Saturday, May 22, 2010

Chess Power Struggle

MOSCOW — It pitches a former world champion against the leader of the world's western-most Buddhist region who claims to have met aliens in his apartment.
For good measure, it also features the chief economic adviser of the Kremlin and another former world champion who has turned into an implacable critic of the Russian authorities.
This is the cast of a zany row that has broken out over Russia's candidate to head the World Chess Federation (FIDE), a struggle which has become a bitter test of guile and stamina reminiscent of famous battles on the board.
The president of FIDE is Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, a fanatical chess player who has been leader of the largely Buddhist southern Russian region of Kalmykia since 1993.
As well as his obsession with chess -- which has extended to building a self-styled Chess City in the regional Kalmyk capital of Elista -- Ilyumzhinov is known for eccentric behaviour that is not even confined to planet earth.
He famously claimed to have been given a tour of a UFO by aliens in the late 1990s and last month solemnly revealed on a TV chat show that he had met extra-terrestrials in his Moscow apartment.
The role of FIDE is to set the rules of chess and organise championships. To stand for its presidency, candidates must gain the backing of their national federation.
The current mandate of Ilyumzhinov, who has been president of FIDE since 1995, expires in September and there are many in chess who would like the controversial figure to end his stint there.
Ex-world champion Anatoly Karpov, known for grinding opponents into submission during his Soviet-era heyday, has challenged Ilyumzhinov, declaring that 15 years of his "disreputable administration is more than enough".
Karpov has already been nominated as a candidate for the presidency in the September elections by several national chess federations including France. But winning the backing of Russia has proved more problematic.
Karpov -- who has a US presidential-style campaign site -- may have thought he had sewn up the backing of the Russian Chess Federation when a meeting on May 14 nominated him as Russia's candidate.
But enter Arkady Dvorkovich -- best known as the chief economic advisor of President Dmitry Medvedev -- who also occupies the post of head of the Russian Chess Federation's supervisory board.
Dvorkovich declared that the nomination was invalid as it had failed to meet the minimum quorum of participants and said his own letter of recommendation sufficed for Ilyumzhinov to be the candidate of the Russian chess federation.
"I respect Anatoly Karpov as a great chess player but unlike Kirsan Ilyumzhinov he is an ineffective manager," spat Dvorkovich, who is normally quoted reeling out economic statistics.
"I also think Anatoly Yevgenyevich's election campaign has been indecent and unethical."
Karpov in turn accused Dvorkovich of staging a rival federation meeting on May 14 so he could then argue the minimum quorum was not met.
"Our high-ranking official is unable to accept the defeat of his point of view in a democratic vote," Karpov wrote on his blog for Echo of Moscow radio station.
With the latest battle looking like a long-drawn-out clash in which stalemate is not possible, Russia's current number one Vladimir Kramnik has called on both sides to use "only civilised methods of fighting".
The chairman of the Russian chess federation, Alexander Bakh, meanwhile accused Dvorkovich of sending in private security guards to seal off offices at the federation in revenge for his support of Karpov.
Karpov's campaign has also found a perhaps unlikely ally in the shape of his former great rival Garry Kasparov, the ex-world champion who now leads one of Russia's few anti-Kremlin political movements.
Kasparov -- whose 1984 world championship clash with Karpov was so gruelling it was abandoned over fears for the health of both players -- has openly backed his ex-rival and attended a glitzy campaign gala in New York.
The Soviet Union dominated world chess in the heyday of Kasparov and Karpov, benefiting from a system that encouraged children to take up the sport at the youngest age. But funding dwindled after the Soviet collapse.

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