Ilyumzhinov and chess: the game goes on

According to Ilyumzhinov, Vanga predicted his chess presidency. Having become President of Kalmykia at the age of 31, he did not think of anything like this on his way to Paris for an emergency FIDE congress in 1995. Ilyumzhinov should not have been there at all, however, his predecessor Florencio Campomanes, feeling that he may lose presidential seat, asked Kirsan Nikolaevich just "to attend"...

A young Kalmyk businessman became known in the chess circles for the first time in the early1990s. He purchased the legendary "Karloff" crown from the 13th World Champion Garry Kasparov, which he had won in the last title match against Anatoly Karpov. Kasparov needed money to help Armenian refugees, but nobody wanted to buy that diamond crown. And there came Ilyumzhinov, with whom the then World Champion had excellent relations at that time.

President of Kalmykia saw chess as a good and inexpensive way of advertising his region, where he decided to hold the Chess Olympiad 1998. Actually, the history of modern Russian championships began in Elista. The future president of FIDE immediately set the highest bar for the prize fund of the tournament --100 thousand dollars!
Kirsan Nikolayevich never missed the opportunity to cause a mighty furore by his actions or statements that changed the usual order of things. I remember how Kasparov, along with the then President of the Russian Chess Federation Andrei Makarov, attacked him: "Kirsan, why one hundred thousand? What are you doing?" But he defended his proposal and secured the status of Elista as the country's chess capital for many years. And then he became the sixth President of FIDE.
It is worth recalling that after the departure of Campomanes FIDE was a rather miserable sight with big debts and long-term squabbles. Moreover, the absence of a unified World Champion brought a fair amount of chaos. Therefore, barely inaugurated Ilyumzhinov promised that he would make FIDE a powerful and dynamic structure, put an end to strife and return a unified Champion to chess. Everyone couldn’t help but believe him. He started by saving the match for the FIDE World Championship 1996 between Karpov and Gata Kamsky. Later he announced that he will determine the Champion in a knockout tournament for hundred players with a prize of five million dollars! To add legitimacy to the new tournament, Ilyumzhinov announced that he intended to let the champions, Karpov and Kasparov, to immediately play at semi-finals. Anatoly Evgenyevich agreed but Garry Kimovich sharply rejected that proposal.
Meanwhile, Ilyumzhinov won his first re-election. He did not have a single serious opponent at his local Olympics in Elista 1998, for which he had built a whole chess city in the steppe. It was hardly possible to consider Bachar Kouatly as such.
Well, four years later, the situation in the Bled 2002 elections changed radically for both Ilyumzhinov and Kasparov: the latter had already lost the crown to Vladimir Kramnik.
And then the proposal of a chess enthusiast Yasser Seirawan arrived just in time to legally unite the chess world. As a result, all the interested parties put their signatures under the historic Prague agreement: Ilyumzhinov, Kasparov, Karpov and Kramnik. FIDE retained the rights to the title of "World Champion" and champions themselves were to determine a unified chess King in a number of unification fights. At the same time, Ilyumzhinov's second re-election to the presidency became inevitable.
Alas, not everything that had been planned in Prague was realized. And the main victim was Kasparov. Having not played with any of the FIDE knockout Champions, he made a difficult decision to complete his outstanding career in March 2005. In a farewell speech, Garry Kimovich did not conceal his resentment towards FIDE's leadership: "It seems that there is no hope for the emergence of a unified World Champion in the near future; however, only this title is important to me."
Still, Kasparov was wrong in his forecasts. A unified World Champion did appear, although much later. Two-round tournaments in San Luis 2005 and Mexico City 2007 as well as two unification matches played by Kramnik with Topalov and Anand (respectively in 2006 and 2008) returned the long awaited order to the chess world. All this became possible thanks to the efforts of Ilyumzhinov. And it happened without the participation of the Thirteenth Champion who left chess and plunged into politics.
Ilyumzhinov, by the way, took the criticism of his recent supporter easily: anything could be said in an emotional outburst! Moreover, for the first time he experienced a serious pressure from a competitor at the chess Olympiad in Turin in 2006. The rival turned out to be a millionaire and the famous chess impresario Bessel Kok. According to Ilyumzhinov, Kok invested $12 million in his PR campaign. But such waste did not lead to anything: Ilyumzhinov won the next presidential election with a result of 96 votes against 54.
It was not as easy in the 2010 elections in Khanty-Mansiysk. This time Karpov challenged and attacked him. Besides, Kasparov unexpectedly appeared in the pre-election headquarters of Karpov. Tandem of the two former World Champions represented a serious threat to Ilyumzhinov, and it is easy to imagine what tremendous efforts were required to win with a score of 95:55. The final advantage had not to be misleading: everything was decided at the very last moment, when the RCF had determined its decision together with other "hesitating ones".
"Two great chess players were my rivals but I wasn’t much worried during the voting and would calmly accept any outcome," Ilyumzhinov admitted after the elections in Khanty-Mansiysk.  "To be honest, I was more nervous when I said that we are all one family in a welcoming speech. After all, this is not just a motto of FIDE but something that everyone should sincerely strive for. The delegates should vote not for Karpov or Ilyumzhinov but for chess"... Ilyumzhinov adhered to the same style on the eve of Tromsø 2014, where he had to withstand a very serious attack again. Not having achieved success with Karpov, the same Kasparov decided to nominate his candidacy for the presidency. And his preparation for elections was akin to arranging the World Championship matches. Garry Kimovich had a carefully written programme, a strong support team and a website. He made an eight-month "world tour" talking about his plans and the future of FIDE.
However, Ilyumzhinov's "world tour" has been already going on for 19 years. The incumbent president also had his own initiative group and website, which covered every step of his election campaign. This time, Kirsan Nikolaevich, in contrast to Khanty-Mansiysk 2010, secured the support of the Russian Chess Federation in advance. To that end, he resolved the scandalous situation with possible non-admission of the Russian women's team to the Olympics in Tromsø and defended its right before the Norwegian organizers (Kasparov, on the contrary, insisted that the Russians -- who eventually became champions -- should be excluded from the competition on the grounds of the allegedly outdated application form).
Judging by the backstage conversations, Ilyumzhinov had an advantage before the elections, but no one knew for sure how big it was and whether it was enough to win. Speaking at the congress a few minutes before the vote, Kasparov said he felt more stressed than before any game in his life. Ilyumzhinov was traditionally calm and unemotional since everything was in the hands of Providence and his destiny regarding the post did not bother him.
The results of the vote were deafening: 110 delegates voted for the incumbent president, 61 for the challenger. Even the most ardent admirers of the former head of Kalmykia did not expect such defeat.
Thus, Ilyumzhinov will be at the helm of FIDE for another four years. The term of his service for the benefit of world chess will reach 23 years by next election: this is a record for a Russian official of such rank. But it is not the end of the line for Ilyumzhinov and there is no doubt about it.

1994 began holding Russia Championships in Elista; six such tournaments took place. He organized a match for the World Championship between Karpov and Kamsky in Elista.
1995 made every effort for holding the unification match between Kasparov and Karpov.
1996 began holding elite President's Cups in Elista.
1996 saved the FIDE Championship match between Karpov and Kamsky by organizing it at his own expense in Elista.
1997 began carrying out the knockout World Championships. The prize fund of the first one amounted to unprecedented $5,000,000.
1998 saved Chess Olympiad by transferring it to Elista.
1999 held a tournament of young chess talents in Lausanne.
2001 held match "Man vs Computer" in New York.
2002 made FIDE the owner of the "World Champion" title.
2002 held the "Russia against the rest of the world" rapid chess match in Kremlin.
2004 organized Botvinnik Memorial in Moscow.
2005 replaced the knockout World Championships with the World Cups, which became part of the biennial cycle of the World Championships. There were five such tournaments.
2006 held the reunification match between Kramnik and Topalov in Elista.
2008 launched the Grand Prix tournament series, which became part of the biennial cycle of the World Championships.
2008 completed the unification of the World Champion title by holding the match between Kramnik and Anand.
2009 launched the Women’s Grand Prix tournament series.
2010 organized Cups of Latin America, Caribbean and Central Asia and the Campomanes Memorial.
2011 launched Cup of European Small Nations.
2013 became the personal sponsor of Grand Prix stages.

August 13, 2014