Russian media on the Dvorkovich/Karpov controversy (UPDATE May 22)

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Ilyumzhinov vs KarpovWhile Karpov basks in the limelight of his New York fundraiser, Ilyumzhinov and Dvorkovich find themselves in a tough situation. Given the personalities ranged against him, how can Dvorkovich fight back? An analysis of the Russian media on the matter may clarify some things.

By Colin McGourty

The Russian Chess Federation website dutifully reports that Dvorkovich is sticking to his guns in rejecting Karpov’s nomination. A summary might read: Karpov’s nomination wasn’t valid as I wasn’t at the meeting, though even if I’d been at the meeting it wouldn’t have been valid as the federation’s new charter hasn’t been approved, and even if the charter had been approved and I’d been at the meeting it still wouldn’t have been valid… as we’ve already chosen Ilyumzhinov. It smacks of protesting too much.

This is perhaps best captured by Maxim Kononenko, a columnist at GZT.RU, whose take on the situation has garnered attention on Russian chess forums. It’s entitled, "A scythe ran into Karpov", where "Karpov" replaces "stone" in the Russian proverb. In short, Dvorkovich met his match. The problem, as Kononenko expresses it (with the occasional mention of aliens…), is that Dvorkovich is fighting a losing battle:
Even if Dvorkovich’s right a thousand times over in coming up with a way around the decision of the national chess federation, he’ll still be a laughing stock. While those members of the federation who voted for Karpov won’t be, even if Karpov hasn’t got a clue about organising chess events.

(…) Plus he has the support, at least briefly, of Kasparov, whose authority in the world of chess (true, only chess, but still) is, in general, limitless. Who on earth is Arkady Dvorkovich compared to Karpov and Kasparov? All things considered, no-one. The whole world knows about Karpov and Kasparov, but no-one in the world knows that the Russian president has an aide called Dvorkovich.
So given the personalities ranged against him, how can Dvorkovich fight back? The answer, perhaps, is in seeking his own endorsements. When he was interviewed a few days ago on his final words were the intriguing: “By the way, my conversation with Kramnik showed that he fully supports my position in the current dispute”. Is Kramnik, not known for his political activism, really throwing his weight behind the Dvorkovich/Ilyumzhinov ticket!? The RCF website was glad to elaborate on the issue, quoting the comments of "one of the best known active chess players in the world" to the RBK newspaper:
The fact that there might be two candidates for the post of FIDE President is, on the one hand, a good thing. Competition always leads to better results. But it's unpleasant that it's grown into a scandal. According to my information the majority of the RCF Supervisory Board were simply misinformed about the location and time of the meeting. It's particularly unpleasant to behave in such a manner with such respected people as Dvorkovich and Zhukov.

For years now they've practically carried the whole of Russian chess on their shoulders. They've supported our young talents and the best professional players, the development of children's chess and also the organisation of the Tal Memorial, one of the strongest tournaments in the world. For my part, I’d like to make an appeal that the struggle for the very important position of FIDE President be conducted using only civilised methods of combat.
Quite a ringing personal endorsement of Dvorkovich, but is it anything more? No-one seems entirely innocent in the events of 14th May in Moscow. This curious report tells of how delegates from the Volga Federal District spent their day in Moscow, and sheds some more light on the proceedings (the photos from the "official" meeting include Bareev outlining plans for the Olympiad later this year).

After arriving in Moscow they only received a call at noon to say the meeting had been switched to Dvorkovich’s "Hotel". A bus was to ferry delegates from the Central Chess House at 4 pm, but they decided to take the metro instead. They only learnt of the Karpov vote in a phone call after it was taken, and just before the other meeting began. The report sums up their bemusement with a famous line from the Russian poet Tiutchev, which could serve for the whole affair: "Russia cannot be understood with the mind alone".

So we can agree that Kramnik’s right to think the events were unseemly and some delegates weren’t fully informed what was going on (by either side!), but we can also doubt the information he was given and, crucially, note that he says nothing to approve Dvorkovich’s nomination of Ilyumzhinov. Coming from a slightly different angle, GM Sergey Shipov, on his forum, responded to Dvorkovich’s claims with:
Voldya’s a "thing-in-itself", in Kant’s phrase. He stands apart… And to drag him onto your side in any clear way is impossible. But in principle, the way things are shaping up right now is perfectly clear. Grandmasters are for Karpov.
In fact, rather than being an exception to this general rule (like Kevin Spraggett), Kramnik is one of the few top players to have come out in open support of Karpov. Perhaps recent events in the RCF have diminished his enthusiasm, but Kramnik was recently quoted as telling the Russian chess journal, 64:
I’d like, rather, to support the candidacy of Karpov. We don’t yet know exactly what he’s planning to do. But we know for certain that the current leadership of FIDE, if it’s chosen once more, will do nothing. No changes! Another four years of total confusion and incompetence in the chess world is guaranteed.
Perhaps it’s a bit too early to chalk Kramnik up as an Ilyumzhinov supporter! Alexandra Kosteniuk appears a better candidate. Her declaration now has pride of place on the RCF website, alongside Dvorkovich’s. She says she hasn’t received any financial support for over a year (as the RCF claim there’s no money), and dramatically declares:
I must say that if Arkady Vladimirovich Dvorkovich hadn’t been in Russian chess I wouldn’t have decided to return to professional chess at the end of 2007 and I wouldn’t have brought Russia the women’s chess crown in 2008. I also couldn’t have been part of the team that brought Russia its second European gold medal in October 2009, seeing as Dvorkovich was the only person in the whole RCF who was always willing to help when problems arose.

(...) But now all these hopes are threatened by the actions of people who say they are working for the good of chess, while in actual fact their only aim is the will to remain in power. Therefore, I would like to support the position of Arkady Vladimirovich Dvorkovich and call on those who aren’t indifferent to the future of chess in Russia to evaluate the current situation soberly in an attempt to try and reach compromises, rather than destroying what exists in order to build castles in the sky.
Interestingly, Kosteniuk's passionate declaration has yet to appear on her immensely popular blog, and the news has only been picked up by Chessdom so far. What are its implications? Can we take her clear backing of Dvorkovich’s position as a declaration of support for Ilyumzhinov’s nomination? Perhaps, though his name isn’t mentioned, and the criticism isn’t directed at Karpov (he’s not one of those trying to "remain" in power).

In the meantime, an indication of how Dvorkovich might prevail, at least in the local battle, is emerging in comments on a thread at Shipov's Crestbook forum ("FIDE Presidential Elections: Ilyumzhinov or Karpov?"). It appears that the local administration of two of the delegates who supported Karpov (Gilyasov and Goncharov) claim the delegates failed to represent their views. Dvorkovich, meanwhile, seems to have switched the security guards at the Central Chess House in Moscow, in what may be a move to exclude Bakh and his team.

Shipov’s summary there, as ever, is sharp and to the point:
The RCF site, it’s already absolutely clear, is working under the direction of Dvorkovich’s men and not Bakh’s. They’ve lost their mass media outlet. It’s no doubt the same with the Federation’s accounts… People from the provinces, sensing something’s wrong, have rushed to display signs of loyalty to Dvorkovich and rejection of Bakh (even if they’d previously agreed with the latter).

In general, in a pack of wolves the strongest prevails. However, what does this have to do with the FIDE Presidential election? How will it influence it? It seems to me that in no way at all. The success of Karpov in the West is almost 100%. And in the third world he already has many countries on his side. In the former Soviet Union there are also many under his banner. Even if the neo-RCF under Dvorkovich’s rule favours Ilyumzhinov, it won’t change a thing.
We should also note that Shipov just added that the premises have been taken over. Bakh called the police but when they saw the papers Dvorkovich's men had they just went away! A new date for the supervisory council to meet appears to have been set for 4 June.

Summing up the current state of affairs, the minor coup d’état that Bakh, Karpov and Kasparov managed to pull off in Moscow on 14 May has altered the game completely. Even if Dvorkovich can somehow uphold his choice of nominee (which, at the moment of writing, looks ever more likely!), Ilyumzhinov’s campaign has suffered a body blow - the majority, when all’s said and done, was still a majority. Not that you’d want to stake your life on predicting the outcome of this strange and enthralling battle - as someone was very quick to respond after Shipov’s, "Grandmasters are for Karpov":
That sounds like a verdict! If grandmasters are for Karpov then his chances of winning aren’t great…

Update 22 May 2010 The events described above, almost as they happened, have been confirmed. On Thursday 20 May Dvorkovich completed what Karpov, in a letter published at Chessbase, calls “a hostile takeover of the Russian Chess Federation”. Security guards expelled Bakh from his office at the Central Chess Club in Moscow, after first seizing control of the accounts and official website.

Karpov challenges the legality of Dvorkovich’s actions, but also goes much further, accusing him of libel and “efforts to intimidate other federations from supporting me”. In turn a radio interview revealed the depth of Dvorkovich's animosity towards Karpov: “As a man, I just can’t stand some people (…) it would be easier for me to support Kasparov than Karpov, based on personal considerations”.

What happens next, and especially how the power struggle in Russia affects the overall FIDE election, is hard to guess, though in the same interview Dvorkovich left open an intriguing possibility:

“There are many scenarios, even the scenario in which both [Karpov] and [Ilyumzhinov] are nominated by foreign chess federations. The Russian Chess Federation, in view of the different positions and the very strong differences of opinion, might not nominate anyone”.
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