Ilyumzhinov’s strategy

I would like to tell you about Kirsan Ilyumzhinov as a person who imparts the gift of a strategist. As a person who is able to look into the future and find a way out of the most difficult situations. In my opinion, Ilyumzhinov demonstrated this ability to great effect during his work as FIDE President.   In this connection we shall recall that when the outstanding Soviet chess player, the sixth World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik gave the assessment to the third FIDE President and the fifth World Champion Max Euwe he wrote:  

“Max Euwe was a pragmatist. He easily adapted to changing circumstances. That was the way he lived and played chess. He studied everything that was published about chess. Therefore, Euwe was well-versed in well-known strategic techniques. But a pragmatist cannot be a strategist and a strategist cannot be a pragmatist... In a difficult situation, a pragmatist chooses the most “convenient” solution. That’s when I understood that a pragmatist should not be a president.”
But Ilyumzhinov, as they say now, is not a pragmatist. Very often he made "inconvenient" and illogical, in terms of established traditions, decisions. That, of course, provoked a lot of questions among his pragmatic friends and foes.   But an amazing thing is that quite often completely illogical actions led to an unexpected victory in the end. Thus, he showed that his style of thinking was the style of a strategist. Ilyumzhinov, when asked about his   “unusual”, from the point of view of pragmatists, decisions, answers as follows:
“I was both a MP and a president. My every decision was made in accordance with the following principle: “First think and then make a move”. And you better think not one move but five or six moves ahead”.
The talent to make extraordinary decisions and be able to calculate their consequences is a special skill. Where did he learn this? There is one answer: we all come from childhood. It holds the roots of our victories and achievements. The game of chess is a contest of minds and human logic. At the age of five, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov’s grandfather taught him to play chess. That’s how the 6th FIDE President was acquainted with this great ancient game.
In those years in the USSR, chess was the significant socio cultural phenomenon like nowhere else in the world. Leading grandmasters became objects of worship. Mikhail Tal was carried on arms from his train car after his victory over Botvinnik in 1960. When Petrosian in 1963 during a match with Botvinnik was climbing the stairs of the Variety Theatre, his Armenian worshipers scattered the holy ground from Echmiadzin at his feet. Prominent chess players were real folk idols in the USSR. The Soviet chess school was the best in the world. It constantly demonstrated its superiority by winning all major competitions, including most of the matches for the world champion title.   
Moreover, chess became a chance to make a good career for young people. Representatives of many nationalities and people from different backgrounds were among the outstanding Soviet chess players. The 6th World Chess Champion Botvinnik spoke about himself: “I am a Jew by blood, Russian by culture, and Soviet by education”. So, the desire of Kirsan Ilyumzhinov’s grandfather - to make his grandson a chess player - was quite reasonable and consistent with the spirit of the times.
The results were not long in coming. Very soon, the young Kirsan became the leader of the children's and youth chess teams of the Republic of Kalmykia. At the age of 14, he became chess Champion of Kalmykia. It was an unprecedented event in the history of the Kalmyk chess of those years. Later in Moscow, in his student years, Ilyumzhinov became the captain of MGIMO team and Moscow Champion among students. He also became a Candidate Master.   At that time it was an exceptional success for Kalmykia. Its sportsmen had never previously achieved such serious successes in chess outside their republic.
Ilyumzhinov had every opportunity to become a qualified chess player and take a worthy place in the Russian chess elite. But he decided to become a professional politician and diplomat. It’s amazing but it was owing to this decision that, after a while, Ilyumzhinov became the 6th FIDE President.
I would like to note that Ilyumzhinov’s way to politics and diplomacy was not quite ordinary: he went to work at the plant after school, and later he went to serve in the army. After the Army, he entered the preparatory department of MGIMO. And as a result, he began to study at a prestigious university when the majority of his classmates had already finished student life and began their working career. It seemed that Kirsan Ilyumzhinov was hopelessly behind them, but everything turned out quite differently in the end.
And again Kirsan Ilyumzhinov makes an unexpected decision. He gives up his career as a diplomat and goes into business. Having won a competition in which one hundred applicants participated, Ilyumzhinov became a CEO of a Soviet-Japanese firm. Soon, Ilyumzhinov was talked about as one of the most successful businessmen in Russia. However, and quite unexpectedly even for his own parents, the young businessman abruptly changes his destiny and becomes a candidate for the Presidency of Kalmykia.
And he triumphantly wins the election! About a year after that, he becomes the President of FIDE. Many thought that this was a temporary decision but 23 years passed before Kirsan Ilyumzhinov left his post and refused to participate in FIDE elections in favour of another Russian, Arkady Dvorkovich.
In an interview, Ilyumzhinov said: "When you turn 18, according to the Constitution, you can be elected, and you can elect anyone. So to the age of 18 we are actively involved in political life. Therefore, we are always in politics. As for chess, it has always been associated with the politics. Recall the match Karpov vs Korchnoi. Korchnoi was a dissident. And Kasparov was a child of perestroika. Or Spassky played with Fischer - whose system is better: an American or Soviet? America against the Soviet Union".
This list proposed by Ilyumzhinov can be continued. The confrontation between Botvinnik and Tal in the early 60s was perceived as a confrontation between the old and the new in the life of our country. And there are many more such examples. So one cannot but agree with the postulate expressed by Ilyumzhinov: "Chess has always been associated with politics."
We should remember that in 2010 Yakov Yudovich, a famous scientist and chess player, in an interview noted: “Kirsan did more for chess than all his predecessors put together.” And further in his speech he stressed:
“The main thing is that Kirsan sponsored world chess elite at his own expense all these years. He had to do this after the large corporate sponsors left chess (LEFT! Which means they EXISTED) because of the stupid, childish ambitions of chess grandees who did not want to reckon with anything other than their narrowly selfish interests.”
While agreeing with Yakov Yudovich and on the basis of my conversations with well-known chess players, I would like to note that one of the reasons of the chess crisis, which Ilyumzhinov had to deal with, was the erroneous interest of chess grandees in chess computer competitions.
“Nobody runs a race against a motorcycle,” said one of the famous chess players. Many people still think that this interest has done tremendous harm to the development of chess. And we are lucky that during the crisis period, a person with an undeniable strategic gift turned out to be FIDE president to the great benefit of chess. Today, everyone acknowledges that the FIDE course, under the leadership of Ilyumzhinov, on promoting chess in training programmes and development of mass chess received deserved recognition, and strengthened the authority of the oldest sports organization in the world.
Chess is a unique sport. It is dominated by the mind and intellect. It is not a demonstration of power but a triumph of the intellect. And, of course, chess sends both hidden and obvious message to humanity, which Kirsan Ilyumzhinov tirelessly reminds us of: all problems can be solved at the chessboard. It was precisely the kind of chess that Kirsan Ilyumzhinov managed to maintain thanks to his not-always-pragmatic decisions.   

Sandzi Buvaev