Ilyumzhinov ups the stakes

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Ilyumzhinov vs KarpovThe battle for the FIDE Presidency took another lurch towards chaos on Thursday when FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov announced he was suing Presidential Candidate Anatoly Karpov. Meanwhile, the Ilyumzhinov campaign has just declared its ticket and claimed the support of 35 countries, including... Russia. An update on the latest political developments.

By Colin McGourty

Ilyumzhinov takes Karpov to court

In an on-line interview with, Ilyumzhinov said that the case against Karpov was being brought by the FIDE Presidential Council before courts in Moscow (where Karpov is resident), an international court (where FIDE is registered) and the FIDE Ethics Commission. The charge is libel for Karpov’s alleged comments about corruption in FIDE, a topic that was already covered three weeks ago in an article by Arne (and see Mig Greengard’s comments below it). The legal case looks weak, and Mark Crowther may well be correct when he writes at TWIC that it seems “a completely empty threat”. Perhaps that explains why in the interview Ilyumzhinov focussed on the less newsworthy Ethics Commission. A court case might drag on and damage both candidates, but could the Ethics Commission come to a quick ruling that would exclude Karpov from running in the election?

Legal threats are, however, a double-edged sword. In the same interview Ilyumzhinov responded to the question of why Karpov and Kasparov have united against him:
“They need the financial and political resources of FIDE. 15 years ago they did everything they could so that FIDE wouldn’t be united. Now, when FIDE is a prosperous international organisation in a financial sense, and has great political authority, they need a platform for their ambitions. As chess players they’ve exhausted themselves, people have begun to forget about them and with their inadequate declarations they’re trying to draw attention to themselves again.”
Setting aside the dubious content, the above echoes earlier statements by Chairman of the Supervisory Board of the Russian Chess Federation Arkadij Dvorkovich which provoked Karpov to respond with an official letter on his campaign website: “It is ironic that Mr. Dvorkovich libels me as pursuing the presidency of FIDE for improper purposes”.

Makropoulos: 'Only dirt'

FIDE Deputy President Georgios Makropoulos, if anything, went even further in an interview a few days ago. He says only “dirt” is coming from Karpov, that he “doesn’t like to work”, that, “Gary can write a programme for Anatoly. But Anatoly himself can’t”. Kasparov is exploiting the campaign for his own political ends and, to cap it all, “Karpov is being used as a Trojan horse”, according to Makropoulos, in order to end the one-country, one-vote system (the “logic” seems to be that Russia already has great influence now despite only having one vote). Another almost surreal example of the depths to which the campaign has sunk came in an interview Karpov gave to
“Interviewer: They’ve started to say all sorts of things about you. In particular there are hints about a homosexual tie to the current President of the chess federation, Alexander Bakh. What do you have to say to your opponents? Are you going to sue?

Karpov: Thanks for the revelation. It’ll really help me to establish better ties with the mayors of the largest cities: Paris, London, Berlin (laughs). But of course I won’t sue. In my time I’ve heard so much, they’ve thrown so much dirt, that I understood that it’s better not to pay attention.”

New vote!?

Map of Ilyumzhinov supportersOf course as well as libel, Karpov’s camp have accused Dvorkovich and others of much more serious offences. A continually developing story revolves around claims that some of the delegates who supported Karpov’s nomination at the Russian Chess Federation meeting last month failed to represent the wishes of their local organisations. The official website now has a colourful map of Russia with links below it to signed letters that together are meant to demonstrate that Ilyumzhinov really is the “people’s choice”. A new council may well vote to nominate Ilyumzhinov. In the interview mentioned above Karpov commented on that situation:
“Now they’re trying to twist the arms of certain members of the council in the regions. They demand that they rethink their positions. They threaten them with dismissal, repression and even physical violence. I never thought that I’d live to see such fighting in chess. The most peaceful of games is living in a state of war.”
Still, perhaps it’s worth taking a step back from these recriminations to try and assess the current campaign on the level of ideas and normal debate. The following comparison pays particular attention to the opinions of well-known GMs, as well as comments on Russian chess forums (where the debate has been fiercest):


IlyumzhinovPros: Although enthusiastic voices are few and far between (his campaign website even chooses to quote GM Alexander Khalifman’s: “But, I think that the criticism addressed to the incumbent President is deserved”), Ilyumzhinov’s FIDE finally has a unified World Champion and runs a regular series of events. GM Vassily Ivanchuk was quoted in Odessa as saying that the life of a chess professional has improved during Ilyumzhinov’s reign. Khalifman notes that if required Ilyumzhinov, “reaches in his own pocket”.

Cons: The question of finance works both ways. Should a reputable international organisation have a president who, in the interview where he announced suing Karpov, also boasted: “For 15 years I was his sponsor. I personally set aside a few million American dollars from my fund and the money of my businessmen friends…”? Major sponsors may be wary of becoming involved with Ilyumzhinov, even if they do not credit, for instance, the accusations of the Jabloko political party, who said that the nomination of Ilyumzhinov brought shame on Russia (they refer to the murder of the Kalmykia opposition journalist, Larisa Yudina). Apart from these serious issues, Ilyumzhinov has also lately become something of a figure of fun. In the same interview, instead of laughing off his alien comments, he addressed the topic in total seriousness, adding:
“When the American astronaut Armstrong set down on the Moon his first phrase was: they’re here. Later they concealed it (…) For the first time I’m officially declaring: I don’t work for any alien intelligence.”
Despite the above, Ilyumzhinov himself is perhaps not even the main issue. Chess players seem almost unanimously united against Ilyumzhinov’s team, with Makropoulos (now confirmed on the new ticket), the focus of much anger for his alleged contempt for grandmasters and his handling of chess finances. In a recent Russian radio interview on poker, Grischuk said he had no enthusiasm for either candidate but would, if forced, come down in favour of Ilyumzhinov. But he mentioned that he could only ever actually support Ilyumzhinov if Makropoulos and others were removed from the ticket.


KarpovPros: Sponsors and political figures should be happy to be seen meeting a former world champion, and the support of Carlsen and Kasparov is a great international PR success. He offers at least the prospect of change, and should be able to bring the perspective of a player to bear on chess organisation.

Cons: For now his programme, ticket and potential sponsors remain a mystery (Khalifman calls his campaign “words, words, words”), with some sub-elite grandmasters worried that the money the World Cup and similar knockout events provided will disappear. Also, although his self-destructive tendencies in interviews are no match for Ilyumzhinov, Shipov and others have noted his tendency to go overboard on self-promotion when mentioning e.g. his medals from Yeltsin and Putin, or the extraordinary number of schools in his name. Though, at times, you perhaps want to cheer him on:
“But why should he (Dvorkovich) set any conditions? I’m the world of chess. If he wants to be in the world of chess then he has to respect world champions. And not only me, but also Kasparov and the other champions. Stalin once said to his minister of culture: “I don’t have any other writers for you!” Just as there are no other world champions for Dvorkovich.”
The other dominant issue has been Kasparov, whose involvement has provoked predictable questions about his motivation, and divided opinion. Karpov is adamant that politics are not involved, and that his condition for working with Kasparov was focussing solely on chess.  In fact, he even half-joked:
“I think that the authorities should be grateful to me: Kasparov has barely engaged in politics for three months now, and won’t until the end of September. He’s got no time, we’ve agreed to travel around different countries and promote chess!”
Which is a reminder that the FIDE elections are still three months away! Karpov’s team had an early lead, with only Turkey having come out in support of Ilyumzhinov at one point. In the interview mentioned above Makropoulos claimed that countries had adopted a waiting stance after Karpov persuaded them that Ilyumzhinov might not even be a candidate. That now seems to have changed, with the Ilyumzhinov campaign website claiming the support of 35 federations.

Ticket announced; more candidates!?

They have also announced their ticket. As well as confirming Makropoulos’ involvement the other name that perhaps stands out is that of Ignatius Leong as General Secretary. The Karpov campaign site had previously quoted Leong as saying that he would not stand beyond the current term...

Where does the campaign go from here? All that’s certain is that we can expect many more twists and turns in the coming months. One likelihood is that it’s all about to become even more complicated. In the same interview where Ilyumzhinov managed to mention libel, and aliens, and that Karpov was “his friend”, he also added:
“At present I know of two more candidates who want to come forward”.
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