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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
Fifa corruption: Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

But if a real smoking gun is found, that might change things, says Tom Peck
Twenty two years later Jurassic Park series faces questions over accuracy of the fictional dinosaurs in it

Tyrannosaurus wrecked?

Twenty two years on, Jurassic Park faces questions over accuracy
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
Genes greatly influence when and how many babies a woman will have, study finds

Mother’s genes play key role in decision to start a family

Study's findings suggest that human fertility is still evolving
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
England can win the Ashes – and Elvis Presley will present the urn

England can win the Ashes – and Elvis will present the urn

In their last five Test, they have lost two and drawn two and defeated an India side last summer who thought that turning up was competing, says Stephen Brenkley
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)