Garry Kasparov returns to face his fiercest opponent: The head of world chess

The grandmaster has set his sights on the position of the Buddhist, alien-believer incumbent

Garry Kasparov, the chess grandmaster turned activist, has engaged his toughest – and oddest – opponent yet in the form of a millionaire Buddhist former goat-herder and politician who believes aliens will destroy the planet if people do not play enough chess, a game he says they invented.

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov has also been president of the World Chess Federation for almost 20 years, surviving attempted coups, accusations of corruption, and ridicule that peaked when he described how he was transported to a distant star in a spaceship that had landed on his balcony.

Now Mr Kasparov, 50, wants Ilyumzhinov’s job. The grandmaster, who was known for his aggressive opening play in a career spanning decades, has announced he will run  for presidency of the federation, known by its French acronym, Fide.

Mr Ilyumzhinov, who counted Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi as friends, was first elected to the post in 1995, two years before his reported alien abduction. His match against Mr Kasparov will run until a victor emerges at the Chess Olympiad in Tromso, Norway, next August.

In a game frequently beset by the political machinations of large egos and bank balances, Mr Kasparov tried to woo Fide’s 158 member nations by claiming Mr Ilyumzhinov, 51, had put off corporate sponsors.

“Anybody Googling Fide sees he is dealing with someone who is taken by aliens and is playing chess with Gaddafi,” he told the New York Times.

The Gaddafi game came in 2011, when Mr Ilyumzhinov entered Tripoli at the height of the civil war to take on the country’s leader in a bizarre tie broadcast on Libyan state TV from a five-star hotel. The game ended in a draw but would be Gaddafi’s last public appearance – he was captured and killed four months later.

More than a decade ealier, Mr Ilyumzhinov had offered Saddam Hussein a four-acre plot of land in Kalmykia, the Russian republic on the Caspian Sea where he was born, and which he ruled as President from 1993 to 2010.

In 1998, Mr Ilyumzhinov hosted the 33rd Chess Olympiad at Chess City, a controversial glass-pyramid monument to the game he built at great expense in Elista, the impoverished republic’s remote capital city.

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, president of the World Chess Federation (Getty) Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, president of the World Chess Federation (Getty)
The eccentric never achieved greatness as a player but, inspite of what one chess insider described as his “lunacy”, he is admired by many in the chess world for his passion for the game. But he has also faced accusations of bribery and voting fraud, which he denies. Defeated challengers to the title of Fide president include Anatoly Karpov, one of Mr Kasparov’s big former rivals.

Mr Kasparov has built up a formidable army, meanwhile, including Rex Sinquefield, a chess-mad American philanthropist from Missouri. Their challenge is to win over member states loyal to Mr Ilyumzhinov. Each country, from Russia to Rwanda, has a single vote of equal value. “I have resources that can help me to run a global campaign,” Mr Kasparov said.

The move marks a deviation for the grandmaster. Since his retirement from chess in 2005, Mr Kasparov has thrown himself into politics, becoming a figure of opposition to Vladimir Putin. Earlier this month, the European Court of Human Rights ordered the Russian government to compensate Mr Kasparov for his 2007 arrest.

Ilyumzhinov plays chess with Muammar Gaddafi in Tripoli in 2011 Ilyumzhinov plays chess with Muammar Gaddafi in Tripoli in 2011
At stake in Oslo next summer, apart from personal reputations, is the future of a game that has struggled to win the recognition of sports federations or sponsors. Andrew Paulson, the American entrepreneur and newly-elected president of the English Chess Federation, says it would be too early to support either man, and wants focus on the game to shift from boardroom wrangling to the chessboard.

“I want to turn chess into a spectator sport and find ways of organising it so it is consumed as entertainment as well as game,” he told The Independent. Among his first moves, he added, was to campaign for chess to be recognised as a sport in the UK.

Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Sport
sportVan Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Life and Style
Martha Stewart wrote an opinion column for Time magazine this week titled “Why I Love My Drone”
lifeLifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot... to take photos of her farm
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Environment
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
News
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices