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
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
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

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power