Chess Against the War

I recently celebrated my 20th anniversary as the President of the International Chess Federation. It is a considerable period within the limits of human life. However, it is just a small moment for the ancient game entering not the first millennium of its history. Still, it is possible to try to comprehend the experience and the lessons in the recent years.

The last thing I thought about was the leadership of FIDE when I arrived in Paris on November 23rd of 1995. I was going to speak at the General Assembly in support of Elista as the venue for the XXXIII Chess Olympiad 1998. I had been preparing my speech and considered how I would talk about the construction of the Chess City and how Kalmykia would meet the best players from around the world...
Instead, I found myself in the midst of the raging passions. At that time the Federation went through the rough times: ‘The Professional Chess Association’ created by Garry Kasparov and Nigel Short tried to seize the power while FIDE was on the verge of bankruptcy.
In such a difficult situation the Russian grandmaster Anatoly Karpov and the President of the French Chess Federation Kouatly Bashar came to the conclusion about the need to replace the current head of FIDE Florencio Campomanes, who had reached the venerable age, by someone younger. For example, the very Kouatly.

First I heard about it from the Campomanes and later Karpov and Kouatly told me about their idea. However, they were not much successful in achieving that goal: very few supported Kouatly.
Then events took an unexpected turn for me. Campomanes suddenly told me that he intended to resign and to propose my candidacy to the General Assembly session. Karpov and Kouatly had been considering this idea for quite a long time. However, in the end they realized that my appointment would be the best way out of the situation.
Nevertheless, even that solution did not suit all. It was opposed by the Russian Chess Federation. Yuri Auerbach objected because my candidacy was unexpected and had not been discussed. The telegram from Russian President Boris Yeltsin expressing my support arrived in the morning. As a result, the Russian delegation still voted against me, remaining the only one out of all the voters.
I did not and do not feel neither surprise nor resentment about this. The man is the complex being and the chess player is even more so. However, when we talk about the whims of the great players you have to remember one subtlety. Chess is a unique tool that does not only sharpen the human intellect but also implicitly make all facets of human nature to be more prominent and bright.
It was not without a reason that Winston Churchill, before hiring a job applicant, was always interested if he was playing chess. At first glance, what's the difference if someone plays chess or dominoes during his leisure time? However, that was how Churchill determined whether a person was able to calculate the consequences of his and others’ actions for at least a couple of moves ahead. Chess teach exactly this capability.
Chess give one much more than the skill improvement of the game itself. The striking example is Mikhail Botvinnik. He is not the famous chess player only but also an outstanding scientist, whose methods Rosstat still uses and whose ideas formed the basis of the computer chess software.
You can also recall the world champion, remarkable scientist and the superb singer Vasily Smyslov. However, the main thing is that it was the most intellectual and cultural people. The same can be said about Alexander Alekhin, Tigran Petrosian, and the other great players. Amongst them such eccentrics as Robert Fischer look as an undisputable and quite acceptable exception.
On the average - and I think many will agree with me - the ability to play chess ensures that the player is the most thoughtful, patient and balanced person. It is true that nobody could call the chess a game for the weak-minded.
I used this belief to prove false the myths about Muammar Gaddafi once. When I met with him on June 12th, 2011 he did not appear in public, speak to reporters or make statements for quite a long time. The press was full of different versions: some wrote that Gaddafi had died; others declared that he went mad in one of his secret bunkers.
And that’s when I asked him to play chess. The chess set was found in the same room where we met. We sat down to pay the game and the pictures of it spread all over the world media before we finished. It became clear: Gaddafi was alive and quite normal to negotiate with.
Unfortunately, that game could neither stop the bombing of Libya, nor to change the fate of Gaddafi. But I believe that chess can stop the war. There are many legends about this.
One of them, an Indian, says that when neighbouring Rajas quarrelled and started the war between each other their land became derelict because all the men were drafted into the army. Advisers of both courts understood the meaninglessness of the conflict but could not dissuade the adversaries from the bloodshed.
When the armies met on the field of battle it became clear that the forces are equal and there was to be the bloody slaughter house in which there will be no winners. And then one of the wise men came up with a great idea: he whispered to his overlord that his opponent was the consummate chess player.
Raja, who himself played so that no one could beat him; was immediately enflamed with a desire to check it out. They put the tent in the middle of the battlefield and brought the expensive wood board and pieces skilfully made of gold and precious stones...
The chess games, especially ones that are played by the people sophisticated in this art do not end quickly. And, as it turned out, the mastership of the opponents was equal. The days dragged on and on, the games continued forever - neither could take over the opponent and did not want to give him.
The troops were waiting for a week, then another ... and when the weeks turned into months the soldiers began to disperse. That's how the war ended before it began.
The legend does not say whether those Rajas became friends and good neighbours. But it makes it clear that those two kingdoms were not destroyed by the war. Therefore, I do not understand the voices of those who are now opposed to holding of the Women’s Championship in Lviv, basing their position on the civil war in Ukraine.
I insist that the decision to hold the championship in Lviv has been clearly calculated and verified. Lviv was once the Soviet chess Mecca with the strong chess traditions remained. After all, that’s where the talented chess player Maria Muzychuk was born, who has won the title of world champion in a bitter struggle.
Meanwhile, Lviv did not held any major chess events since the mid-80s of the last century. And local veterans began to forget what the great chess happenings meant. I think it is wrong and unfair.
Moreover, I would like to recall the motto of FIDE: ‘Gens una sumus’ – ‘We are one family.’ This means that we have to promote and develop chess worldwide. Notwithstanding any circumstances.
Maybe someone considers it as the desire to achieve certain political goals. This is not true. Chess is out of the politics. Of course, some may not like my chess games with the Gaddafi and Bashar al-Assad. And maybe some are just trying to make money by declaring their wishes as reality. Well. Everyone eats his own piece of bread.
It's no secret that those who promote the global ideas cannot avoid making enemies. Almost certainly I made them. Therefore it is no wonder if they could be found among the influential businessmen and high-ranking politicians. Both need ‘the broad masses’ and ‘the ideal customers’ who thoughtlessly buy what is being advertised and resignedly vote for what the press imposes.
However, we in FIDE on the contrary need people that are thinking and understanding the consequences of their choice. Our main project ‘One billion chess players - one billion smart people’ is being successfully developed (800 million people play chess around the world today). It is not impossible that someone has decided that if Ilyumzhinov would be discredited the project will fade away by itself. These expectations are in vain.
I doubt that the people protesting against my meetings with Gaddafi or Assad or against the match in Lviv play chess. I will repeat again that chess teach how to calculate the moves, to anticipate the consequences of actions, to estimate the pros and cons. Those who don’t do it are risking finding themselves in, at least, an awkward situation.
It is for this reason that I decided not to run for the election in FIFA. Although, I must admit, my friends in many countries which I visited for the business purposes, - namely presidents, ministers of sport, leaders of national football associations advised me to do it.
The Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega was the best of all to formulate his position. According to him, everything became ‘corny’ in the football federation, it needs to be destroyed and rebuilt again. And it is impossible to do it without a fresh leader. "You will succeed”, - he told me, “you just have to break the corrupt bureaucratic system". You have already made it in FIDE where you put things in order”.
Ortega is a revolutionary by nature. However, the head of the Russian Chess Federation Andrey Filatov found other reasons. Speaking at the FIDE Congress, he expressed the opinion that in order for the development and popularization of chess and strengthening of its image we have to participate in the major international events such as the election of the FIFA President. That is to say, to give a helping hand to the brotherly sports federations.
I am very grateful to Daniel Ortega, Andrey Filatov and many other friends for believing in me, for their support. And yet, upon reflection, after considering all the pros and cons, I decided to reject the proposal.
I think the time has not yet come to focus on football for me. For the time being. And what will be tomorrow - there, beyond the horizon, over the sunset of the passing day? In truth, it is interesting even to me.