Kirsan Ilyumzhinov: "Children who play chess outperform their peers"

FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov told in an interview to Voice of Russia about how to win a game of chess against computer, why rapid chess is more popular than classic and what benefits this game provides for children.

- Let's talk about chess. It's still a sport. In the 1980s, computers were not as common as they are today. Now chess players, pass the chess exams like the state exams. They use chess programs and compete who has the best computer. If it is very fast, then presumably the owner plays chess better.

At one time, World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik said that chess is a combination of sport, culture, and science. And Alexander Alekhine also spoke about this. But chess players are excessively using computers and even fight computers today.
We remember the matches of Garry Kasparov vs. Deep Junior and Deep Blue. Ten years ago, I and Bloomberg organized the match between Kasparov and computer in New York. Now it's almost impossible to play against the computer.
The computer calculates more than 10 million combinations per second; it is calm and nothing can distract it from the chessboard. Chess programs have become not just purely mechanical: they do not just consider combinations but learn how to make non-standard moves.
Earlier it was possible to win against computer by making a non-standard move that contradicts the theory. It would confuse the computer and make it lose the game. Eventually it would emanate smoke as it was in New York in 2003. Today, computer learnt how to make traps. It's very difficult to play against it now. You were quite right when you called chess a sport.
- Yes, chess is harmony. And harmony is the soul. Is there a correlation between chess and soul?
- I spoke about it with the developers of chess programs. Israeli programmer Shay Bushinsky, who developed Deep Junior, said: "I think that the computer starts to think not logically but sometimes illogically, as if it has some kind of a soul and able to develop emotions." And it becomes scary. We read in fantastic books about how computers take power over humanity. There may come a time like this.

- Does it look like computers got soul while chess players began to play unemotionally?

Programmers said that on one occasion two programs created a third program in the absence of a programmer, that is, they "gave birth" to it and hid it from a man.

- They talk much about cheating by use of computer in chess. How serious is this problem?
We have a special committee in FIDE that deals with such issues. We are fighting against them. Remember the biggest scandal, the so-called "toilet scandal", which took place in a match between Veselin Topalov and Vladimir Kramnik in Elista in 2006? Veselin Topalov accused Vladimir Kramnik that he often went to the toilet and allegedly used a computer there. We dismantled the entire toilet.
There are many such scandals. But we are fighting against it. We have special equipment, which jams every signal at major competitions, such as world championships, the Grand Prix and the World Cup. By the way, it was used at the Candidate Tournament in London. Chess players are not allowed to bring anything with them. For example, if a chess player has been caught with a phone, he is considered to be defeated. There is a case when Ruslan Ponomariov’s phone rang (he was the World Champion at the time). It turned out that it was his birthday and his mother called him to wish him well. And he immediately lost the game, no matter what.

- "Chess in schools" project is an incredibly interesting topic for discussion. I know that FIDE has a programme for popularizing chess among children. How is it going?

At the FIDE General Assembly in Dresden and Khanty-Mansiysk two years ago, delegates to the congress adopted the "Chess in schools" programme so that in many countries chess was introduced both as an obligatory subject and as an elective.
In 1994, when I was President of Kalmykia, we introduced chess into the school curriculum and noticed that those children, who play chess study better, become more disciplined and outperform their peers.
- In my opinion, something similar existed in tsarist Russia.
Yes. For example, Alexander Pushkin, being in exile, wrote letters to his wife and asked if she played chess with the children before going to bed.
Now many countries sign agreements between FIDE and ministries of education on introduction of chess into the school’s curriculums. FIDE assist them by providing guidance materials and conducting seminars. For example, President Serzh Sargsyan signed a decree on the introduction of chess as a compulsory subject in all schools of Armenia. President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev approved the state programme on the development of chess. Chess clubs are being built and chess is taught in schools.
In many regions of Russia – Khanty-Mansiysk, Yekaterinburg, Tomsk, Kabardino-Balkaria, the Chechen Republic, Kalmykia and Moscow – chess is being taught at schools. Chess is being introduced even in countries where it traditionally has not been popular (Mongolia, Thailand and Pakistan).

- Will they have to pass exams?

Yes, students would have to explain the difference between Spanish game and Sicilian Defence. If a first grader begins to study chess, it would help him to develop the left and right hemispheres. The left hemisphere is responsible for logic, that is, the child learns how to think logically. And the right hemisphere is responsible for creativity and imagination.
Chess helps children to develop both hemispheres at once. And since children adapt to new experiences, they obtain good results in other subjects: mathematics, physics and literature.

Alexander Ivanov and Elmira Mirzoyeva

Published by Oleg Barantsev
May 13th, 2013