Profile: Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, chess player

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The Independent Online

What possible light could the man who heads the governing body for chess shed on the Libyan revolution?

Oh, ye of little faith. Mr Ilyumzhinov (bit of a mouthful, that) claimed on Tuesday that he had spoken with Colonel Gaddafi and his son Muhammed by phone as the rebels were attacking and that Gaddafi senior said he was alive and well and hiding out in Tripoli. "Do not believe the lying reports by Western television companies!" he told Ilyumzhinov. "I want to express thanks to everyone in the world who feels for the people of Libya. I am sure that we will be victorious." Before simply accepting this anecdote, we must remember that Ilyumzhinov, the former president of Kalmykia (no, me neither), once claimed to have been abducted by aliens in yellow spacesuits who had come to planet Earth to "take samples". Placing rather more credence in Ilyumzhinov's divinations in that inspired hour was a Russian MP, who worried that the Kalmykian overlord might have divulged state secrets to the extraterrestrials. Others suggested that he might just have been smoking the good stuff.

A man who believes in UFOs and the slightly less-than-sane Gaddafi: Lord knows how they ever became friends.

Though their shared passion for chess, it turns out. Ilyumzhinov became national champion at the age of 14 and bought his way to the presidency of Fide, chess's governing body, in 1995. Gaddafi's command of the game is less clear. As civil war raged on in June, the dictator challenged Ilyumzhinov to a game on Libyan TV. Experts said they could see Gaddafi being coached as the two-hour game played out, and in language too technical for this journalist to understand, representatives of former world champion Garry Kasparov's foundation roundly deemed the exhibition as a farce.

Let's hope we don't get the chance to see Ilyumzhinov vs Gaddafi part 2

Gaddafi's critics should be cheered that the Kalmykian dignitary paid him a visit. Ilyumzhinov went on another of his adventures during the death throes of Iraq's Baathist regime to see Saddam Hussein – and look how that turned out. Perhaps he shared with Gaddafi the secrets of his election victory in Kalmykia: namely by promising a free mobile phone for every shepherd and saying that Diego Maradona would play for the local football team.