Kirsan Ilyumzhinov: "We are promoting chess everywhere"

In 1993, the chess world split in two: Kasparov and Short played for the title of the world champion "according to the PCA version" in London, and Karpov and Timman fought for the crown of the champion "according to FIDE version" in Amsterdam.

At that time a dual power arose in the chess kingdom for the first time. After that there was Moscow 1994 – the 31st World Olympiad, where first appeared Kirsan Ilyumzhinov: a sympathetic, lively, full of incredible ideas and having colossal connections, the 32 years old President of the steppe republic, who proposed to hold the 33rd Chess Olympics in Elista.

The championship of Russia was held in Elista in the spring of 94. The President of Kalmykia invited me to dinner with his mother. Then in a casual conversation he said: "The Soviet chess school is the leading one in the world. However, chess is controlled by other nationals. It's time for a Russian to become the chess leader. What do you think?" I looked at my interlocutor and praised the delicious Kalmyk pelmeni that his mother made. And I thought: never would they choose Soviet or former Soviet man. They would elect anyone: a Frenchman, German, Arab, Filipino, Singaporean, Swiss or Dutchman ... But never a Russian. We are all Russians abroad. We were sitting with Kirsan Ilyumzhinov in his presidential suite at the Grand Hotel Toplice nine years after that memorable lunch. It was the most prestigious hotel in Bled. Alekhine, Tal, Fisher stayed there. And then there came Kasparov and Ilyumzhinov. President FIDE Ilyumzhinov who, the day before, was re-elected unanimously at the FIDE General Assembly (and the men's team of his country brilliantly won the World Olympiad on the very same day), treated me to lunch.
Suddenly we remembered Elista-94. That special dinner. Those words. "Did you know about the future?" I asked. Ilyumzhinov smiled mysteriously: "Baba Vanga said that she saw two Kirsans, two presidents."
Ilyumzhinov headed the FIDE ship at a troubled times for chess – in the middle of the split arranged by Kasparov. And after nearly 9 years, Ilyumzhinov brought that split to naught. Kasparov himself came to him and proposed peace. Ilyumzhinov had been waiting for it to happen for a long time. "A person must make decisions when he is ready," he used to say. Kasparov turned out to be ready.
But was the chess world ready then? At one time, the chess world did not accept the contract between Campomanes and Kasparov. Today it has not only accepted it, but issued a mandate of confidence to the President of FIDE for the next four years with absolute unanimity. The chess world is gradually getting used to the idea that stability and constancy are better than confrontation and misunderstanding.
The President of FIDE scheduled his every minute up until late at night. I had to ask questions and get answers at lunch time.
I told Ilyumzhinov about how hard and poorly lived some famous grandmaster, a middle aged man. He was very impressed and said to me: "Tell him that I am granting a personal pension for him. When is his birthday? No, it's too far away. I'll try to make it before Christmas."
And that’s how he was in general. I spoke with a lot of chess people during the Olympics in Bled. Those were people of the most diverse countries in the world. Rich and poor. They had different religions. But they all with striking unanimity shared same chess religion, which was Ilyumzhinov. And they all were expecting that he would provide them with the chess manna from heaven. Kirsan will do, Kirsan will organize and get money, Kirsan, Kirsan...
Ilyumzhinov conducted a dialogue with a slight smile. I raised a topic and he immediately picked it up and talked about it at ease. And what seemed to be a hallucination (at least) before our meeting, ceased to seem it after talking with Ilyumzhinov. I began to understand that he easily grasped any situation both in politics and chess. This man is a grandmaster.
"As you can see, the work is progressing slowly. We prefer not to talk much about it. But we promote chess gradually everywhere," FIDE president told me with a disarming smile. Wow, "slowly" was an understatement when actually it was more like an undeclared invasion! He simply saw the position he wanted to get at the end of the game.
As the President of FIDE likes to repeat, his main task is to make sure that the system should function without him. Although, he either underestimates his charisma or is too modest. We all remember well the times when nobody needed chess and no one wanted to give money to it.
Much has changed with the arrival of the new president. Today, as Ilyumzhinov told me, there is no shortage of proposals to hold the 2006 World Olympiad. Americans compete with the Italians, the Hindus want to hold the Olympics, the Spaniards insist on their country – the choice is great.