This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.
Klara Shagenovna Kasparova, the mother of the former world chess champion Garry Kasparov and, by his account, the most important force behind his success, died on Dec. 25 in Moscow. She was 83.
Mr. Kasparov announced her death on Twitter. The cause was Covid-19, according to the Kasparov Chess Foundation, a nonprofit he founded.
As his tireless champion, Ms. Kasparova was a constant presence at her son’s competitions through the decades. From the time he was a boy she believed as perhaps only a mother could that he could be the best at whatever he chose to do. When he was young, Mr. Kasparov wrote on Facebook, she placed a handwritten sign over his bed with words echoing those of Soviet dissidents: “If not you, who else?”
s, who retired from competition in 2005, became a pro-democracy activist and move to New York City in 2013, said his mother had been the only person who would offer him really honest counsel, no matter the concern. He called her practically every day, regardless of where he was in the world.
“The main thing is that I can be frank with her as with no one else,” he once said, as quoted on the website Chess24.com. “At critical moments, you hear a voice which you’ve got used to trusting over long years.”
Klara Shagenovna Kasparova was born on March 19, 1937, in Baku, Azerbaijan. She was the eldest of three sisters of Armenian parents. Her father, Nickolas, a die-hard Communist, named her after Clara Zetkin, a German Marxist theorist. Most of the family called her Aida, however, the name preferred by her mother.
Ms. Kasparova was a standout student in high school, earning a silver medal on her final exam, on which she made only one mistake. She was one of the few female students in her day who went on to study engineering. By the mid-1960s she had her own engineering lab, with 10 men working under her.
On Dec. 25, 1960, she married Kim Weinstein, a Jewish man she had met not too long before. They a shared love of classical music; on one of their first dates, they saw the pianist Van Cliburn in concert in Baku. Mr. Kasparov was born in 1963.
Ms. Kasparova and Mr. Weinstein also shared a love of chess. At home one morning they were discussing a chess problem published in the local newspaper when their son, who was just 5 at the time, pointed out the solution. His parents were surprised. Garry started playing chess with them and was soon winning matches against his mother.
Mr. Weinstein died of leukemia two years later, leaving Ms. Kasparova to rear Garry on her own. (He later dropped his father’s surname to avoid inviting anti-Semitism, taking instead the male version of her surname, without the “a” at the end.)
Mr. Kasparov became one of the world’s greatest chess prodigies. He won the Soviet Junior Championship at 13, a master-level tournament at 15 and, at 16, a major international tournament in which he was the only non-grandmaster.
After he turned 18 in 1981, Ms. Kasparova decided to give up her work as an engineer to devote herself to her son’s chess career. By then he was already among the world’s best players. He went on to win the world championship in 1985, becoming at 22 the youngest champion in history, a record he still holds.
Ms. Kasparova, who never remarried, died on what would have been her 60th wedding anniversary. In addition to Mr. Kasparov, she is survived by four grandchildren.
Mr. Kasparov has lived in exile since having repeated run-ins with the Russian authorities, including in 2012, when he was arrested and beaten. He has been outspoken critic of President Vladimir V. Putin. The last time he saw his mother was in November 2019, in Vilnius, Lithuania, at a Free Russia Forum.
Ms. Kasparova was always Mr. Kasparov’s fiercest defender both in the chess world and in politics, though she rarely spoke explicitly about her feelings. As he recalled in a tribute on his website, she would often say of her reticence, “I cannot lie, and I do not want to tell all the truth, because it could hurt people.”
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