Kirsan Ilyumzhinov: “Chess Come to us From Another Civilization”

Last April the team championship among the women's chess players was held in Chengdu - the capital of Sichuan province in China.  Moreover, FIDE plans to hold The Children's chess tournament in China next year, the symbol of which would be a panda.
The president of the International Chess Federation (FIDE) Kirsan Ilyumzhinov explained the reasons of the popularity of chess in China, how the state ‘cultivates’ the world champions and what was the cause of chess boom to the columnist for the magazine ‘Moscow – Beijing’.

‘MB’: Kirsan Nikolayevich, can we say that chess is experiencing a rebirth these days?
Kirsan Ilyumzhinov: Once the main chess nation was the Soviet Union. After its collapse chess was still popular in the former Soviet republics.  When I was elected the President of FIDE in Paris on the 24th November of 1995, I thought that such situation existed everywhere in the world.  Unfortunately, they did not know much about chess even in Paris.
Then I began to visit all of the chess federations.  At that time there were about 140 member countries, now we have 186 members. I often travel to Europe. Chess was more or less popular In Germany, they heard of its existence in England.  But when I came to Asia, it became clear that nobody knew anything about chess there.
They were playing Chinese chess in China, the Korean in Korea and Vietnamese in Vietnam. That’s when we began to develop and popularize the classical chess.  Nowadays there are tens of thousands of competitions and 600 million people play chess in the world.
‘MB’: It looks like that as far as the chess is concerned; China is following the example of the Soviet Union.  Is China able to claim the status of the chess nation?
K.I.: As far as China is concerned, I may tell you that I was invited to the commission of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China in January 1996.  They had to decide if the state should support the international chess.  I told them all about the international chess.  As a result, it was decided to support the development of chess in China.
‘MB’: What was the reason for this decision?
K.I.: At that time China was not a member of the WTO.  I was given the translation of the commission report made by the chairman who was the 85 years old man.  He said: "China is now being integrated into the world economy and its political system and is on the verge of joining the WTO therefore we have to participate in all the international organizations and federations.  If FIDE has united more than one hundred chess playing countries then China should be the leader of this activity".
That’s how it all started.  After that they had allocated millions of yuan for the development of children's chess.  I was amazed by that fact. Can you imagine the amount of that sum for children's chess alone?  We all say that the Russia is the chess nation but we still do not have compulsory chess lessons in schools, while they have it in China.
‘MB’: Chinese chess players became world champions several times.  How did they achieve such results?
K.I.: They did it by quantity.  They teach chess everyone practically everywhere - in kindergartens, schools and universities and the best players are selected.  That was how all played chess in the Soviet Union and it is repeated in China now.
By the way, the chess is included in the schools as a compulsory subject in many countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Mexico.  Why is that?  Because everyone realises that chess develops the culture, mind, logic, concentration and discipline.
When I was the President of Kalmykia we introduced chess into the school curriculum in 1994, and after one year the overall results increased by 40% in the schools where chess were actively promoted.
‘MB’: You are going to hold children's chess tournament in Chengdu.  Why exactly there?
K.I.: Chengdu authorities show great interest in chess.  There are the chess training courses, the chess school and the chess academy.  I met with two vice-mayors of Chengdu; they told me that the proposal for the opening of the FIDE representation there is under discussion.
In mid-April, we held two tournaments: the team championship among men in Yerevan and the championship among women in Chengdu.
As far as the children's tournament is concerned, the idea arose when we walked round the panda national park.  I saw that pandas were either black or white.   Like chess pieces. Like yin and yang.
Where chess was born?  Possibly in India, and perhaps in Persia.  Or in Peru.  Or in Japan.  However, there is always the black and white board.  It's like a message.  There is a version that chess came to us from another civilization.
We agreed with the leadership of Chengdu to hold the international children's chess tournament ‘Panda’ there every year.  And, of course, its symbol will be the black and white pandas.
‘MB’: Do the traditions of the Russian and Chinese chess schools differ?
K.I.: The Chinese chess develops on the basis of the Soviet chess school.  When the Union collapsed, all of our schools and GMs were scattered over the world.