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Garry Kasparov, the former World Champion of Chess and Chess Grandmaster, is speaking at the Philomathean Society's annual oration. Credit: Jing Ran , Jing Ran, Jing Ran

As the Year of Games comes to a close, it was only fitting for Penn to invite one of the world’s most acclaimed game masters of all time: chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov.

Kasparov was the guest of honor at the Philomathean Society’s Annual Oration this year. The event, which took place Apr. 3 at Penn Museum’s Harrison Auditorium, drew a large audience of students eager to meet the master.

But Garry Kasparov is no ordinary champion. “What sets Kasparov apart from other masters is his diversity and his depth,” College senior and Philo member Sam Bieler said.

Kasparov started by recalling the most memorable events of his life, from his childhood in the former Soviet Union to his victory of the World Chess Championship in 1985, at only 22 years old. He didn’t shy away from speaking about more painful memories, such as when he lost against the computer Deep Blue in 1997. Kasparov was the first master chess player ever to be defeated by a computer.

Although he officially retired from the chess world in 2005, his involvement with chess did not stop there. Convinced that chess teaches lessons that are not limited to the chessboard, Kasparov wrote numerous books and even implemented educational programs featuring chess as an educational tool.

His main argument is that the decision-making process in chess can be applied to real life. He particularly emphasized the importance of planning ahead and of being creative.

The second part of his speech focused on his political activism. “The best way to understand the Russian government is not to read political science books,” he said, “but to watch The Godfather.”

A leader of an opposition party in Russia, Kasparov denounced the corruption and the blatant violations of human rights operated by Vladimir Putin’s government.

The last part of his speech was unexpected and inspirational. Kasparov’s main point was that our society is not creative and innovative anymore. He explained what we now consider the most up-to-date technologies — such as laptops, iPods and even the Internet — were in fact conceptualized decades ago, in the 1960s.

According to him, today’s latest products are merely improvements of what was created long ago. The problem, according to Kasparov, is that such a lack of innovation fosters a general atmosphere of stagnation that benefits the status quo.

For him, it is the younger generation’s responsibility to send a message to the political class against this status quo, and to propose fresh ideas and solutions to the problems we’re currently facing. “You have to take the lead,” he said, “so that the world can move faster instead of slower.”

The audience was ambivalent about the talk. Engineering senior Jacob Orloff praised Kasparov’s “surprising and down-to-earth personality” and enjoyed the fact the talk covered such a broad range of topics.

College junior Liann Sun agreed the talk was informative and engaging but regretted it was at times vague and general. “It was a shame Kasparov did not elaborate on his life as a political opponent who created his own political party in Russia,” she said.

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