Growing up in the '80's in the Pacific Northwest (USA), my chess hero naturally was Yasser Seirawan. He was the first top-class GM to emerge from the USA since Fischer and our country's best hope to break the Soviet headlock on world chess. Our hopes at the time seemed reasonable - he twice made the Candidates Matches. Sadly, after the fall of the Iron Curtain the chess world fell into general chaos, and my understanding is that Yasser spent what should have been his peak competitive years focused on simply making a living in a difficult chess economy. He famously beat the newly minted world champion, Kasparov, in the '86 Olympiad, but never had a chance at the title. He semi-retired from competitive chess around the turn of the century, but has returned to competition on occasion and turned in some very strong results. In 2011 he earned a silver medal in the World Team Championships, representing the USA, with a 2773 performance rating. (To me, that seems a ridiculous result!)

My question to the historians of the game: Did Seirawan have the potential to challenge Kasparov, but was held back by his inability to focus entirely on chess in that chaotic era? Or am I just making excuses for my hero, and I should be content with Seirawan's considerable achievements and the salutary impact that he has had on American (and world-wide) chess.

  • 1
    Interesting Question!
    – user34445
    Dec 26, 2016 at 23:00
  • 2
    Well, I think this question is very subjective. But I won't cast vote to close, people seems to like this.
    – ferit
    Dec 28, 2016 at 16:10
  • 1
    Googling around for answers, I find that Seirawan defeated Karpov twice while the latter was still World Champion. I think I'm going to have to pungle up for his book, "Chess Duels: My Games with the World Champions" for more insight. Amazon has it in hardcover.
    – pokep
    Dec 29, 2016 at 0:38
  • 1
    Yasser "the smiling" Seirawan :D
    – ABcDexter
    Sep 13, 2017 at 13:32
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    Ben Finegold just did a video on a few of his games. It's for a beginner class, so the commentary isn't very deep, but the games are enjoyable. I personally love this game against Kovacevic - it's a hypermodern tour-de-force chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1085046. This game also dazzles me - Yasser sacs two pieces for an attack - I think even Tal would have blanched at it. chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1276792 youtube.com/watch?v=bPsPwMRU5L4
    – pokep
    Apr 13, 2020 at 15:17

3 Answers 3


There are games on record between the two:

[Title "Yasser Seirawan vs Garry Kasparov (1986)"]
[Event "Dubai"]
[Site "Dubai"]
[Date "1986.11.23"]
[EventDate "?"]
[Round "8"]
[Result "1-0"]
[White "Yasser Seirawan"]
[Black "Garry Kasparov"]
[ECO "D91"]
[PlyCount "123"]
[FEN ""]

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Bg5 Ne4 6.cxd5 Nxg5
7.Nxg5 e6 8.Nf3 exd5 9.b4 Qd6 10.a3 O-O 11.e3 c6 12.Be2 Bf5
13.O-O Nd7 14.Na4 a5 15.Qb3 b5 16.Nc5 a4 17.Qc3 Nb6 18.Nd2
Rae8 19.Rfe1 Re7 20.Bf3 Rfe8 21.g3 Bh3 22.Bg2 Bxg2 23.Kxg2 f5
24.h4 Nc4 25.Nf3 Bf6 26.Re2 Rg7 27.Rh1 Qe7 28.Ree1 h6 29.Qd3
Rf8 30.Nd2 Qe8 31.Nxc4 dxc4 32.Qd1 Re7 33.Ref1 Qf7 34.Qf3 Qd5
35.Qxd5+ cxd5 36.Kf3 Bg7 37.Rd1 Rff7 38.Rd2 Re8 39.Rdd1 Bf8
40.Rdg1 Bg7 41.Rd1 Kf8 42.Rd2 Ke7 43.Rdd1 Kd6 44.Rh2 Kc6
45.Rhh1 Bf8 46.Rd2 Bd6 47.Rdd1 Bxc5 48.dxc5 Re4 49.Rhe1 Rd7
50.Rd4 g5 51.hxg5 hxg5 52.Red1 Rxd4 53.Rxd4 Rh7 54.Ke2 Rh3
55.g4 f4 56.exf4 Rxa3 57.fxg5 Ra2+ 58.Kf3 c3 59.Rd1 d4 60.g6
d3 61.Ke3 Rxf2 62.g7 1-0

[Title "Garry Kasparov vs Yasser Seirawan (1988): You Come at the King, You Best Not Miss"]
[Event "Thessaloniki ol (09)"]
[Site "Thessaloniki GRE"]
[Date "1988.11.22"]
[EventDate "?"]
[Round "9"]
[Result "1-0"]
[White "Garry Kasparov"]
[Black "Yasser Seirawan"]
[ECO "D21"]
[PlyCount "76"]
[FEN ""]

1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 c5 3.c4 dxc4 4.Nc3 cxd4 5.Qxd4 Qxd4 6.Nxd4 Bd7
7.Ndb5 Na6 8.e4 Nf6 9.f3 Bxb5 10.Nxb5 e5 11.Be3 Bb4+ 12.Kf2
Ke7 13.Bxc4 Rhc8 14.Rac1 Bc5 15.Rhd1 Bxe3+ 16.Kxe3 Ne8 17.Bb3
Rxc1 18.Rxc1 f6 19.a3 Nd6 20.Bd5 Nxb5 21.Bxb7 Nbc7 22.Bxa8
Nxa8 23.Rc8 Nb6 24.Rg8 Kf7 25.Rh8 Nc5 26.Rb8 Ke7 27.b4 Nc4+
28.Ke2 Nd7 29.Rg8 g5 30.a4 a5 31.bxa5 Nxa5 32.Ra8 Nc6 33.a5
Kd6 34.g3 h5 35.h4 gxh4 36.gxh4 Nc5 37.a6 Kc7 38.a7 Nb7 1-0

[Title "Cup World: Seirawan vs Kasparov (1989)"]
[Event "Cup World"]
[Site "Skelleftea SWE"]
[Date "1989.08.??"]
[EventDate "?"]
[Round "13"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[White "Yasser Seirawan"]
[Black "Garry Kasparov"]
[ECO "E75"]
[PlyCount "85"]
[FEN ""]

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Be2 O-O 6.Bg5 c5 7.d5 h6
8.Be3 e6 9.Qd2 exd5 10.cxd5 Re8 11.f3 h5 12.a4 a6 13.a5 Nh7
14.Bd1 Nd7 15.Nge2 Ne5 16.b3 Qh4+ 17.Bf2 Qf6 18.Qe3 h4 19.h3
g5 20.O-O Bd7 21.Kh1 Nf8 22.Bg1 Nfg6 23.Bh2 c4 24.Rb1 Rac8
25.Qa7 Nf4 26.bxc4 Nxc4 27.Rxb7 Nd2 28.Rg1 Nxh3 29.e5 Rxe5
30.Rxd7 Nxg1 31.Qxg1 Ree8 32.Rxd6 Qf5 33.Ba4 Qd3 34.Bxe8 Rxe8
35.Rc6 h3 36.Bg3 hxg2 37.Qxg2 Nxf3 38.d6 Re6 39.Qf2 g4 40.Rc8+
Kh7 41.Nf4 Rh6+ 42.Kg2 Ne1+ 43.Kg1 1/2-1/2

Yasser Seirawan won the World Junior Chess Championship in 1979 in Skien Norway, a year before Garry Kasparov won it in Dortmund Germany. The two were contemporaneous. Seirawan proceeded to train in Switzerland with Korchnoi following his Junior Chess Championship win.

It's not precisely clear why the two didn't meet up in international competition. In the games they played it seems Seirawan was competitive against Kasparov.

In interview's Seirawan stated publicly that he doesn't like the FIDE cycle at all and that he always enjoyed being busy and working on projects (such as writing). Speculating, it could be Seirawan's dedication to editing Inside Chess magazine and his dislike for the FIDE cycle may have distracted him away from international competition.

Perhaps only Seirawan knows.

  • 1
    Just a heads up, you've posted the same game (it looks like the 1988 one) twice. Dec 27, 2016 at 1:47

Seirawan explains why he could not be world champion in his book "Chess Duels My Games With The World Champions" In the section titles "World Champion Seirawan?" My summary is that he did not play at world champion strength consistantly enough and that he has interests other than chess.

I highly recommend this book to any Seirawan fan. I also grew up in the pacific northwest in the 80's.


A hero of mine was Karpov. For his ability to make small, seemingly innocuous moves that had the effect of causing imperceptibly small improvements that magically gave him advantages. And in my way of thinking, he was arguably the best defensive player in the world. So I got hold of the book "The Making of a Champion" that gives games from Karpov's career. I was surprised that only two grand masters managed to score 50% against Karpov during Karpov's years at the top (1975-1985). They were Kasparov and Seirawan. That's how impressive Seirawan is at the board. Apologies to those readers who know more and for any inaccuracies.

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