Person of day - 12 FEBRUARY 2021
Leontxo García was born on 12th February 1956 in the Spanish city of Irun, in the Basque province of Gipuzkoa. Leontxo began to play chess relatively late: he was taught the rules at 13 at school. The young man played his first tournaments at 17, but only two years later he won the Gipuzkoa championship. In 1981, Leontxo became a FIDE master, then he fulfilled the norms of an international master twice, but in 1983 and incident changed his life.
In the qualifying cycle of 1982-1983, an enormous scandal erupted: originally, FIDE disqualified Soviet grandmasters Garry Kasparov and Vasily Smyslov and organised the final match to be played between their competitors, Viktor Korchnoi and Zoltan Ribli. However, after the “step back” of the USSR chess federation, the semi-finals were scheduled to be played in England. The main Basque newspaper Deia did not particularly wish to cooperate with the reporters from Madrid and offered its young master a trip to London. On the banks of the Thames, Leontxo Garcia realised that writing about chess was his calling.
The young master’s reports led to a real sensation in Europe. Soon, Garcia was working with the French media agency France-Press, the Spanish agency EFE, Bilbao’s main newspaper La Gaceta del Norte and radio station Cadena SER. The Spanish journalist spent two and a half months in Moscow as a special correspondent at the second Karpov-Kasparov match in 1985, ran a daily column in the El Pais newspaper and dictated reports for Spanish radio. By that time, Garcia was already a well-known figure who eclipsed Yugoslav Dmitry Beliza and Leontxo was even invited to Moscow Radio. After the Kasparov-Karpov revenge-match, the USSR Sports Committee awarded the Spaniard a prize for the best foreign journalist covering the contest.
During the Kasparov-Karpov match in 1987 in Seville, Leontxo Garcia provided Spanish viewers with fifty one-hour programmes, which were released daily. In 1991, Garcia headed the chess magazine Jaque and read lectures about his favourite game and the matches between the two “Kas” in Spain and abroad. Leontxo published the series La Pasion del Ajedrez (Passion for Chess), which consisted of 64 journals and 25 videos; the jewel of the material was the meeting with world champion Garry Kasparov.
When chess began to be taught universally in the Basque provinces, Leontxo Garcia organised uniform courses for teachers. He tried other sports; he was a correspondent for El Pais in Sydney in 2000 and Athens in 2004 at the Olympics and he commentated at the European handball championships. Leontxo wrote books about the 28 Olympic sports in Spain and about the Yugoslav football manager, Radomir Antic.
From 2007, Leontxo has led a Sunday morning programme on Spanish radio. The journalist is one of the main inspirations of the Grand Slam, whose final is traditionally held in Bilbao. Garcia organised specified research which showed that chess slows the aging of the brain and could help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
“Spain needs a Rafael Nadal in chess. Our country is rich in tradition and international tournaments, with more than 100 held each year. More than a thousand schools teach chess. But there is not true leader! Vallejo could have become one, but he did not have enough loyalty to the game. I believe in Ivan Salgado, but the years are passing by…
The best player of all time is Garry Kasparov. His talent, work ethic and energy are incredible. When he sat at the board, his opponents felt as if they were fighting a force of nature!” (L. Garcia)
Leontxo Garcia was awarded a medal for sporting achievements in Spain, he is included in FIDE’s Golden Book for his services to chess, he was given an award by the University of Oviedo for exceptional efforts in promoting culture and he was recognised with a national chess award.
Today, Leontxo Garcia remains one of the leading chess journalists in Europe, who attends all the major contemporary competitions. “Chess is a golden mine practically unexplored by the press!” the famous observer likes to remark.