Clara that it should be done now, while Garry is not too well known. Weinstein would not have been allowed to play a match with Karpov.

That is, do you think there would have been the same sort of problems in the middle administrative levels as at the top?.

- The top level frowns, the middle level grunts, and the lower level acts.. .

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