Kirsan Ilyumzhinov: "Chess is not my profession but it's what I love"

- Kirsan Nikolayevich, what are your impressions about the Moscow stage of FIDE Grand Prix?

The most important thing is that 18 strongest chess players are fighting to challenge Magnus Carlsen. There are no draws. I, as President of FIDE, am satisfied with the game and how it was organized. I dislike scandals and would rather see everything organized. Chess players’ goal is to win the Grand Prix and to get into the contenders tournament. After that they will fight for title of the World Champion.

All the chess players, with whom I spoke, said that conditions were very worthy. That includes the Ararat Hyatt hotel, food and everything they saw in the centre of Moscow. I am pleased that one of the largest international tournaments is held in the Russian capital again. Historically, Moscow is known as one of the centres of development and popularization of chess.
- How would you compare it with the first stage of Sharjah Grand Prix?
It is reasonable. As the leader of FIDE, I oversee that players play and organizers fulfil their obligations.
- That is the viewpoint of organizers. What about chess players? Many games were played in Sharjah including very short ones, which ended in a peaceful outcome. The Moscow games were more confrontational but still fans want more.
At the opening, as you remember, I wished that there were fewer draws because the audience loves "blood". Fight to the last king and pawn. Well, the fact that chess players prefer short draws is their business. Some intend to get through a tournament without defeat; some want to save rating. Every chess player has his own plans.
- Recently you have visited Moldova and met with President Igor Dodon. What is the outcome of the meeting?
First, I would like to thank Igor Nikolayevich for actively developing chess in schools. I was a private sponsor in Moldova about 7-8 years ago. I myself allocated $100 thousand for school chess without involvement of FIDE. GM Viorel Bologan and I printed chess textbooks and chess classes were opened in 506 rural schools.
Having become the president of the country, Igor Nikolaevich continues to support chess. And in order to popularize it, he requests FIDE to consider the possibility of holding one major tournament in Moldova next year: either the World Women's Championship or FIDE Grand Prix stage or a major children's tournament.
- Has the tournament already been fixed or is this issue under consideration?
It is being considered. Igor Nikolayevich really liked the opening of the championship in Iran. He is fond of women. Holding the children's tournament is quite possible because children's chess is developing in Moldova. For example, I organized a children's tournament with him in Transnistria. Children from all over Moldova came to Tiraspol. Children of the united team will play in the White Rook tournament in Sochi.
- You are constantly on the move. What are your immediate plans and where are you going now?
Before Moldova, I was in the Sultanate of Oman, where I met with the leadership and the Secretary General of the Ministry of Education. They liked my idea and proposal very much. I'm going there again.
- What is the essence of this idea and proposal?
It is the introduction of chess as a compulsory subject in primary and secondary schools. It turned out that Secretary General is a chess player. He said that if FIDE provides them with methodological tools they would include chess in the budget. They are serious and ready to introduce chess in schools in September.
About five million live in Oman. Secretary General said that they would have acted as a pilot country in the Persian Gulf as the first country with a mandatory chess lesson. There are six countries. And they liked my idea of ​​"One billion chess players". I’m leaving for London on Tuesday morning. I plan to meet with two foundations. They want to participate in my charity programme "Chess in Africa". On June 2, I sign an agreement with "Prosveshcheniye" publishing house in St. Petersburg. They have already printed 150000 copies of children's chess textbooks. These were in great demand.
The general director of "Prosveshcheniye" publishing house made the first move in the tournament yesterday. On June 2, he and I will sign an agreement in the presence of many governors at the economic forum.
After that I will fly to Africa -- Zambia. A zonal chess tournament will be held there. There will be a lot of presidents and secretary generals of chess federations. Then I will go to Seoul where the elections are over. I launch the programme "Chess in village" this year.
- It sounds like music. Like a cowboy song -- "Chess in village"!
We discussed this issue in South Africa two or three years ago. President of South Africa Jacob Zuma supported the idea. He opened a chess school in his native village. They cannot build sports palaces, swimming pools or ice palaces and chess is the cheapest kind of sport for many African localities. Therefore, I decided to open chess schools in all small villages of Africa. This is my strategy.
Earlier, there was a programme "Chess in schools". I launched this programme and it is automatically spreading over all countries and continents now. We will launch the programme "Chess in family" this year. How was invented this programme and whose idea was it? I travel a lot, which means new meetings and new ideas that I adopt and introduce.
When I was in Moldova a month ago, I met with the leadership of the Ministry of Sport and the Ministry of Education. The deputy minister said: "I played with my son and my brother this morning." I asked: "How did you do it?" He said: "My father and my son play on Saturdays." And I had an instant idea about "Chess in family"! This idea was immediately supported by Moldova.
A week ago, I was in Moldova again. I saw first-hand how this idea was being put into practice. A tournament was held there, in which more than 100 couples participated. The family from Balti won. I awarded the winners. The following year, I will run for FIDE President, so the motto of my election campaign is "Chess in Family"!
My third charity programme is "Chess for every invalid." The day before yesterday, I and Alexander Motylev had a simultaneous game, in which children with disabilities participated.
There is my charity foundation "Kirsan" in Washington. It actively works on the largest American companies to attract them as sponsors of this programme. Every day they make a lot of phone calls. Ten days ago, I set up another "Kirsan" foundation in Belgium. Documents from the Justice Ministry have already been received.
- Is there any progress in your lawsuit with the US Treasury and what do you do to overcome this crisis?
The activities of the US Treasury were paralyzed to some extent at the final stage of the presidential election. Some employees left and others did not come. Currently, the US Treasury is understaffed, which caused a small hitch in the progress of my issue.
But, nevertheless, there was some activation recently. Correspondence is actively conducted. My representatives meet with the US Treasury in Washington. That is, we try to accelerate events. In addition, there is my claim to protect my honour, dignity and business reputation. And I hope that the new US administration will take a proper decision.
What is the most important for me? I want the US Treasury to admit that this is a purely political decision connected with the presidential elections in FIDE in 2014 -- when Garry Kasparov was rushing to power in FIDE -- and there were no financial violations on my part. This is the root of all evil.
And since this decision is political, I will fight and demand that they abolish it. And I still declare that I am ready to come to the US and give evidence in the CIA, FBI or the State Department. I am at their disposal.
I am even willing to accept the US citizenship in order to sue. This is because a foreigner cannot sue the state under US law. However, I'm ready to get a temporary citizenship just to prove my case. And by law, the US president can grant such citizenship.
And then I will prove my innocence in court. If the opposite side proves that I violated the American law or did something wrong for their country, let them imprison me for at least 10-20 years or put me on electric chair. I'm ready. But, as I will swear on the Bible, so the employees of the US Treasury will do...
And if the jury reach a verdict that the US Treasury is wrong then they would not only have to apologize publicly to me but also pay compensation. I'm ready for this. I have prepared a letter to Donald Trump. Consultations with lawyers about the timing of sending this letter are being carried out.
- Does this conflict affect your campaign by complicating your re-election?
No, it's okay. In general, everything will pass easily. I see no problem. I travel a lot now. I oversee progress of the programmes that I launched. The point is not what you promise but what you do.
I have been in politics since 1989. I was the youngest member of the Russian parliament -- the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. I was the President of Kalmykia for 17 years and the President of FIDE for more than 20 years. I did not get salary in Kalmykia. On the contrary, I invested all my money in development of the region: in housing construction and construction of Buddhist temples. I invited the Dalai Lama, the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia and I opened the Kazan Cathedral.
I did not work for money. I wanted to transform my native Kalmykia. Who would have thought that a small republic with population of 300 thousand, where, at that time, there was not a single three-star hotel, would be able to hold the World Chess Olympiad?
- But you had to build not only a hotel but a whole city -- City Chess.
Yes, we built a chess city. Everybody visited it including Karpov and Kasparov. I and Kasparov opened a branch of his international chess academy. I introduced chess as a compulsory subject in schools. I worked in Kalmykia not for money but for an idea, unlike some, who become governors and deputies to resolve their personal issues.
I built everything with my own money. And I organized Chess Olympiad with my own money. I built the palace with my own and my friends' money. Not a single budget rouble was invested. Same thing happened in FIDE.  I began to help chess a year before I became FIDE President in Paris in 1995.
On September 1, 1994, Garry Kasparov, the President of the Russian Chess Federation Andrei Makarov, the Vice President of the Russian Chess Federation Mikhail Baitin and the international arbiter Vladimir Dvorkovich, who worked with Kasparov, arrived in Elista with a request to hold the All-Russian Men’s Championship there in October. Incidentally, Peter Svidler became the Champion at that championship.
- After that all the championships of Russia were held in Elista.
They had no money. Not only that I held the championship, I also paid for travel, accommodation and meals for all participants and announced a prize fund of $100,000 in cash. Additionally, the winner’s prize was a Hyundai Sonata car, which Svidler got. By the way, Petya has repeatedly won championships in Elista, and he was even given the nickname "Petr Elistinsky".
I held six men’s championships and eight women's championships in Russia. Thus, I saved Russian chess. On September 1, 1994, Kasparov and Baitin asked me to help hold the World Chess Olympiad, because the Greek Chess Federation had refused to hold the Olympics due to lack of money in Athens in November.
I said: well, I'll talk with my friends -- sponsors. As a result, we held the Olympics in Kosmos hotel in Moscow. I allocated $1 million. You should add up $100,000 and a car for the Russian championship: that’s what I spent the year before joining FIDE. At that time I did not even think of any presidency in FIDE.
However, everything fell apart in Paris in 1995. Bashar Kouatly, supported by Karpov, ran for President of FIDE... Garry Kasparov, who always supported Florencio Campomanes, let him down and did not come to Paris... The situation was awful.
Campomanes told me about $1.5 million debt at FIDE headquarters in Lausanne. The match for the World Women’s Championship between Zsuzsa Polgar and Xie Jun was suspended. The match between Karpov and Kamsky was also postponed. And there was no money for Yerevan 1996 Olympics. There were neither Olympiads nor championships, the debts were huge and the organization was about to be closed. They asked for my help in such a most difficult situation.
And I began to help. I spent about $100 million of mine and my friends’ money within 22 years. We have united the chess world. All that time I worked not for FIDE or myself or my image. I worked for chess.
My grandfather taught me to play chess when I was five. I liked it and I always helped chess. When I worked at the factory, my friends and I put together chess tables for a chess club, which we organized and opened. After I became a rich man, I bought chess equipment for Russian clubs. When I became President of Kalmykia I introduced chess as a mandatory subject in schools.
Therefore, chess is not my profession but it's what I love. Some collect diamonds, others collect cars, yachts and paintings...
- Still you have bought the diamond crown from Kasparov.
Yes, I bought it but not because I needed that crown. I did it because Garry and his mother Clara Shagenovna asked me. The fact was that Garik wanted to sell this crown in Paris and to transfer money to the Armenian refugees. But the purchase and sale did not take place. The buyer from the Arab world disappeared. And the money had been already promised to the refugees.
I was well aware of the psychological state of Garik, so I decided to help him. Yes, I and Garik were friends and I helped him to do business. I went with him to Zurich, where I bought from him that crown, which was in my hands for only one day. Later, my businessmen friends took it for some business deals. After all, I did not buy it to keep it in a safe. And I didn’t buy it because I wanted to buy it, but because I simply wanted to help Garik.
-It was not the first and last time you helped Garry. Did you help him afterwards?
I did when I paid salaries to employees of his academy in Elista. And I helped him when he asked me to help hold the match against Shay Bushinsky computer programme Deep Junior in December 2002. I went with him to Israel, met with members of the government and bankers. They refused to help him, saying: "Garik, first pay all your debts!"
You know, he had received over $1 million from bank for his "Kasparov Academy" and the money disappeared without a trace. Later, there were some law cases. Garik responded that he came under the auspices of FIDE. I, of course, was pleased that he used us as a shield after he had continuously abused FIDE.
I spent three days looking for sponsors for Harry. And I do not regret it. We walked around Jerusalem. He went to the Western Wall for the first time in his life and he cried there. He even left a note that he pushed deeper into the wall, so that his friends would give him money. But they did not give any money.
Afterwards, Garik said that he had a chance to get money from the mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg. I flew to the USA. It looked like they would really help. 50/50. I had to allocate $500 thousand and so had they. I allocated my $500 thousand. I did it myself without involvement of FIDE.
In January 2003, we flew to New York and opened the match. The match was coming to an end but the American side would not provide money. Garik came to me asking for some money to pay for hotel, etc. The prize fund was $ 500 thousand and organizational issues amounted to $600 thousand more.
- Who paid it?
- I paid it! I paid even for a taxi. Kasparov’s team managed to spend several thousand dollars in New York. I asked Garik: “Listen, where the money is?” Neither money nor Bloomberg. Thus, both money and Bloomberg disappeared without a trace, although Bloomberg was considered to be a sponsor. Bloomberg was gone and I was left alone. The match was held under the auspices of FIDE. And again I had to take a bullet. That's how I was conned out of about $1.1 million.
We held this match, which ended with a score of 3-3. Garik and Shai Bushinsky got their prize money. I got, as a sign of consolation, a beautiful gold cup, which, according to the contract, should be handed over either to a winner of the match or to me in case of a tie. This cup, valued at $1.1 million, is in the museum of City Chess in Elista (laughs).
- Are you keeping in touch with Garry Kimovich these days?
No. I haven’t seen him since he lost elections to me in Troms in 2014. I suggested that he become FIDE Vice President after the elections, but he somehow avoided that issue. However, I'm still ready to cooperate with Garry. We in chess should have one interest -- to help develop chess.
If he is ready, he may join my election campaign. Let's do it together. He is well known and he is really a great champion. But his energy needs to be channelled into a peaceful choice. Meanwhile, he creates the "Democratic Russia", the "Other Russia" and changes his citizenship... It's time to settle down.
I take criticism positively. I'm calm in a Buddhist way. After all, I'm a politician. And if you get on this path and come to elected office, you must be prepared that they will not only praise you but scrutinize the dust on your shoes. They will criticize and scold you... Well…Maybe in my next life, which is going to be the 70th, they would blame me less.
Therefore, I am calm. I have no political opponents. I just work morally for my pleasure. I do what I feel is necessary for my country and my homeland. The Lord has provided us with the life expectancy from 60 to 100 years. And within this time, you need to realize your potential and increase the number of chess players to one billion on the Earth. You are welcome if you want to become an ally.
- You have also offered Anatoly Karpov post of FIDE Vice President, after you won the election in Khanty-Mansiysk in 2010.
I am ready to cooperate with him now. Earlier, I made same offer to Bessel Kok in Turin in 2006. I told him: “You have your own programme. Let's work together so that it would be implemented.” He told me he was too old. He was 64. I said: “Well, let's then create something together on 50/50 terms”. We have created the Global Chess. I allocated 2.5 million euros.
- Do you often visit Elista?
I haven’t been there for a while because I constantly travel and I am always on the move.
- Unfortunately, Chess City begins to slowly disintegrate.
It’s a pity that it is not being taken care of and no tournaments are held there. There is a lot to remember. For example, the battle of two giants: Spassky and Korchnoi in 2009, before Boris Vasilyevich got ill.  I opened Spassky School later. Initially we arranged lessons for Kalmyk children and subsequently for children of southern Russia and then children started coming from all over Russia.
Alexandra Kosteniuk came many times! She played for the national team of Kalmykia in the World Chess Olympiad in 1998. And I am grateful to Sasha that she had not forgotten Kalmykia and took patronage over one rural school. She provided it with computers and visited it several times to give master-classes.
- As far as the venue for 2018 Candidates Tournament is concerned, is there any certainty?
We have proposals and are considering them. They include Nazran, Tokyo and Seoul. The interest is not surprising. Maybe we shall announce our choice pretty soon.
Will the match for the world championship be held in Norway?
Let's wait. FIDE Congress will make a decision. What if some other country will offer more money? Let's not get overly specific.