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The Russian police beat him. He was running for president against Vladimir Putin.

Finally, he left Russia.

“Running for president in Russia means making a statement,” Garry Kasparov said. “Back then, protesting Putin would get you 5-10 days in jail. Now it’s 5-10 years.”

I asked him, “If you went back would you be in trouble?”

“Trouble is an understatement.”

“What could happen?”

“Look, most of my friends and allies who marched with me, they’re either in exile like myself, in jail or dead. It’s a dictatorship that eliminates any potential threat. And as we know, Putin’s reach is not limited to Russia. Many of his opponents were hunted and killed outside of our country.”

I was in 11th grade when Garry beat Anatoly Karpov in the World Chess Championship.

“My victory was symbolic,” Garry said. “I was 22. And I won. I was half Armenian, half Jewish. Many people still say, ‘Oh, for us, it was a signal. If Karpov could be beaten by Garry Kasparov, that’s a chance for the country to change.’”

He couldn’t understand the symbolism at the time.

“But now, 33 years later, I can feel that was my big contribution. Simply winning at the chessboard gave great hope to millions and millions of people that change could happen.”

Karpov symbolized communism. Garry symbolized a potential free world…. hope for some was a threat for others.

He explained the obstacles:

“You cannot get on the ballot. You cannot raise money. You can’t hold political rallies. Running is all about demonstrating that Putin’s Russia is anything but democratic.”

And he’s still proving that today.

He recently published a collection of essays. He and the other essayists wanted to call it “The Federalist Papers 2.0”

But the publisher said “no.”

You should self-publish,” I said.

The book is called “The Fight for Liberty: Defending Democracy in The Age of Trump.”

The first time Garry came on my podcast we talked about chess (the strategy, how to think, how to get better. I asked him how he rose to the top, what was his training, and what came first? Skill or talent?)

Being the best at chess means so many things:

  • you’re the best at strategy
  • you’re the best at discipline and concentration
  • you’re the best at calculating odds and so on.

Chess is not a game. It’s an ability.

And now, Garry uses this ability to explain the world to people.

Here’s what Garry Kasparov taught me about Putin, Syria, the U.S., propaganda, chaos, democracy and more:


Normally, I’m against all wars. I wrote about this years ago. And people sent me death threats.

Then I read Garry’s essay. He changed my mind. “I realized, from your essay, that it’s better for the U.S. to get involved early because…”

Garry cut in.

He’s my perfect match when it comes to podcast interruptions. I interrupt all the time. I tell people, “I’m an interrupter.” But they never interrupt back.

“Globalization is in everything,” he said. “Bad guys use globalization to spread their influence. And it means that whatever happens in Syria, whatever happens in Indonesia, whatever happens in Africa, somehow it can affect you. Because we’re all connected. So…”

My turn.

It’s like chess clock. We each have a turn. You have to think fast. His time hits. I go.

“Ok, but how can something in Syria affect me? Let’s play it out.”

This is Garry’s skill. He sees through move 1, 2, 3, 4 and so on. He sees the whole global game. He sees Putin does X, so Syria reacts. Then the U.S. draws a “red” line. And either defends freedom. Or just talks about defending freedom. A crisis erupts. People die. And flee. They want prosperity.

Then a new crisis: refugees.

Where do they go?

He gave me a real example:

Putin aides Syra. The people flee to Europe.

One million Syrian refugees go to Germany. Which leads to the resurfacing of the neo-nazi party. “AFD.” It’s the second largest political party in Germany.

“They had one electoral success after another,” Garry said. “The only reason? Refugees. So that’s how it’s connected.”


Social media used to be called “social networking.”

Not “social media.”

“All of a sudden, we are subjects for manipulation,” Garry said. “And it’s so easy now. Because there is only one way to tell the truth. And there are zillions of ways to lie especially if you have access to so many channels of social media.”

I still didn’t get why this mattered to me. Or my daily life.

Why would I care if Russians hated Americans?

But it goes back to the first point. If we don’t value democracy and see that it wins… it won’t.


We’re not at war with Russia. We would know.


Maybe not…

Look at Russia’s relationship with Syria. Garry calls this a “hybrid war.”

Putin doesn’t have the army necessary to beat us.

“But he doesn’t have to,” Garry said. “He has enough military capacity to help Assad [Syria’s president]. And to take over Syria.”

But what are our democratic principles? When do we step in? And when do we not step in?

Normally, I don’t care.

Because there’s nothing I can do. The president isn’t calling me, “Hey James! What countries do you think we should help?”

But Garry thinks I should care.

We looked at history:

We abandoned Syria. We abandoned Egypt…

“Are you better off now?” Garry said. “That’s the question. 500,000 people dead in Syria. Millions of refugees. Neo-nazis in Europe on the rise. That’s the result of you walking away.”

I started to see chess in everything. In the conversation, in the world, everywhere.

I told Garry, “Afghanistan was a disaster. Iraq was a disaster. Vietnam was a disaster.”

(I might get more death threats.)

Garry’s move: “You say ‘Afghanistan was a failure,’ but there was no second 9/11. One of the reasons? Probably because the bad guys were busy fighting Americans elsewhere.”

My move: “But you could argue it’s because, in the 80’s, America funded Osama bin Laden to fight the Russians.”

Garry’s move: “How far back do you want to go? To Stalin? To Hitler? To FDR? To Lincoln? Look, things are connected…”

He told me that America failed to offer any sort of world vision for years. We stopped leading.

“If you don’t offer any idea for how to live in the future, somebody else will,” he said.

I knew Garry was going to win. He’s history’s #1 best chess player. He was ranked #1 for 20 years. He’s played IBM’s supercomputer, “Deep Blue” in two matches.

These are the results:

Garry won in 1996.

Deep Blue won a year later.

It was the first time a computer beat the human mind.

But… the mind to beat was Garry’s.

So when Garry tells me about the world as a chess game, I know I’ll lose. And I’m fine with that. I’m just glad he’ll let me play.

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