Person of day   -  24 MARCH 2021

YASSER SEIRAWAN

YASSER SEIRAWAN

Yasser Seirawan was born in the East, in Damascus. His father was a Syrian subject and his mother was English- she soon insisted that the family move to the US. Yasser was seven when he moved to Seattle, where he attended the prestigious Queen Anne Elementary School. Nothing foretold the astounding career of the Seirawan, who only learned chess when he was 12. Only a year later, however, he won the juniors’ Washington state championship and he was noticed by James McCormick- a regular Washington state champion among adults- who became his trainer.

Yasser began to make impressive strides while astonishing those around him with his serious attitude towards the game and impressive erudition. In 1978, Seirawan played at the American qualifying rounds for the U20 world championship. He won the qualifiers but could not triumph in the championship at first attempt- first and second places were occupied by the finest Soviet players, Artur Jussupow and Sergei Dolmatov. A year later, the American got his revenge, leaving Jussupow and Alexander Chernin behind. 

At that time, many talented American juniors like Mark Diesen and Kenneth Rogoff quit chess after graduating from university, but Yasser remained in professional chess. Later on, he claimed he did this for two reasons: his wife, Yvette, was also a chess player, but the principal reason was his introduction to Viktor Korchnoi. Yasser managed to win a match against the “evil genius” at the Wijk aan Zee tournament in 1980- where he was awarded the title of grandmaster- after which Korchnoi offered to become his second at the match against Anatoly Karpov in Merano.

His work with Viktor Korchnoi was very beneficial to the young player, who soon became one of the foremost challengers to Soviet grandmasters on the international arena. In 1980, Yasser performed brilliantly for the American team at the Olympiad, where he won 8 points out of 11 and knocked out Mikhail Tal in the decisive match against the USSR. From that moment onwards, Seirawan became a true bane of Soviet players: he drew with Karpov in Lucerne in 1982, beat Kasparov in Dubai in 1986- where the four-time American champion led his team- and drew with Ivanchuk in Novi Sad in 1990. The exception was the Match of the Century in 1984. Team World gave Seirawan the prestigious sixth board, but his opponent was Alexander Beliavsky, who won 3,5 points out of 4 and de-facto secured Soviet victory. Seirawan lost the first two matches and was replaced by Bent Larsen.

At the same time, the American player promoted chess passionately: for 12 years, he was the chief editor of Inside Chess Magazine, he was a commentator for newspaper and television during large competitions, he gave lectures and training sessions and he event invented his own chess version, called “Seirawan Chess”.

In the 1990s, with the emergence of a star like Gata Kamsky in America, the former team leader decreased his active participation and focused on publishing and journalism. Nonetheless, after Gata’s temporary departure at the 1998 Olympiad in Elista, the dramatic game between Seirawan, Gulko and de Firmian almost allowed the Americans to overtake Boris Postovsky’s unbeatable pupils.

Despite this success, Seirawan soon announced the end of his professional career, although his professional and personal levels of respect remain immense worldwide. In 2001, Yasser published Fresh Start, which was supposed to unite the divided chess community. One year later, champions and FIDE candidates in classic chess signed the so-called Prague Agreements, which were based on the American’s ideas. Later on, after Kramnik’s match against Topalov, FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov highlighted Seirawan’s contribution during the unifying process.

In 2011, before the world championship in Ningbo, the grandmaster unexpectedly played in the US championship and won a place on the American team. Observers were sceptical about this: even though the elderly chess player maintained a rating over 2600, he only played several matches per year. Nonetheless, Seirawan became the main sensation of the champion; defeating Polgar, Mamedyarov and El-Gindy, he became the best player in the underwhelming American team. 

Yasser Seirawan is the author of tens of chess books and theses, for amateur as well as professional chess players.