Benjamin Banlock: "Nobody promoted chess more than Ilyumzhinov"


Sometimes, sport, unlike other kind of human activity (except, perhaps, science), abruptly changes human destinies. It so happened that Cameroon Chess Champion, a participant of two Chess Olympiads Benjamin Banlock has been living in Russia for eight years. Strangely enough, initially, the native of Hot Africa chose to live not in Sochi or Anapa but in the Russian North, and moved to Moscow only a few years later.

He is a man who is not afraid of difficulties and accepts things as they are. That’s why his opinion is important. Cameroon Chess Champion Benjamin Banlock believes that chess players will miss Kirsan Ilyumzhinov as a FIDE president.

A kirsan.today’s reporter met with Benjamin to discuss what is happening in the chess world.
- Benjamin, please, tell us how did you end up in Russia?
Oh, it did not happen all of a sudden and not at once. The fact is that I'm a professional manager and chess is my hobby. On the eve of the 2010 Khanty-Mansiysk Olympiad, I joined our team as the national champion. However, we were not sure that we will be able to get there: the budget of our team would not allow us to buy air tickets. The President of FIDE Kirsan Ilyumzhinov helped us by taking over the travel costs of several teams including ours.
And so, when I saw the absolutely magnificent opening ceremony of the Olympics (you would not believe it, but I cried!), I realized that I want to become a professional chess player. At the same time, I realized that I could not do it at home. I began to look for a place to pursue further study. I visited France (you should remember that Cameroon was a colony of France) and Germany but it was very expensive to study chess there. However, I met one of my Russian friends in Germany. When he heard about my problem, he immediately called the K-64 chess club’ head Sergei Kondakov in Surgut. "Listen, a Cameroon champion is looking for a chess club." Kondakov did not hesitate and asked: "Where is he?" That’s how I came to Surgut.
- But it's very cold there!
Well, yes, sometimes it was minus fifty digress in Surgut. Yes, it's very cold there, but the people are very warm hearted. I have never met so sincere, kind and sympathetic people in any country of the world. I am glad that my acquaintance with Russia began with this city where I met the love of my life. I was studying chess in the K-64 club for several years and now I moved to Moscow. Here, I teach children chess as well as French and English languages. But, most importantly, I educate myself and improve my skills.
- Do they like chess in Surgut?
Yes! Maybe, a little less than in Moscow. There is only one chess club and the White Rook Academy that I know of. But they have many grandmasters. I saw Alexei Shirov and Shipov there. That’s where met the coach of the Russian Olympic women's team and the 12th World Chess Champion Karpov.
- And that is where you met your future wife?
Yes, I met my wife in Surgut. When I found my first job at the SKOL airline, she worked as a lawyer there, while I worked in the international department. After I moved to Moscow, she quit her job in Surgut, although she was already the head of the legal department, and came to me to Moscow. We officially married a year ago in 2017. And we already have a daughter.
- Congratulations! I know that you often meet with Ilyumzhinov in Moscow. What do you think about his leaving FIDE?
My dream was to personally get acquainted with him since Khanty-Mansiysk. Ilyumzhinov dramatically changed my life, but this’s how he is in general - he changes everything around him. Now I'm almost completely Russian. I just have to perfect my language skills, but I'm working on it. I managed to get acquainted and talk with him.
I'm sorry that he decided not to run for FIDE president. It seems to me that chess world is losing its best president and an outstanding person. Moreover, it is not only my opinion. I talked with many chess players who share this point of view.
Now children are taught chess in schools of many countries. Kirsan did much for the development of children's chess - it was a special concern of FIDE President. He helped FIDE many times. I cannot see anyone who is able to do it now. It happened so that he supported African teams, and he helped us many times. The whole continent loves him. We always missed Kirsan if he was away for a long time.
Ilyumzhinov is not just filled up with new ideas – look at his Chess in schools and Chess for Children programmes as well as tournament innovations – but he is ready to finance their promotion. I do not know anyone who will be able to do for chess as much as Kirsan Nikolayevich did. I just do not see such person.
On the other hand, one cannot say that his ideas will not be fulfilled. For example, we intend to hold the Kirsan Cup on the African continent next year. Nothing like this has ever happened before. This is a sign of our deep respect to Ilyumzhinov, who always have been by our side and helped the African chess players.
- Ilyumzhinov used to say that he was interested in realizing himself not only in chess but in Buddhism and business. What do you think about the future of chess world without Ilyumzhinov?

I think it will resemble a child entering the university that is left without parental care. Ilyumzhinov loves chess as people love their children and if he will be engaged in other activities he would not be able to pay so much attention to chess. Mind you, he devotes an incredible amount of time, energy, love and his soul to our game. I'm afraid that without all above it will be rough time for all of us, chess players.
I do not know who will be the next President of FIDE, but in any case it will be difficult to surpass Kirsan Ilyumzhinov.
- You mentioned Kirsan Ilyumzhinov's Chess in Schools programme. How useful is chess education from an early age?
I taught children chess in Surgut. However, for certain reasons, it was a chess course in English. Parents really liked it: we started with two groups and ended with eight two years later! The explanation is simple: chess improves concentration, logic and endurance. Children begin to develop their strategic capabilities – to understand the consequences of their actions and moves. In addition, chess promotes emancipation. What is most important is that children themselves like chess.
And you know what? Chess is incredibly conducive to mutual understanding. You understand that I, being not Russian, could not communicate with children at once. But chess became our language, which helped us to converse.
And I am very glad that chess schools appeared in my country now. I am confident that chess will help develop not only Cameroon or Russia, but the whole planet and the whole of mankind.