How does one become a world-class chess player? There are probably as many answers as there are grandmasters. Certainly one of the most unusual ways is Rustam Kamsky's strategy for making his 15-year-old son, Gata, the world champion: No school, no play; just chess, chess and more chess.
In the May 13 New York Times Sunday Magazine section, Fred Waitzkin wrote a lengthy piece, titled, "Father's Pawn." Waitzkin is the author of "Searching for Bobby Fischer: The World of Chess, Observed by the Father of a Child Prodigy."
His perceptive article about Gata is, I think, a sad story of a possessive father who is determined that his son reach the top of the chess world. It recalls a similar story of a father who was determined that his daughter become the greatest pianist. The book is titled, "Forbidden Childhood" and is the story of Ruth Slenczynska. She eventually broke down from the pressure but regained her health and went on to become a teacher at the University of Illinois.
Whether or not Gata will ever be able to break the stranglehold of his father, Gata is a sensation talent who has a published rating of 2345.
The father and son defected from the Soviet Union about a year ago. This from Waitzkin:
"Gata didn't become interested in chess," Rutsam said pridefully. "At 8 years old, I made him play. I am the person that deserves the credit for my son being a champion. It is not Gata's doing. Any child can become a world champion.
"He has to work a lot and someone has to work with him. The coach has to put his soul into it. To give up his social life. Not to watch television, no theater, no beach. The coach must completely forget about himself. There are few people like that.
"I work 14 hours a day helping Gata, trying to make every second count. He has bad eyesight, so I read to him for hours and hours."
While his father talked, Gata sat in front of the chess set, moving the pieces. Occasionally he smiled a little. When I asked him why, he answered, "Because I listen to my father and he is right."
Rustam complains incessantly about money and speaks of himself and Gata as global free agents. "We have invitations from the French and the Germans. I have asked them all to wait until I see what the Americans do."
If he is not paid what he wants _ which is a salary for his coaching on top of a private stipend _ Rustam threatens to leave the United States and win the world championship for another company.
Trainers and chess journalists interviewed in the Soviet Union discuss the Kamaskys as a single package _ brilliant to be sure, and impossible to deal with, the father answering, pushing for his son.
Jachislas Osnos, for years the trainer of Viktor Korchnoi, refused Gata as a student because of Rustam: "His father interfered in everything. Rustam would give advice that he was incompetent to give."
During their months here, numerous masters have observed episodes of verbal abuse following the boy's occasional defeats.
When we were together, Rustam angrily showed me Soviet magazine articles accusing him of beating his son when he lost games, but he said that they were lies spread by Soviet chess officials who were embarrassed by their defection. Gata denied that his father hits him; he said that after he loses "he might get angry like normal people. He might scream or yell."
"The whole Soviet Union was against us," says Rustam. He contends that coaches were always stealing Gata's ideas and gave the boy "psychological poison," that the world champion, Gary Kasparov, used his considerable influence to keep Gata out of the best chess schools and tournaments so that the boy's development would be stunted, and that all this was so because Kasparov is afraid of Gata.
(To be concluded next week.)
-TOURNAMENT _ The 1990 Utah Amateur Championship will be held Saturday and Sunday, June 2 and 3, in the Orson Spencer Hall on the University of Utah campus.
Players must be USCF rated under 2,000. The tourney will be a six-round, Swiss system. The rate of play will be 50 moves in two hours.
Tournament director will be John Minnoch, 5154 S. 2600 West, Roy, UT 84067. Telephone 825-2689. Fees are $12 for the Open Section, $8 for the Reserve and $5 for players under 20.
-CONGRATULATIONS TO THE SOLVERS! _ Joye McMulland, Peter Rogers, Glannin Cloward, Jim Turner, Stanley Hunt, Dean Thompson, Paul R. Lindeman, William D. Price, Ted Pathakis, Raeburn Kennard, Nathan Kennard, Hal Harmon, G. Allen Smith, Dr. Harold Rosenberg, Edwin O. Smith, Ann Neil, Eugene Wagstaff, Dale B. Brimley, William DeVroom, Brent Terry, Scott Mitchell, John N. Neilsen, Covert Copier, David K. Kirk, Kevin Smullin, David L. Evans, Kay Lundstrom, Tim Painter and Donovan Weight.