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Original Issue

Yasser, That's My Baby

So Viktor Korchnoi indicated in picking Yasser Seirawan of the U.S. as his second. Now Yasser wants to be second to none

The escape from Damascus, in his mother's arms, came later. First there was the tractor that plowed through the wall of the room where the boy was playing. The driver had fallen asleep at the wheel. The boy's mother heard the crashing. She just had time to sweep him up and toss him out of harm's way. He was only two at the time, and he lay in the dusty rubble, howling.

That was only the start. Whenever the squeeze was on, Yasser Seirawan found an escape, whether by someone else's hands or his own—from Syria to England to the U.S.; from the loneliness of gray Seattle days to the camaraderie of chess; from borderline poverty to European hotels with brass doorknobs; in one short leap from childhood to an adult world of university coffeehouses; from high school to life on the road as a chess junkie and hustler; and from the obscurity of an aspiring chess champion to the measure of fame accorded only those at the very top of the game.

Today, at 21, Seirawan (pronounced SEHR-ah-wan) is one of the fastest-rising young chess players in the U.S., ranking fifth in the nation. His first-place tie in the U.S. Championship last summer qualified him for the interzonal matches leading to the 1984 world championship. Seirawan has already had a taste of that sort of competition. He is, in fact, still recovering from a frustrating 7½-week stint in Merano, Italy, where he was one of three seconds to Soviet defector Viktor Korchnoi in Korchnoi's second unsuccessful attempt to wrest the world championship from Anatoly Karpov of the Soviet Union. On Nov. 20, after only 18 games, Karpov completed a 6-2 rout of the challenger, continuing the Soviet domination of the game that has existed without interruption—save for Bobby Fischer's victory over Boris Spassky in Reykjavik, Iceland in 1972—for almost 45 years.

To the extent that chess can serve as a metaphor, Seirawan is a knight, the only piece on the board that avoids danger or attacks by sailing over and around a threat or an obstacle. That's Seirawan, for sure, the one flying up and out of harm's way in Damascus and points west. And he certainly doesn't fit the chess stereotype. He goes by the name of Yaz, and he is as trim and athletic as an all-star outfielder. In fact, with his curly hair he looks less like the grandmaster he is than the beachboy he once envisioned he would be.

"If I'd never left Virginia Beach, I'd be a surfer today," Seirawan says. "I think I would've become a professional surfer. No kidding. I'd be in Australia right now. And a womanizer. Absolutely a womanizer. And a pinball hustler. I don't consider myself talented in every aspect of life, but things have come to me in a reasonably simple and easy way."

Muyasser (Max) Seirawan, the son of a well-to-do Syrian cloth merchant, had been betrothed at birth by his father to the first-born daughter of his father's best friend. But in love as in chess, plans well laid often get mislaid. While studying mathematics at the University of Nottingham in England, Max, as he was known, met and married an Englishwoman and took her home to Syria. Yasser, their first son, was born on March 24, 1960, in Damascus. The episode involving the runaway tractor was nothing compared to what Yasser went through—though he was unaware of it—in early 1963, when civil war convulsed his homeland.

"A revolution was going on," Yasser's mother, Margaret, says. "No stability whatsoever. Governments were over-turned while you slept at night. Another government was formed while you were having breakfast. A bunch of babies they were. What they needed was a good spanking! We got out of there, all right." But barely. Max was a brilliant computer programmer—he "spoke" 24 computer languages—and was viewed as a kind of national asset. Had the government of the moment known he was trying to leave, it wouldn't have let him go. Using black-market passports, Max and Margaret, with Yasser in her arms, slipped through Damascus airport security—teen-age kids armed with automatic rifles—by feigning that they spoke only English.

They settled in Nottingham for four years and then moved to Seattle in 1967, where Max went to work for Boeing. By then Yasser was seven and already bridling under his father's authoritarian rule. "He kept a strict home," Yasser says. "Any rebellion was immediately and ruthlessly put down. I became very introverted." A street kid, selfish and self-possessed. "A loner," he says. "Very much my own person."

The marriage didn't last. By the time Max and Margaret separated, they had had three children: Yasser; a daughter, Runda, now 23; and a second son, Daniel, now 17. After Max left, Margaret and the three children hooked up with a 6'5" self-described Tibetan monk who hailed from the planet Earth by way of Detroit. His name was Richard Vallance. "He had a bald head, a flaming red beard and deep, penetrating blue eyes," Seirawan says. "The effect he had on people was unnerving. He just looked right through you." The itinerant Vallance was something like the character David Carradine used to play in the old television series Kung Fu.

"That's exactly how he was," Margaret says, "but without the kung fu. A free spirit. He taught yoga, reincarnation. He had a beautiful soothing voice, a healing voice. A great healer. And he knew herbs to boot! He was a great teacher, Richard Vallance."

For instance, Vallance taught Yasser to share. One afternoon the family was at a zoo and Yasser was eating a box of popcorn. Someone asked him for some and he refused. Quietly, Vallance said, "O.K., Yasser, just for that you're going to have to eat it all by yourself." Vallance sat the family in a circle, all eyes on Yasser. "Go ahead and eat it," Vallance said. The boy wriggled. "Come on, you can have some," Yasser said. Vallance said, "No, we don't want any, but we'd like to see you eat it." From that moment, Seirawan says, "Anything you asked of me, you got. I had been introverted. But that all changed with Vallance. He got that all out of me."

Margaret and her children traveled the country in Vallance's station wagon. They lived for a while in Palm Springs, Calif., where Vallance worked as a handyman—"He could do anything to a house, or a car," Yasser says—and as a masseur in posh hotels. Yasser augmented the family groceries by stealing occasional grapefruits and oranges. They stayed there a year and a half and then pushed on to Mexico for a time and to Corpus Christi, Texas for six months. Finally, they headed east across the Deep South and up through the Carolinas. "Sometimes we'd sit on a curb laughing uproariously because we didn't have a place to stay," Yasser says.

The family settled in Virginia Beach, Va. in 1970. Yasser was 10, and for the next two years he found himself living in a place that seemed quite like heaven for a boy. Vallance had given him a freedom he never knew under his father, and here was this dazzling stretch of beach and all that sun.

"I was a surfer, a skin diver, a scuba diver, a snorkeler," Yasser says. "I was at the beach every day. Long hair, tanned, surfer trunks. That was my thing, man. I was a pool hustler, a pinball hustler. I raked the neighborhood for all its quarters. Incredible! Always hustling my way into theaters and letting my friends in through the exits, so they'd have to pay me. Oh yeah, I had it all down. I was going through school with flying colors. Never studied for tests. I was getting a four-point-oh. A tremendous life. I had my systems cold."

All systems were down by the fall of 1972. Margaret and Vallance had been married following her divorce from Max in 1970, but after two years that was nearly over, too. Vallance, the wanderer, wanted to move on; she wanted to settle down. "He was a jumpy free spirit," Margaret says. "I thought, 'With that feeling, he should not be wed.' "

So the five of them climbed into the car and headed back to Seattle. Runda and Daniel moved in with Max, who was still living there, while Margaret and Yasser, surviving on welfare, moved from one apartment to the next in Seattle's inner city. There was no way that Yasser, then 12, could live with his father. "I was closer to my mom—nothing about the Oedipal thing—but I was closer to her. I knew I couldn't handle my father at that point. I mean, when he walked into the room, I would chill. So my mother and I lived together.

"We ended up in a place we paid $50 a month for," Yasser says. "One bedroom. I slept in a closet. In due time, Vallance left town with a dollar. My mom got a dollar. I got a dollar. It was a great sense of loss to me. But I had no problems. I had learned from Vallance to laugh at misfortune."

The summer before, Fischer had whipped Spassky to win the world title and create a whirl of interest in chess in the U.S. Seirawan, of course, had been on the beach, utterly unaware of what was going on in Iceland. His discovery of chess, the central event in his episodic life, was a consequence of the dramatic change in weather he experienced when he moved with his mother from coastal Virginia back to the Pacific Northwest.

"I wasn't tanning, I was rusting," Seirawan says. "More rain than I can ever recall. It just rained for weeks on end. Amazing. I had my surfing, my scuba diving, my snorkeling; I had been doing everything in the water and that was all taken away. I'd lost all my friends. I even had to sell my banana-seat bike! The dampness. It was the first time I ever got ill. I was completely confined indoors...stuck inside."

That was when Seirawan met David Chapman, who lived upstairs, and how he learned chess. Chapman, a former college football player, had been paralyzed in a trampoline accident and got about in a wheelchair. "We played every game, David and I," Seirawan says. "Every game you could think of: cribbage, poker, backgammon, any game with cards. And chess. My God, I was horrible. He beat me consistently. The thing that really attracted me was the individualism in it. If you lose a game, you lose it. No one else. You rely strictly on yourself."

What appealed to him, too, was the sense of order and justice in the game, the harmony that could be wrought from the thoughtful movement of the pieces, and the discipline it demanded. "Like all kids, I had tremendous energy drives," Seirawan says. "I'd run up and down hills and valleys, and then climb a tree and eat a rock. Suddenly I was forced to focus all my energies on the board. If I talked to my mother or listened to music while we played, David would beat me. I discovered that each piece had a separate mobility, a separate power, and when you use them in concert, you can be so effective. You don't even have to use the most powerful ones to create a powerful position. You can use the weak guys, and they protect one another, and they go in and do it for you. The game bit me. I was really in it."

In that confining Seattle apartment, Seirawan found his escape, his passion. Not long after he started playing, Chapman told him of a place, a half block off the campus of the University of Washington, where decent players met over the board. The Last Exit, a coffeehouse and game room, was aptly named, because it was there that Seirawan slipped out the back door of his childhood and never returned. The Exit was 10 miles from his home, and every day after school he hitchhiked across town to get there. He'd stroll through the rustic wooden door into a world of adults and charm them off their seats.

"He was just a little kid who wanted to learn the game," says Arnie Garcia, a 39-year-old Seattle real estate man and Exit habituè. "But he was such a personable kid, a cute little kid. Very likable, extremely friendly and outgoing and very curious. He loved to learn. You could see it on his face, hear it in his voice. We took him under our wings and taught him how to play the game. He was at the Last Exit constantly. He was quick, he never forgot anything. That's what struck me as phenomenal. He learned from every game and built on it. I was one of the big guns at the Exit. It took him six weeks to beat me."

"Scrabble players, backgammon players, chess and game hustling," Seirawan says. "This became my home. This was to become my family. I was suddenly around people from the age of 25 to 55.I was introduced to the masters of chess. I learned to play. I was never with my peers, other 13-, 14-year-old kids. What could we talk about? I mean, they'd say, 'Did you see Baretta last night on TV? Did you see where he blew away that guy?' I'd say, 'No, man, but can you believe what's happening in the Middle East?' That's what I learned at the university. Every Wednesday night they had music and poetry readings. Those were my things. Here I was, going into an adult world, and chess was sort of my calling card, my greeting card. I could walk up to anybody and say, 'Hi, would you like a game of chess?' There were no barriers. Pretty soon we were talking about everything from girls to politics."

Seirawan's relationship with Garcia soon extended beyond the chessboard at the Last Exit. In fact, Garcia felt himself becoming a surrogate father. Seirawan focused on chess all through the winter of 1972-73, and by the next summer had become so proficient that Garcia arranged a locally televised match between Seirawan and Robert Karch, the champion of Seattle at the time. "If you beat Karch, I'll give you a 10-speed bike," Garcia said. For Garcia, the match was memorable—and not because Seirawan won. "I'm driving this little kid, 13 years old, to get the bike," says Garcia, "and he looks out the window at two girls walking down the street, and he says, 'Gee, look at the rear end on that one!' "

This was also the summer that Garcia began sponsoring Seirawan's trips to tournaments outside the state, a practice he kept up until 1977 and which cost him thousands of dollars. "All he really wanted was a chance," Garcia says. "I never anticipated getting it back. He was like my son. He spent a lot of hours at my house." That same summer, Garcia sent Seirawan to the U.S. Open in Chicago, where he earned an expert ranking. The next winter Garcia helped arrange for Seirawan to play another young prodigy, from Canada, Glenn Morin.

To help Seirawan prepare for that match, Garcia acquired a set of annotated games Morin had played. He gave them to Seirawan in the car as they started on their way to Vancouver. "Study them when we get there," Garcia said. Seirawan started flipping through the pages in the car, without a chessboard, and began a running commentary on how Morin should have played this move instead of that one. Seirawan beat Morin, but Garcia was more struck by the commentary in the car. "He read those annotated games like they were comic books," he says. "He didn't need a chessboard." He was moving the pieces on a chessboard in his mind. "I realized then how brilliant Yasser is," Garcia says.

By that time, Seirawan sensed, even as a 13-year-old, that he had found something he could rely on if all else failed. "The game gave me tremendous self-confidence," he says, "a strong feeling of independence. If my place burned down, I would always have that. I could always come back to chess; I could always provide for myself if I had to. For a 13-year-old kid, that's a rock."

No matter how intensely Seirawan devoted himself to the game in his early teens, he never became a social outcast, a chess recluse. The impact of his presence at Garfield High in Seattle was unique. Garfield was an inner-city school, predominantly black at the time Seirawan started going there in 1974, a power in football, basketball and track. In his freshman year, Seirawan was already something of a celebrity, a prodigy who had done local TV and radio talk shows and made a name for himself. He was special, a kid with a well-established talent, and school administrators sought to give him space. "Is there anything we can do to help you?" they asked.

Seirawan never needed space. He always created his own. He played tennis and racquetball and was a member of the Garfield swimming team. But what he's remembered for now at Garfield is the way he turned the school into the most formidable chess power in the state. He had a ball. "Honest to God, I never had such a good time as when I went to high school," he says.

He launched the chess team his freshman year, and in the classroom assigned to it, he played game after game to demonstrate chess to kids who'd never played it before. "Every day I played games," he says. "Bang-bang-bang. Kids came and went. Suddenly, about a month before the season started, these guys were playing the game. They were going home and playing chess with each other, and arranging meetings and showing up at tournaments I was in."

What most struck the staff at Garfield was the effort he put into teaching others. His time was doled out like popcorn. "He was a terrific coach," says John Kunselman, a faculty adviser to the team. "He had an amazing capacity to play chess in his mind. It was an overwhelming experience to know him—like encountering a Mozart. His patience in teaching other people astounded me. He was never isolated, always gregarious. He helped bring other people along."

In his freshman year, Seirawan says, Garfield's six frontline boards—the first team—were played by "three black guys, a Chinese guy, a white guy and a Syrian. Of course, we were a novelty." Certainly they must have been the only high school chess team in history whose members gave each other the Flip Wilson handshake: "Slap-slap, bang-bang, bang-bang, hit-hit," Seirawan says. "The other chess teams came on very sedately, dressed up, pens at the ready. The brotherhood came in dressed in jeans, giving it the Flip Wilson shake. 'Anybody got a pencil?' We were a monster team. Grrumph! We chewed up everybody."

Garfield won the metro championship in Seirawan's freshman year and finished second in the state championship, after having beaten the eventual champions in the regionals. In his sophomore year—by this time, Seirawan was the Washington state chess champion—they won all three titles. That year, Seirawan finagled letterman's jackets for the members of the chess team. They swept the titles again his junior year. When the team was scheduled to compete out of state, students raised the money to send it by holding car washings and candy drives. The team was honored at pep rallies.

"Let's hear it for the chess team," the bullhorn would blare. "They're going to the metro championship this week!" The students would howl, the drums would roll, and here would come the cheerleaders doing splits and leading a cheer that Kunselman still recalls: "Check that king! Check that king! Mate! Mate! Mate!"

It was some experience. "It was unusual for an urban school to go to a chess tournament," says Roscoe Bass, the principal at Garfield when Seirawan was a freshman. "I thought it was nice, the diversity."

Seirawan graduated after his junior year, having taken extra courses to get out early. By then he knew what he wanted to do with his life, and college wasn't in his plans. High school had become a confinement, keeping him too long in Seattle. There were tournaments to play and places to go. So he left the chess team he had created, took the class princess, Marlene Williams, to the junior prom and was off to queen his pawn.

Seirawan was rated a senior master when he left Garfield, and he had already made a small impression in chess circles. In the 1975 U.S. Open at Lincoln, Neb., he had beaten his first grandmaster, Arthur Bisguier, to applause. "I almost fell off the stage," he says. When he got home, all excited, and told his mother how well he had done, she said, "How much did you win?"

"Ah, thirty-three dollars and thirty-three cents," he said.

"Are you sure you're not going to college?" Margaret asked. Of course not. He had become a chess master. He was learning the wrinkles as he went, the ways of the psych, of chess. In an early round at Lincoln he sat down to play a fellow who displayed a disconcertingly toothy smile. "In the middle game, his game goes sour, and the smile becomes a grin," Seirawan says. "Then he gets into time trouble, and he begins to gnash his teeth. Then we're both in time trouble. Finally, at a really critical moment in the game, he reaches up and takes out his teeth and sticks them in a glass of water. I'd never seen teeth like that in my life!" There they were, sitting in the glass and smiling. "My clock is ticking, time is running out and I can't get those teeth out of my sight. Oh, man.... But I got him!"

The former pinball hustler of Virginia Beach was hardly a newcomer to the con himself. Right out of high school, he traveled to New York to make a killing. Dressed in safari shorts with 12 pockets and a tank top decorated with spider webs, he swooped down on Times Square—the Seattle Kid disguised as a surfer. Seirawan was by then a very good blitz, or speed, chess player—a game in which the time allowed for moves is minuscule and the competitor who thinks the best and quickest wins.

Between the street hustlers he took for $5 a pop and the sharks he took for $10 a game in the now-defunct New York Chess and Checkers Club, he left Times Square that first day with his 12 pockets bulging—$800 in all, counting side bets. Playing blitz chess for money may appear a prostitution of the chess player's skills, like a pianist's performing Bach in ragtime, but many great players pride themselves on their blitzing skills. "It sharpens your knowledge of tactics," Seirawan says. "Combinations, pins, mating attacks and traps." Blitz games quicken a player's powers of perception and his ability to quickly analyze the fields of force and positions on the board.

In 1979, Seirawan won the World Junior Championship in Norway, beating the best under-21 players from 56 countries, and automatically became an international master, which gave him an entree to grandmaster tournaments. It was the most important victory in his career to that point. "From there on, everything else was gravy," Seirawan says. "Now I was invited to premier tournaments because I had this title and it's prestigious for organizers to say that they had the world junior champ in their tournament."

It helped get him to Wijk aan Zee, Holland the following January, where he gained his greatest triumph to that date. The place crawled with grandmasters. Seirawan won his first game, and in his second faced none other than Korchnoi. Less than two years before, Korchnoi had failed by a single point, 6-5, to beat Karpov for the world title, in Baguio City, the Philippines. It had been less than three years since Seirawan had been playing first board for Garfield High.

Seirawan often begins telling a story by saying, "Dig this scenario...." So dig this one. Korchnoi shows up late for the game. Sitting down, he says to Seirawan, "Excuse me, I'm late, I'm sorry." Seirawan says it's O.K., but he's a bit awed. "This was like the rookie coming into the NFL," he recalls. "People were licking their chops when they saw me coming. I was 19." Then they begin play.

"Luck, luck, luck," Seirawan now says of that match. "You can be lucky. I'm unknown to the guy. So he decides to play a second-rate defense to improve his offensive chances. Heh! This defense is the one and only thing I know like the back of my hand. He falls right into it. Like into all my preparation, all my traps! I knew it from a lot of blitz games. I spring an opening novelty; I sacrifice two pawns; I whip out a kingside attack and make a space." Voilà!

Korchnoi resigned on the 39th move. A bit stunned, he offered his hand. "Congratulations," he said. "Good game." No doubt the last thing Korchnoi wanted to do was sit and gab with this child from Seattle. Seirawan suspected that Korchnoi really wanted to go back to his room and chew up his sofa. But Seirawan offered him some popcorn anyway. "Gee, Viktor, you want to go over the game?" How could Korchnoi refuse? They repaired to an analysis room and went over it, move by move.

Korchnoi grew curious. "What would you have done if I'd taken your knight here?" he asked.

"You know, Viktor, I expected that," said Seirawan. They played variations, and each time Seirawan exposed the weakness in Korchnoi's idea. Seirawan was lucky. However Korchnoi figured it, Seirawan knew the moves. The grandmaster had fallen into Seirawan's pet line.

The tournament at Wijk aan Zee became Seirawan's advertisement for himself. He beat not only Korchnoi, but also the grandmasters Jan Timman and Lev Alburt. Throughout the competition, Seirawan found Korchnoi approaching him and asking him about the positions in other games. "What do you think of the Timman game?" Korchnoi asked him once. Seirawan looked at the board. "Boy, it sure looks like he could move his knight to king-bishop six." To which Korchnoi replied, "Hmm, that's what I was thinking."

Seirawan's finest moment came in his efficiently designed victory over Gudmunder Jonsson, yet another grandmaster. Talk about knight-leaps. Playing white, Seirawan brought his queen's knight across the board in three leaps to join in a kingside attack on Jonsson's position. While Jonsson was moving about like Custer at Little Bighorn, Seirawan brought out his queen on the 21st move, ready to join the attack. She looked innocent enough then, but by the 26th move, when Seirawan pushed her into the fray, she had Bette Davis eyes. Seirawan made another knight-leap, slipped Bette inside, sacrificed the knight and then rushed a rook to its doom. Bette takes pawn, check, mate! Or as Fischer was wont to say, "Crunch! Splat! Pow!"

Jonsson resigned on the next move, his 30th. They brought out a bottle of champagne to celebrate the moment, for Seirawan had risen from an international master to a grandmaster with that victory. The mate Jonsson faced was forced. The applause that came from the crowd was not. "I felt like Reggie Jackson hitting his third home run against the Dodgers in the '77 World Series," Seirawan says, but winning the tournament was the least of the honors that came to him. Not only had he also made himself a grandmaster, but he had landed a job to boot. Korchnoi seemed as charmed as Garcia had been. He approached Seirawan after the tournament. "Would you like to work with me?" he asked. Seirawan was stunned. "I would have paid for that experience," he says. Korchnoi asked him if he could come to Switzerland to help him prepare for another drive to win the world title.

"I'll pay your air fare," Korchnoi said to Seirawan. "And would five thousand Swiss francs [about $2,750 then] a month be acceptable?"

"Huh?" Seirawan said. He was thinking: You're gonna pay me?

"Yeah," he finally thought to say. "I think I'll be available for you." Two months later he flew to Switzerland and joined two other seconds, Michael Stean and Lev Gutman, as they began the job of assisting Korchnoi in analyzing moves and mapping strategy for what would be 18 months of chess—from Korchnoi's string of victories in the candidates' matches through the final struggle against Karpov in Merano.

For the first time in his life, Seirawan was required to immerse himself in a study of chess theory. In Merano, on days when no game was scheduled, Seirawan and the other seconds met with Korchnoi for five or more hours at the challenger's villa, working over two large chess sets, setting up positions and playing the pieces through the endless variations to which this opening or that defense might lead. They analyzed adjourned positions and all completed games—whether won, lost or drawn.

Aside from the occasional day of skiing in the Tyrolean Alps or a game of tennis or dancing with a date at a Merano dance hall, nothing could distract Seirawan from his job or relieve him of his sense of frustration and helplessness as he watched Korchnoi slip into poor positions and squirm while he tried to extricate himself. Korchnoi's generally lackluster play, from the day he lost the opening game, became the unsolved mystery of Merano. Seirawan's frustration hit a peak on the night following the adjournment of the second game, after Korchnoi had played a solid opening and gradually self-destructed. By the adjournment, he was coming down in flames. While the Russians toasted the night away in the hotel next door, Seirawan plopped down on a couch in the Palace Hotel—his coat off, his tie askew, his shirt open down the front. "Why can't he play?" he said. "He can't play!"

"It's like the trainer of a boxer having prepared his man to jab a lot in a fight, and suddenly the guy refuses to jab," Seirawan said. "I mean, the frustration! It's heartbreaking. You can't reach in there and say, 'Come on, do like we showed you!' It's hard to sit on the sidelines and have to watch. The job is no fun."

The job came to an end after Korchnoi sealed his 41st move at adjournment time in the 18th game, knowing he was doomed. Karpov was ahead 5-2 in games and needed only one more win to retain the title. Korchnoi left the playing hall, and as he climbed into his waiting car, said without rancor, "Unfortunately, the match is over." It was perhaps Korchnoi's last chance. Now Seirawan wants his first.

Margaret sees it coming. The others in this tale have found their destinies. Max is living in Saudi Arabia now, married to the Syrian woman to whom he had been originally betrothed, the firstborn daughter of his father's best friend. Lord knows where Vallance is. "He has no residence," Margaret says. "He could be in the desert now. He could be in Virginia Beach. He could be on the moon."

But she knows where Yasser has been of late and what he was doing there. "It's not strange that Yasser's with Korchnoi," she said while the match was still on. "He's being groomed to do this. He's looking them in the eye right now. Richard taught Yasser to learn the human language—how a man puts his hands, how he fidgets in a chair, how he tilts his head. He taught Yasser to watch every gesture, every detail. At 21, Yasser's right under Karpov's nose. You don't think he's learning? He's watching, you know. That's what chess is all about, going deeper and deeper, at all levels."


Seirawan sprawls over an outsize chessboard in the garden of Merano's Palace Hotel.


Mom yanked Yasser from a tractor's path.


Garcia was Seirawan's early benefactor.


At Merano, tennis eased the mental grind.


A defeat of Korchnoi helped Seirawan hook on with the then-challenger for the world title.


At the playing hall, Seirawan gloomily dissects a lost Korchnoi game for journalists.


During Karpov vs. Korchnoi, Seirawan showed good moves on the board and the floor.