After his recent re-election as president of the World Chess Federation, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov offered to answer questions from readers of The Times about the federation, which is also known by the acronym FIDE (for FÃ©dÃ©ration Internationale des Ã‰checs), and about his plans for the future of the game. Part one of the interview appeared Tuesday and addressed the federation’s plans to build a chess center in New York City and the recent election. This is part two. Part three will appear Thursday.
Organizing the World Championship
Question: Title matches and candidates events have been delayed, postponed and moved multiple times in the last few years because of organizational confusion. How do you plan to fix these problems?
I must correct you: After we shifted to the match system for the world champion title, it was played in accordance with the approved FIDE schedule. That was the case with the unified matches between Topalov and Kramnik (in 2006 in Elista, Kalmykia); Kramnik and Anand (in 2008 in Bonn, Germany); and Anand and Topalov (in 2010 in Sofia, Bulgaria). The only change (also planned) will likely be with the 2012 match in London. And this is at the request of the organizers and sponsors, who would like to link it with the Summer Olympics.
In a telephone interview after he sent in his written answers, Mr. Ilyumzhinov said that organizing the world championship was one of the most important achievements of his tenure in office. â€œWhen I met Juan Antonio Samaranch in 1995,â€ who was then the president of the International Olympic Committee, â€œhe said that the chess world has two world champions and two federations. You need to unite it,â€ Mr. Ilyumzhinov said. â€œIn 1999, the I.O.C. recognized FIDE as the only legitimate chess federation. Since 2006, we have only one world champion.â€
There have been a number of title matches held in the Caucasus in recent years, but few outside of the region. What about having one championship on a different continent each year?
Tournaments are held around the world, including in European cities. But the accent in chess events is shifting. Recently the bulk of our audience has moved to the Internet, where the fans watch games online. So from the spectator’s point of view, it isn’t that important where the competition actually takes place â€” in Moscow, London or Nalchik. The most important thing is their being organized perfectly.
We held the World Chess Olympiad in 2010 in Khanty-Mansiysk, and the participants, judges and journalists acknowledged it as one of the best in history. It’s possible that Khanty-Mansiysk grappled with the task even better than Dresden (Germany), Turin (Italy) or CalviÃ (Spain). And let’s remember that we’re talking about a small town in northern Russia. Is someone really going to get up now and say that we made the wrong choice?
I also want to note that the right to hold the 2014 Olympiad was won by the Norwegian city of Tromso, which created a 14 million euro prize fund for its organization. FIDE is determined to increase its geographical reach. As the readers of The Times correctly note, the number of chess fans in Asia and the Americas is growing. This year alone I have organized three tournaments: the Cuzco Cup in Peru; the Umada Cup in Trinidad and Tobago; and the Florencio Campomanes Memorial Cup in the Philippines. We’re inviting regions and cities to submit applications to hold FIDE events. Interest in chess is growing, and chess events will also help cities attract the attention of tourists.
In the telephone interview, Mr. Ilyzumhinov said that the choice of where to hold events largely was determined by who put up the most money. He cited the winning Olympiad bid of Tromso as an example. â€œIt is open tender, I cannot decide,â€ he said.
He also mentioned that it was not always clear where the most money for chess events would come from. He said that when a match between Garry Kasparov and a computer program called Deep Junior was organized in 2003 â€” the match ended in a tie â€” it was held in New York City as it was hoped it would be easy to find sponsorship. He said that did not happen and he ended up covering the $500,000 prize fund and organizing costs out of his own pocket.
Why is the women’s world championship decided by a knockout format, when the open one is decided by a long match? Will the women’s championship ever again be decided by a match?
Yes, beginning with the next cycle we will combine knockouts and matches. Experience has shown that some players perform better in matches and others in knockouts. By uniting the formats, everyone will have a chance to show their best side. I think this is the right option.
On the whole, using the knockout system was a temporary measure. Thanks to the championships, which brought together hundreds of players from across the world, we’ve substantially increased the geographical reach of chess, as well as the earning potential of the players themselves. Incidentally, the players are by no means opposed to the Olympic system. We carried out a survey, and no one was in favor of ending the knockout tournaments.
Sponsorship of Chess
Many of the world’s largest companies are based in Western Europe and the United States, yet there are few major events in either area. Will you try to bring more major international events, particularly world championships, to the West, which might build relationships with multinational companies to provide sustainable, lasting chess sponsorships? Have you talked to multinational companies in India (where chess is exploding in popularity because of Viswanathan Anand, the world champion) or in China, about such sponsorship?
I think it’s crucial to dispel the myth that chess has no corporate sponsors. They exist, and at the very highest level. A few representatives of the chess world are intent on distorting reality and misleading their colleagues. One of the reasons for this is the election campaign of Anantoly Karpov and Kasparov, which was based on criticism of myself. I admit that I was surprised when these respected ex-world champions spoke of a lack of serious sponsors. Take, for example, Gazprom â€” is this an insufficiently serious company in their opinion? We’re also working with Western institutions, particularly with BNP-Paribas.
It goes without saying that FIDE is ready to collaborate with any major corporations, both in America and across the world. We have a lot to offer them: Today around 500 million people are interested in chess, and that number is constantly growing. With regard to India and China, at the recent General Assembly, Chu Bo of China and Sundar of India were elected as FIDE vice presidents, a reflection of the massive interest in chess in these countries, as well as of FIDE’s commitment to working with them. Some results are already apparent: Chess was included in the official program of the Asian Games, which started on Nov. 12 in Guangzhou.
Why did you select Chess Network Company, which is small and has no track record, to find sponsors for chess? Did you look at other companies? How big a part in your decision was it that David Kaplan is an owner of Chess Lane, which is the primary owner of C.N.C.? Why not have the federation look for sponsors and keep all the money raised for FIDE instead of paying an outside company a large percentage of the money raised?
FIDE has several partners with whom we work to attract sponsorship, and C.N.C. is one of them. We are ready to engage seriously with any companies that are able to help attract sponsors and increase FIDE’s budget. In addition, FIDE is working very actively with sponsors on an independent basis. We are aiming to maximize our budget, just like a business would.
With regard to C.N.C., the company is working on a number of important projects for FIDE connected with increasing the commercial appeal of chess. For example, C.N.C. helped FIDE broadcast the Olympiad matches in real time. C.N.C. will also function as FIDE’s exclusive information agency and will provide all our partners with important information about the world of chess. By the way, FIDE has a stake in C.N.C.
As regards David Kaplan: I did not personally make the decision to work with this company, the decision was made by the assembly. But I’m glad that Kaplan is working with FIDE. He’s a famous chess patron, loves chess and is helping it to develop. C.N.C.’s projects require investment and business skills, and Kaplan possesses these skills. I repeat again that FIDE is open to collaborating with anyone who loves chess and is ready to work for its development and popularization.