Ilyumzhinov's dream: a billion chess players

- What did you do first when you became FIDE President?
- When I became FIDE President. my first task was to meet and talk with all the World Champions - Bobby Fischer. Nona Gaprindashvili, Vasily Smyslov. The second task was to travel around the world.
At the same time. I noticed that people didn’t know how to play chess in many countries: Vietnam. Mongolia. and some European countries. When I realized the depth of the problem. I started supporting professional sports. I organized the World Cup. introduced the Grand Prix. And all these competitions were held with my money and with the funds of my sponsoring friends and not at the expense of FIDE.
My second task was to develop chess among the people. especially children. I started implementing the Chess in school programme in many countries of the world. I have signed agreements with the ministers of education of these countries to introduce chess into the school curriculum as an optional or compulsory subject. Now this programme is working in Mexico. Cuba. Ecuador. Mongolia. Vietnam. Zimbabwe. Azerbaijan. Armenia. Lebanon. Syria. Iraq. Libya and many other countries. By the way. chess is introduced as a subject in schools in a large number of Russian regions now.
- At the age of 15, you have headed the adult chess team of Kalmykia. How much has chess helped you in your life in general? Is it possible, thanks to this game, to be a few steps ahead of rivals in life?

- I have been playing chess since the age of five. when my grandfather taught me. At the age of 15. I became the head of the adult national team of Kalmykia. Chess taught me a lot. On the one hand. Chess is logic. a hard and precise calculation. and on the other hand. it is creativity and imagination. The left hemisphere of our brain is responsible for thinking and calculating moves - pure mathematics. And in politics. in life. and in business it always helped me - I always calculated the "moves" in advance. In the Russian language there is a proverb “Measure seven times but cut once”. So in chess. you first have to calculate all the possible scenarios for development of events. And all this. of course. is transposed into life.
On the other hand. when you calculate the moves. you cannot physically move the pieces across the field. you have to do it in your mind. Some kind of 3D picture appears in your
head several moves ahead. And this is creativity and resourcefulness. This is a spatial imagination. When these two qualities intersect, it helps a lot.
- When you were President of Kalmykia, did you pay much attention to chess?
- When I became president of Kalmykia in 1993, the first decree I signed was a decree on the development of chess and the introduction of chess into the school curriculum. And by the example of Kalmykia children, I became convinced that chess is very beneficial. Academic performance increased by 40%, discipline improved, children became more concentrated, and memory began to improve. And children from Kalmykia, where before that there was not a single first-class chess player, began to become champions of Russia, Europe and the World.
- Is the practice of introducing chess into the school curriculum widespread in the world?
- Well, as I said, at first chess was introduced into the school curriculum in Kalmykia. And then it began to spread to other regions of the country, for which I am very grateful to the local governors - Tomsk Region, Republic of Tatarstan, Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug, Pskov Region, Belgorod Region and many others.
When I began to travel around the world, I passed on our experience and methodological manuals. For example, Armenia introduced chess in schools twice a week as a compulsory subject in all schools of the country. A state programme for development of chess has been working in Azerbaijan since 2009. There are about 200 thousand schools in Mexico. They first introduced it as a pilot project in ten schools. Then they saw that a year later, that the academic performance had increased significantly, and they introduced chess as a compulsory subject in all schools.
When the President of Vietnam was on a visit to Kalmykia, I invited him to one of the schools, and he saw the first graders playing chess. He really liked the idea, and he sent the Minister of Education to learn from our experience. And now, chess is a compulsory subject in more than 1200 schools in Vietnam.
Chess is practiced in schools in many countries: Mongolia, Spain and many schools in the United States.
Recently I was in Zimbabwe, where I opened the African High School Championship. Now they are preparing a decree on the introduction of chess in all schools of the country from January 1, which are about ten thousand schools.
15 years ago, when I opened the chess academy in Singapore, only three students came there - children of Russian diplomats. Now more than 50 thousand people are playing chess, and the demand continues to grow. I talked to many parents there, and they told me that their children are becoming more competitive than others are. Singapore is a developed country, and they know perfectly well what to spend time and money on.