FIDE President: "Carlsen and Karjakin are my nominees"

Kirsan Nikolaevich, you have an interesting vintage phone.

I use it for 19 years since 1996 and never changed the number. It is stored on the phones of Henry Kissinger, Richard Gere and the Dalai Lama. Muammar Gaddafi knew it too. 200 countries! Once I forgot it on a plane, when I flew to New York. The most annoying thing was that I could not call anyone. Well, someone helped me. But then some people always call me! My working day starts at 7 am and ends at 3 am. That’s how it been since I was a student of MGIMO. Never in my life had I have holidays.

- What was the most unexpected call that you have received on this phone?
One day I went to see the Holy Fire in Jerusalem. I stood up all night, people around me have already started to fall asleep and some kind of a fight between believers nearly began... And at 6 am, some president wakes me up: "Christ is risen!" I wonder, of course, who could be the caller, but say: "Thank you." He laughs: "Truly, He is risen!" I thought it was prank. Then he asks: "Where are you now?" I say: "Why, in Israel." He could not believe it!
- Do you fly round the world in a private plane?
I had "Falcon 2000" but I sold it to build the largest Buddhist temple in Europe as I promised the Dalai Lama. It is 64 meter-high with 12.5 meter-high golden Buddha. Initially I invested 200 million but that was not enough to complete the building and that’s why I sold it.
- How Kalmyk New Year is different from the usual holiday?
It is tied to the Tibetan New Year because the Dalai Lama has always been the spiritual leader of the Kalmyks. The exact date of the holiday is determined by the lunar calendar and it is different each year.
I remember when we were small; we got up at 6-7 am, put on coats with plenty of pockets, and went from house to house gathering sweets. They usually lit a lamp and remember the dead at the homes with the statues of Buddha. They always bake bortsoki: dough is put into the hot oil and in the end it comes out in different shapes. We, by the way, say that the current year is the year of the chicken, not the rooster.
There definitely should be the pressed Kalmyk tea. It costed one rouble and twenty kopecks at those times. How to prepare it? Take the three-litre pot; fill it with water - a little less than a half. You would need some tea: every Kalmyk family has a small axe to chop it. The tea boils for five minutes, the water becomes brown and after that you should add a half-litre of milk. Put the fire off; add some salt, a little butter and nutmeg to the tea. In the end the grandmother took the ladle, scooped tea and poured it back. It must be repeated 108 times because a person lives 108 lives according to Buddhism. Additionally, when you do that, the tea gets enriched with oxygen. If you drink it in the morning, you would run for half a day.
- Did the players of "Uralan" drink that tea?
They tried. I know that Pushkin did not like it. Lenin's father Ilya Ulyanov drank Kalmyk tea only. Mendeleev drank it too because his grandmother was Kalmyk. Lavr Kornilov drank it as well. Boris Spassky and Gazayev liked it.
- Do Carlsen and Karjakin resemble Messi and Ronaldo of the chess world?
Carlsen is the only top player; all the others do not count. He is like a Norwegian bulldozer leaving everyone behind him. Still, Karjakin won a very important victory at the eighth game of the Championship, when he won with blacks after seven consecutive draws. Carlsen was shocked. He ran from the news conference. And then he almost lost the ninth game.
I remember how we held knock-out World Cup in Tripoli in 2004; it was the first official appearance of Karjakin. He and Carlsen were my nominees; I gave them wild cards when they were boys. And I am a fan of both of them. There is a fight for a place in the tournament: each federation is asking for its players. But I alone make the final decision after they bring me folders with dossiers. Additionally, I learn the opinions of my friends and journalists.
- Where did you watch the final game of the match between Karjakin and Carlsen?
I used to watch it on the few live broadcasts. For the first time in 92 years, FIDE President was not present at the match for the world title, can you imagine it? On 24th of November, 2015 I was included in the sanctions list due to ties with the leadership of Syria, which I did not hide. I and Bashar Assad have opened 3 storey chess centre in Damascus, I gifted thousands of chess boards and chess manuals.
I complained after I learned that I had been included in the list. I became the first of 10 thousand people under sanctions, starting with Fidel Castro, who brought the case to court. And who asked for a public hearing - with reporters and press conferences. That knocked them all down.
By law, you have to be defended only by American lawyers in the US court. I spent a month looking for those who would agree. On February 23, a large law firm has finally received a license from the Ministry of Justice on the protection of the suspect under sanctions. But the most important thing was the necessity to obtain the case against me as such. They didn’t give such cases to anyone before.
- What is in the case?
Here it is, you can examine it yourself. They decided to send it not to my lawyers but to me personally. They even asked my legal address. 46 pages! Take a look: it was sent on June 8. Half a month has passed. Did they ship it by a vessel? But the most interesting thing is that I was included in the list on the basis of Guardian articles, proclamations of Garry Kasparov and some other statements.
- So what exactly the US Treasury accuse you of?
That I am acquainted with two persons: the Minister of Economy of Syria and the President of the Syrian Chess Federation. I asked them to send all the necessary photos, invoices from hotels, and letters of Syrian children to the United States... After that I had to answer 200 questions of a special questionnaire. The questions like: what was I doing in Las Vegas in September 1999? What does it have to do with Syria? But I had to tell the truth: I and Bill Clinton opened the World Chess Championship.
- What was the most surprising question?
I received a letter from the Consul General of the US asking me to provide a list of countries that I visited since 2000 with the proofs of visits. I had five people doing that job for a week! They counted 1200 trips - an average of 80-90 per year. They have looked through approximately 30 passports. Luckily I kept all of them.
- At what stage are the proceedings now?
They didn’t answer after the presidential election. I gave them my phone numbers, saying that they could listen if they want to. Although they probably were already doing it... My lawyers said: could it be that they are consulting with the FBI and the CIA? Then I wrote a letter to the directors of the FBI, the CIA and Secretary of State Kerry saying that I was ready to pass the lie-detector test. A week later, they replied that there was no need.
After that I decided to provoke the situation and bought a ticket for Delta Airlines. Lawyers tried to discourage me, saying that I could be arrested for trespassing. But that was what I wanted! As I wrote that I asked the American justice to protect me from the tyranny of officials in full accordance with the Bill of Rights.
Thus, I bought a ticket and my visa was valid until 2018. And after check-in at the airport, two Delta staff members approached me, apologized and refunded money paid for the tickets. I said: "Hold on!  What is the legal reason for that?"  "Mr. Ilyumzhinov, well, you are a politician. There was an order." Besides, I have already phoned everyone in America on that night and said that tomorrow at 10 o’clock I will be standing at the entrance with my documents.
The US Treasury Deputy said to my lawyer: "Is Ilyumzhinov crazy? It is first case in 12 years that the sanctioned suspect comes on his own accord." The boys laughed, "It looks like you are going to showdown." As a result, the Americans themselves began to dissuade me from going. I said: "No, I want to look you in the eye!"
- At the same time, the match for the world championship was held in New York.
I could transfer it, but I did not do it. I always emphasized that it was a match in the memory of Bobby Fischer. Although none of the Americans did mention it. Besides, I promised the American chess fans a major tournament. It was my gift. You cannot be offended because of some politicians.
I know that Garry Kasparov went to the State Department several times, asking them to include me in the sanctions list as early as in 2014, because of the referendum in the Crimea. But it did not happen. I support the Ukrainian Chess Federation: I even arranged the Women’s World Championship in Lviv. I met with Poroshenko several times and have warm relations with Klitschko. We introduce chess in schools there and open chess pavilions in 16 parks of Kiev. I always support those who support chess.
-Did you personally talk to Kasparov on the subject of sanctions?
I've made a formal proposal to him for I have no enemies. When Kasparov lost the election in 2014, I went to the podium and said that I was ready to appoint him as Vice-President of FIDE. Or alternatively offer him an independent position: to be in charge of the international chess academy and the programme "Chess in Schools". And he just walked out of the hall. He was the only delegate who did not congratulate me.
I suggested cooperation to all my opponents. In 2006, my opponent was a Dutch billionaire Bessel Kok, who held the parallel World Championships with Kasparov in the 1990s. I offered him the post of the First Vice-President. But Cook said that he was too old - 64 years old.
- Why then was he nominated for the presidency?
He opened such a violent campaign travelling around the countries, that I made another proposal – to establish a Global Chess foundation for chess development. 50/50. I invest 2.5 million euros and so does he. Kok agreed and sent his proposals. We set up a company in Amsterdam because he lives there. I haven’t appointed a single staff member there. All the staffs were from Kok’s headquarters. But he did not give any the money. He used all of mine and after 2 or 3 years declared: "I cannot do it anymore."
- You said that you have made more than a thousand trips since 2000. Is North Korea the most mysterious country in the world?
I started with South Korea. They had three chess organizations and I united them. Now we plan a match: we will bring 100 children from Pyongyang and 100 from Seoul to play chess on the border between two Koreas.
North Korea is a very beautiful country. It is clean, quiet and safe. Kim Jong-un has given them some liberalization, and began to develop the private sector. It resembles China in the 1990s. For example, we could not get seats in an expensive Japanese restaurant because it was full! It was only possible to get a table for us after the President of the Korean Chess Federation called someone. There was karaoke and disco in the next hall. There were a lot of taxis and if there are taxis, it means that people can afford it.
- What was the biggest organizational difficulty that you had faced in Korea?
There are difficulties in Korea, but they promise to solve them for the chess players. The real difficulties are on the Ukrainian border: all men of military age are interviewed. I came to Lviv and my assistant was immediately taken away. And they asked me: "What is the purpose of your visit?" I answered: "To meet with the President." An officer woman looked at the passport: "Which president with? The yours one?" I answered: "Still with yours." She wondered: "Why, is he already being replaced?"
We were bombed In Libya; I came under fire in Syria. We had to sign a contract under the programme "Chess in Schools" with the Minister of Education of Libya. We arrived in the evening, I knew that the NATO forces bombed the city, but did not think that this was happening in the centre of the city. And they started bombing at 9-10 pm.
We stayed at the hotel, although we were offered a bomb shelter. In the morning, when we woke up we saw the half-destroyed hospital in front of us! They were aiming at the parliament building, but it was only slightly damaged by shrapnel. They destroyed all industrial and government agencies In Tripoli.
Gaddafi was a Buddhist, thus, he believed in reincarnation. During the last meeting, I talked to him about the transmigration of souls. I asked him: "Why don’t you leave?" He replied: "Kirsan, where would I go? I have lost the adopted daughter." She came under bombardment. They hunted Gaddafi trying to establish his location by his cell phone. Once he left and seven minutes later a bomb hit the house where his daughter lived. 15 people were killed: the guards, cook, nurse and 10 months old granddaughter. That was when Gaddafi said: "I buried my family and I know that I will be killed. But I would not leave my homeland."
And from Lebanon I went to Assad. I arrived in Beirut and was driving a white BMW for half of Syria. The vice-president of the Chess Federation of the country met me. The Assad Assistant wondered: "Why did they provide you with a soft-skinned vehicle?" And the fighters went on the road and shoot at everyone. A car in front of us caught fire. We found ourselves in a ditch, where we stayed until things calmed down. Good thing was that we didn’t drive too fast.
- How did the Vice President of Chess Federation reacted to all this?
"Well, it happens." Later the BBC asked me: "Why are you friend of the bad guys?" I asked them to precise if they meant Gaddafi. Sorry, are Rothschilds good guys? Nathan Rothschild asked me to introduce him to Gadhafi. They embraced each other for three days in Tripoli! And when Gaddafi came to London and bought weaponry for $ 10 billion he was good enough guy for you. Tony Blair met with him.
- Another well-known lover of chess, who was considered to be a bad guy, recently passed away. Fidel Castro.
Castro was a big fan of chess. They always put chess tables in the central square of Havana and GMs play simuls. I want to arrange something similar on the Red Square in the next year. Castro took part in such games a couple of times. The last one was about 6 or 7 years ago.
One grandmaster suggested ending the game with a draw, but Fidel said: "No, I will play to the end." And then he began to play with a boy, who was sitting beside him. And they even argued with each other: Fidel attacked and the boy hid the piece. The grandmaster asked: "Would you move or wouldn’t you?"
-Wat was the most emotional meeting in your life?
It was when Bobby Fischer cried. As president of FIDE, I thought it was necessary to talk to all the leading chess players. But Fisher answered that he would not talk to me because I'm Russian. I said that I'm not Russian, I am Kalmyk! However, back in 1991, he said that he would not communicate with anyone from the Soviet Union because he had been deceived.
"Physical culture and sport" Publishing House has published a book called "Robert Fisher. 60 memorable games." I learned how to play chess by this book; it is translated into 100 languages. But our publishing house did not paid any fee to Fischer. There was 100 thousand copies printed and he was supposed to get a dollar per copy.
Fischer wrote a letter to Gorbachev – no response. In 1991, He wrote to Yeltsin and his request was declined and not in the most respectful manner. When I learned about this, I asked Andre Lilienthal, the oldest grandmaster – he was 90 years old – to tell Fischer that I, as a citizen of Russia, am ready to take the debt on myself.
An hour later the phone rang: "You are talking to Bobby Fischer. Perhaps you know me?" This was one of the most memorable moments: Fisher was a demigod for me. He said: "I was told that you are willing to pay the debt of the Soviet Union. Is this a joke or are you crazy?"
I explained that, on the one hand, I want to thank him for his contribution to my development as a chess player, and on the other hand just talk to him. He was surprised: "Just to talk to me? What for? No, you're really crazy, if you want to meet with crazy Bobby."
- He lived as a hermit in Iceland?
- It was later. And then he gave me his bank account: Budapest, "Export-Import Bank." I told the accountant to transfer the money. And it was in the evening, too late for banking operations. Fischer called at night: "Have you transferred the money?" It turned out that it would be possibly in the morning only. To which Bobby responded: "No, I do not trust your Jewish banks! Take the cash and bring here."
The next day I flew to Paris: there was the chess evening with "Disneyland". Later on that day Fisher calls back to me: "Have not you taken off? I miss the Russian black caviar. They have Iranian here, but I do not like it. And fetch the brown bread." I came and Lilienthal took me to an apartment in the centre of Budapest. His wife had cooked dumplings and made some special cucumbers. I took out caviar and poured vodka. Bobby spread the caviar over bread and looked at me. Everything was done in silence. And I thought: now I will give him the money and - goodbye.
I took out the plastic bag. Bobby cut the plastic with the same knife that he used for caviar. He sees banking packages there: "Jewish too?" Then he asked if I had any friends among the Jews. But I had been warned: not a word about Jews. Fisher was an ardent anti-Semite, even though his father was Jew. And he hated them because his father left his mother. Eventually, I said: "Let's talk about the Mongols, about Genghis Khan."
Fisher, at this moment got out a ten thousand pack out of the package and started counting: 100, 200, a thousand...There were 10 packs and I had to depart at 6 am! Bobby counted 5 or 6 thousand. I was silent, Lilienthal was silent, and the wife stood waiting with the dumplings. Fortunately, Andre found the way out: "Bobby, while you are counting, the vodka is getting warm!"
And Fischer had a string bag under the table and he flushed all this mountain of money into it. Then he refilled some vodka, drank it with one gulp and cried. Once again he poured and got up to make a toast: "I have always been deceived. And here for the first time in my life a man brought me his own money!" There was a TV programme "Lessons of Bobby Fischer" in America and he did not receive a dollar from them.
Seeing an opportunity I suggested playing chess with Bobby. He crushed me in the first and second games, but I showed strong resistance in the third and fourth! It was unbelievable success for me as a chess player. Then Fischer accompanied me to the airport. We passed the waiting room but I could not understand why everybody turn and look at us. Did they recognize us? He was still wearing a cap... Then I saw dollars sticking out from the Fischer’s string bags of!
- What else can you say about Fischer except for that meeting?
He was sentenced to 10 years in prison and millions of dollars in fines in America. When they began to bomb Belgrade, he trampled the US flag and said: "This is an aggressor country." As a result, he was detained in Japan. And before that, I gave him a mansion in the "City Chess". And then he wrote: "Kirsan, I'm asking you to provide me a political asylum in the Republic of Kalmykia". The funny thing was that before that I was asked to help with a visa to the Dalai Lama, who had problems with it because of the Chinese. And then there's Fischer!
Bobby, by the way, read Russian newspapers. Sometimes he switched to Russian during the conversation. He told me that he had learned the language to become a champion. As a child, he came in second-hand bookshop and saw a book about chess. Possibly it was "My system" by Nimzowitsch. He asked: "What is this language?" And he bought a dictionary together with a book. So, here’s advice from Fisher: if you want to become a millionaire play chess, and study the Russian language. I always tell this story when I travel across countries.
- Once you said that the chess pieces should weigh a kilogram. What for?
Here's the story: chess is recognized as sports in 150 countries and constitute a part of the Olympic Committees of 117 countries. Since the 1930s, the UK declared definition according to which the sport is an activity where the physical exertion is involved. I arrived in London when there were parliamentary hearings. We showed them chess made of lead and I said that if you needed physical exertion, let us play such chess.
Prior to that, we have carried on the studies, which showed that players were losing up to a kilogram of weight during a single game. I talked a lot about it with Samaranch. By the way, he let the half of the Olympic Museum for a match between Anatoly Karpov and Vishy Anand In 1998. And he added: "The president of FIDE should also have a residence!" He collected his papers and left his office for my disposal.
Later, it was decided that the FIDE shall conclude an agreement with WADA. We have a commission, which monitors lists of prohibited substances and sends them to the national federations day and night.
The captain of Ukraine team Vasya Ivanchuk did not pass the tests once; he was nearly disqualified. In Dresden in 2008, during the Chess Olympiad, he was in a winning position, but instead of winning with a checkmate he got checkmated himself. He jumped from the table and fled. He had to pass the urine test after the match.
At that time I was in talks with some German minister and I got a call: "Vasya ran away!" Mind you, I had a cat called Vasya at home, so I wondered: "How did it escape?" It turned out to be Ivanchuk. Chairman of the commission said that the only thing that would save him would be his reappearance in an hour. But Vasya did not use a mobile phone. They found him in the Dresden Gallery at the Sistine Madonna. He said that he just wanted to see if the Pope really had six fingers or not. Do you know this riddle, same as Mona Lisa’s smile? Vasya, what fingers are you talking about? Rush back and hand over your urine!
- The incredible thirst for knowledge.
There was another amusing incident with Vasya. I usually finished my work at one or two o’clock in the morning. The ground floor guardian called: there was a chess player, who wanted to meet me. Besides, the Grand Prix was held in Kalmykia at that time. There was a game scheduled for the next day. And here came Ivanchuk with a stack of books. He sat down, opened one of them as if we had spoken just five minutes ago: "I've not understood the theory of emptiness in Buddhism..." I replied: "Vasya, what’s going on?" It turned out that he came to the Buddhist temple in the evening and began to examine the books. There was Lama at the moment and they struck up a discussion. Until the midnight!
The customs confiscated his money once.  He received the prize, put it in his pocket and did not declare. They asked Vasya: "Do you have any money?" He replied: "No". And then they discovered 10 thousand, 20 thousand, 30... They confiscated it all and we still cannot return it.
- About the money: did you ever calculate how much personal funds you have spent during your presidency of FIDE over the years?
Approximately $ 100 million and definitely more than $ 90.  For example: in January 2003, New York City Mayor Bloomberg has promised to donate money to the match Kasparov against the computer. Budget of the match was million and hundred: 50/50. The Government of Israel should have financed but it refused. In the end, Bloomberg paid nothing and I still had to pay extra for the rent, which he provided.