Kirsan Ilyumzhinov: “I won a crate of beer in chess, but they gave me lemonade and a cake instead”

How chess helps in the army

When I was five years old my grandfather taught me how to play chess. And I learned the pattern: once you win you can take time off for a walk with friends or get candies. That’s how I became the champion of the street. Once, in my small provincial town they held a championship, where the prize was a crate of beer. Eleven participants were gathered and one more was missing for the game to begin. Very incidentally I was nearby and was invited to join the game.

I won all 11 games and tried to drag home the prize. “You are too young to drink!” the organizers told me and gave me a bottle of lemonade and an eight kopecks cake. Having quickly made calculations in my head, I was offended by them, after which I was given another bottle of lemonade. That’s how I realized that chess can provide something more besides moral recognition. 

I became a city champion in the first class and a republic champion in the third class. And I taught all classmates to play chess at school. First, I was bored playing alone. Secondly, I quickly understood: we will learn better playing chess. And so it happened: our class was best in academic performance in our city six months later.
When I was in the army I was spying on the sergeants playing chess. Once, after I finished sweeping the floor, I said: "Comrade Sergeant, you would have won if you did not move the queen to B4 tile." The sergeant was surprised and asked: "Hey, dude, do you really know how to play chess?" I offered them to play with my eyes closed: they will tell me their moves and I make my moves with my eyes closed. A few moves later I won against everyone. After that, I was freed from sweeping the floors and I played chess with them whenever I had free time. So, I realized that chess helps to serve in the Soviet army. And my whole squadron played chess after I became a sergeant myself.
Why everyone needs chess
After I became the President of Kalmykia, I introduced chess as a compulsory subject in all schools. Over the course of several years, our students’ performance has improved by 40 percent, and the commission on juvenile affairs simply had nothing to do.
Kalmyk students took the first positions among the 83 regions of the Russian Federation. In 1995, when I became the President of the International Chess Federation (FIDE) I began to introduce the Chess in Schools programme around the world. I visited more than a hundred countries a year and organized chess lessons at every school. What for? Because this is the only kind of human activity that simultaneously develops both hemispheres of the brain. When you figure out which piece you shall move, your left hemisphere, which is responsible for logic and numbers, is more active at the moment. However, you do not immediately move a piece but try to imagine what will happen after two or three moves. And that’s when the right hemisphere, which is responsible for creativity and fantasy, gets more active.
The earlier the child starts to play the faster it develops. Directors of many schools of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belgium told me that chess helps to improve academic performance and concentration. After we met with Director of UNESCO Irina Bokova she decided to make chess a fundamental item of the general cultural programme.
And when the former South African President Jacob Zuma was released from prison, after eight years of imprisonment, first thing he did was to open a chess school in his native village. That’s how I came up with an idea of ​​Chess in every village programme, which we began to develop with Zuma. Chess is not expensive sport; you don’t have to spend a billion on a new football stadium or ice rink. In any small village in Russia, Kalmykia, Japan or America you can find a room and place for a chessboard.
This game helps a lot. In Kalmykia, children with cerebral palsy improved their motor skills after a series of chess games. We worked with 250 autists in England and before our eyes they became more concentrated. We even tried to play with children with Down syndrome, and they adapted better to the world around them with the help of chess.
By the way, chess is recommended for all patients over 40 in the English hospitals, because it is the effective prevention of Alzheimer's disease. Or, to put it more simply, if you lose your memory play chess and your memory will improve.
About Bobby Fisher's debt
In December 1995, when I was just elected FIDE President, I set myself the task of playing chess with all the world champions. Once in Budapest, I was lucky to meet with the legendary American grandmaster Bobby Fischer. We played four games and I lost in all of them, although not at once. The most important thing is that I met him at all: he did not want to communicate with any of the Russians. A Soviet publishing house published his book, My 60 Memorable Games, but failed to pay royalties to him.
Thus, the USSR owed him one hundred thousand dollars, which I promised to give him. Fisher did not believe me and demanded that I bring cash. Also he asked me to bring him a kilo of caviar and a loaf of brown bread. His wife made Russian dumplings, we opened a tin of caviar and I took out money from the bag. He looked at those 100 thousand dollars and suddenly burst into tears and said: "For the first time I was not deceived." It turned out he had not been paid for Lessons from Bobby Fischer TV documentary broadcasted in NY.
In the end, we played chess until five in the morning, and then he took me to the airport. So I paid the debt of the USSR and the Russian Federation to Bobby Fisher. How much money did I spend on chess? About 100 million dollars of my money and the money of my friends and sponsors within last 23 years.
How chess will save the world
Chess is the most democratic sport: women, men, rich and poor play this game, which unites us all. It was not for nothing that in 1924 the founding fathers of FIDE came up with the slogan: “We are one family”.
I have a theory that it is through chess and integration that we will save the world, because there will not be so many wars on the planet. Judge for yourself: we have a lot of resources - oil, gas, water - enough for everyone, but for some reason people are fighting with each other. Why? I think it’s because there are few people in the governments who think two or three moves ahead before signing this or that decree. When I was the president of Kalmykia, all the ministers played chess. Churchill did the same thing: when recruiting people he asked if they played chess.
Several years ago, we together with a British statistical company conducted a study on how many chess players are in the world. It turned out that about 600 million people are either engaged in this sport or are familiar with the rules of the game. Therefore, I launched One Billion Chess Players - One Billion Smart People programme. Out of this billion, some will inevitably enter parliament, legislative and executive power. And the more chess players will be among politicians, the less wrong decisions will be made.