April 13, 2010 18:32

FIDE elections: meaningful and meaningless support

Ilyumzhinov vs KarpovWe haven't given much attention to the upcoming FIDE presidential elections in Khanty-Mansiysk yet, but the recent news that the United States Chess Federation and the German Chess Federation have given their support to Anatoly Karpov, there's no escaping the facts: the campaigns have started, and the political games have begun.

In this article, we want to give some background information regarding the various aspects of the upcoming FIDE presidential elections in Khanty-Mansiysk this fall. First, we'll discuss the letters of support for the two candidates (Karpov and Ilyumzhinov), who wrote them and why. Next, we'll cover some of the practical and theoretical implications of these endorsements. Finally, we compare the current situation to Turin 2006, when Ilyumzhinov managed to beat his opponent Bessel Kok.

Support for Kirsan Ilyumzhinov
A few weeks ago, ChessBase reported in two separate news items about supporting letters for current President Ilyumzhinov. First, Turkish Chess Federation President Ali Nihat Yazici (a FIDE Vice-President and candidate himself for the upcoming presidential elections of the European Chess Union) expressed his support for Ilyumzhinov in a lengthy letter. Just two days later, four letters from FIDE continental presidents (Africa, the Americas, Asia and Europe) were published, also supporting the current FIDE President in often strikingly silimar prose. The second paragraph of Boris Kutin (ECU) and Dabilani Buthali (African Continental President) are in fact identical, suggesting the letters have been mutually composed.

Some of these letters are difficult to read without feeling embarrassed by their subservient tone. A closer look at, for instance, Mr. Yazici's arguments for supporting Ilyumzhinov reveals some of the utter superficiality of these letters of support.

Ali Nihat Yazici

Ali Nihat Yazici

  • "Mr. President has spent more than 50 million USD from his personal pocket for FIDE during his presidency of over 15 years. I believe that this should be respected."

There are several things to note here. First of all, if all the money was spent out of the President's 'personal pocket', what happened to his promise to attract more corportate sponsors, one of the main goals of Global Chess? (A company which, by the way, recently ceased to exist.)

Even more conspicuously, why didn't the President spend some of this money on the rather miserable situation in his own country, Kalmykia, which is one of the least developed former Soviet states? It's a thousand-times repeated complaint that Ilyumzhinov likes chess more than his own people, but to actually use it as an argument for chess, as Mr. Yazici does, is really a totally unheard-of approach.

  • "The situation of World chess today is in a fantastic condition compared to 15 years ago. Kirsan has united the World Championship title."

In fact uniting the World Championship could also be described as one of the biggest failures of Mr. Ilyumzhinov (we’ll just continue addressing him formally) as a President. He only succeeded after more than ten years of hopeless debates, arguments and all sorts of bad publicity for chess, and this is even generously ignoring the often-heard suggestion that he might actually have been the cause of some of the major disputes over this issue as well.

  • "All FIDE tournaments are today organized in excellent conditions(...)"

Perhaps, although one would think differently looking at some of the protests and debates over recently introduced rules and conditions. Also, proper scheduling of tournaments has been something of a problem recently, for instance with the Women's Grand Prix and the Women's European Championship being held at the same time. Also, one wonders why, if everything is going so smoothly, big FIDE tournaments have been mainly organized in the same Causasus region for years, where conditions are often mediocre, and even dangerous at times.

  • "FIDE is able to find prizes, sponsors and venues, far in excess of the events we had in the 80s or 90s."

That may be so, but interestingly, by far the biggest media events since the 80s and 90s were the recent exhibition match between the two stars of the 80s and 90s, Kasparov and Karpov, in Valencia, and the Kasparov-Deep Blue matches in 1996 and 1997. Ilyumzhinov had nothing to do with these events.

An what about the bad international media attention the current FIDE President has generated? What about the sense of estrangement among ordinary chess players? In our opinion, these questions need to be answered by Ilyumzhinov's supporters if they want to make themselves credibile at all.

Support for Anatoly Karpov
Not surprisingly, then, on the websites of the German and French federations, letters of support for the other candidate, Karpov, were published. This came after former World Champion Garry Kasparov had expressed his support for his former rival after his candidacy. To Russian press agency Interfax, Kasparov said:

Currently it's quite obvious that the FIDE administration is on the sidelines and any attempt to bring chess back to its former status must be linked to the name of someone who has a serious prestige and knows everything. In my view, Karpov might try to essentially change the situation, and I hope that he does have such a chance.

And now, the USCF has joined these European federations with a published statement of support. They haven't elaborated on it yet,

Update: the full USCF statement has now been published over here.

...but some of the European federations have. In a press release from last week (now also published on Chessbase), the President of the German Chess Federation, Robert von Weizsäcker, stated that Karpov will be nominated as Germany's candidate. The FIDE statutes allow this, since Karpov has been a member of the German chess club 1930 Hockenheim for sixteen years, and therefore he's also an official member of the German Federation.

Meanwhile, support from Karpov has come from various other angles, such as a Facebook page and support from columnists. It's likely his campaign will gain even more momentum, possibly from some of the world's chess playing elite as well, as the elections approach.

Questions about federal support
Following this news, there was a lot we couldn't quite figure out here at ChessVibes headquarters. First of all, why were these letters of support published so long before the actual elections, and especially before all possible candidates were known? Why didn't all these federations hold their horses until they really knew who they could vote for? Secondly, why have some federations express support while others have not? And thirdly, how could the President of the European Chess Federation express support for one candidate, and some of the biggest and most influential individual European federations support the other? This seemed contradictory and at best highly confusing.

Perhaps most importantly, all this seemed to suggest that the decisions by the national federations (at least the ones publishing those letters) were already made without consulting their individual members - the actual chess enthusiasts themselves! What had been the democratic process within the federations resulting in support for one or the other? Were actual chess players consulted in this decision? Did these nation's leading grandmasters have a say in all this?

Predictably, such questions aren't answered on the FIDE website. In fact, the one article referring to the upcoming elections in September hyperlinks only to the letters of support for Ilyumzhinov, while only noting that "Mr Karpov has stated that he has the support of France, Switzerland, Germany and Spain."

We decided to ask our Dutch Chess Federation (KNSB) for some clarification regarding these questions. IM Jeroen Bosch, technical director of the KNSB, was quick in his reply and offered some interesting background information on the matter. First of all, Bosch said individual chess players (who are member of the federation) can, in theory, appeal to their delegates in the federation's council to vote for a particular candidate. This would indirectly infuence the voting decision of the national federation.

Bosch also said the Dutch Federation hasn't discussed its preferred presidential candidacy yet, since Russia hasn't decided its official candidate yet: this could be either Karpov or Ilyumzhinov or even a third, hitherto unknown, person.

To Bosch's knowledge, the national federations have not discussed this matter between them either. Bosch did note that in the past, the KNSB has often spoken critically to Ilyumzhinov about specific policies, and has in the past supported opposing candidates (Bessel Kok and Sunye Neto).

Robert von Weiszäcker confirmed to us that the German Chess Federation is "convinced the majority of our members support the nomination of Anatoly Karpov" and that "also, during the 2006 elections in Turin, the DSB [Deutsche Schachbund - CV] positioned itself firmly behind Bessel Kok. Likewise, our current discussion is carried broadly by our DSB-board."

ECU's bewildering letter of support
Regarding Boris Kutin's letter of support on behalf of the European Chess Council, Jeroen Bosch said that the KNSB wasn't consulted in this beforehand and that they might object to the letter during the next ECU meeting. All this suggests to us that probably not a single individual European country was consulted in the writing of this letter of support. The fact that four other federations clearly support Karpov is another indication of this. Remarkably, from comparing the letters published in the ChessBase article, the ECU did consult the African Union beforehand. Apparently, consulting its own members was of less importance.

All this is rather bewildering- until you realize, as Bosch pointed out to us, that the ECU does not, in fact, have a vote in the presidential elections at all. Come again? That's right, none of the continental or zonal unions do. It's the individual countries (or rather their federations) that vote for the President - meaning Boris Kutin's letter of support must have actually been just a personal and hence formally meaningless initiative. As Bosch says, "Several zonal Presidents have expressed support for Ilyumzhinov, but this doesn't mean much."

The president of the German Chess Federation confirms this point of view:

When ECU president Boris Kutin expresses his support for Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, this is his personal opinion and not the viewpoint of all of Europe. The 54 federations of our continent will surely not be influenced by this, and will only make their decision after careful consideration. The DSB has openly announced its candidacy of the former World champion to make a point. We are convinced his points of view on the things to be done within FIDE are right, and we will support them.

Knowing this, it's understandable Kutin's letter of support starts with the informal 'Dear Kirsan' instead of the normal 'Dear Mr. President' - after all, Kutin is not only the ECU's President but also, just like Ali Nihat Yazici, a member of the Presidential board of FIDE.

Meaningful support?
The USCF's official endorsement of Karpov, on the other hand, seems very meaningful. Together with Germany, France and Spain, the USCF is one the world's largest and most active chess federations. Even if Russia or some other country were to nominate Ilyumzhinov (some country definitely will, we can be sure of that), even then the support for Karpov will be big and stable. However, as history has shown, this doesn't necessarily have to mean much. A vote from a country like Gabon counts as strongly as the vote from the USA, so the big question is what all other countries will do at the FIDE congress?

What can we expect? Dutch Grandmaster Hans Ree wrote about the previous presidential elections during the 2006 Chess Olympiad in Turin a report for ChessCafe:

Yvette Nagel (the wife of Yasser Seirawan, who was a member of Bessel Kok's team): “Truly fascinating what happened, this was unreal. At a certain moment, even before the actual voting, pamphlets were distributed saying that Ilyumzhinov had won 87 votes! A woman from Kok's team wanted to distribute something also, but was removed from the hall by Azmaiparashvili's wife, who literally kicked her. Some delegates were only flown in to Turin, they signed and took the same plane back home, it was really scandalous.”

Jan Timman: “Intimidation and bribery went much farther then we had expected. People have actually seen banknotes changing hands, but how to prove what the money was for? Bessel Kok will drop out after this adventure, this is sure.”

Herman Hamers (former President of the Dutch Chess Federation): “Incredible what happened there. It has little to do with democracy.”

Of course, such stuff is not exclusive to FIDE Presidential elections. With a nice word it's called lobbying, and it's the same thing that happened, for instance, at the recent CITES conference for endangered species. It's true that we don't know what will happen during this fall's presidential elections, so we probably shouldn't draw overhasty conclusions.

The campaign will be tough, no doubt. In an article in The New Yorker from 2006, Karpov is quoted saying that "even a dickhead would do a better job than Ilyumzhinov. The situation cannot become worse." Still, if the voting proceedings during the previous FIDE congress are indicative of what we can expect in Khanty-Mansiysk, Karpov - and his supporters - may yet again return empty-handed.

Update: in the meantime Karpov has published his mission statement.

Arne Moll's picture
Author: Arne Moll


Arjon's picture

Objectively, Alexander? I wouldn't exactly call this article objective, not in the least because the facebook group Arne referred to has a very familiar creator.
Still, I like the article, and screw objectivity anyway, I'll take the opinion I like the most.

Stephen's picture

Since Karpov is currently the only alternative to Ilyumzhinov does that make him the "dickhead" referred to in his quote ?

Anyway, he still gets my vote. Hold on, I don't get a vote ...

Alexander's picture

A question: is FIDE completely autonomous? Is there a court of some kind that Karpov can appeal to if voting irregularities were to repeat at this year's election?

BTW, respect to Chessvibes team for reporting objectively and without self-censorship.

Jeans's picture

Chess enthusiasts will be honored to have Karpov as their President, however
Money enthusiasts will be honored to serve their own interest and vote otherwise.

Like on the board the battle between quality and material.

If such great quality as Karpov cannot beat the material, the overall of chessfederations are really rotten.

jmws's picture

@Arne.. that's not very correct Arne, to refer to yourself (disguised as Facebook group), without acknowledging this as such. agree with Arjon in this respect.

Peter Doggers's picture

OK maybe he should have mentioned that in the article, but the fact that more and more people are joining the group is what matters, I guess.

Rini Luyks's picture

Anybody, if not ANYTHING is better then again golden boy Kirsan.
Mr. Yazici's praise about the "50 million dollar from his personal pocket" smells very bad, the boots he's licking have been walking in the dung for too long...
Where do all those "new rich people's" fortunes come from?
Very embarassing, a shame for chess!

Dambudzo Marechera's picture

Problem with many Europeans and Western guys is that they think with complete lack of imagination when it comes to FIDE elections.

Karpov is NOT going to win. It's not even going to be close. There is nothing to discuss.

Votes from third world countries is all Kirsan needs. And he already has them in the bag. Yazici, his running mate, has come up with this ingenious idea of sponsoring African and Asian feds with a youth program. That's bribe No.1. Some third world feds have received boards and clocks. Bribe No.2. Khanti-Mansisysk is going to be a gold mine for many third world officials. Bribe No.3. No way Karpov wins. FIDE elections are not about principles for third world voters. It's about how much take home there is going to be.

What Mr. Bobby Fiske writes above is true. Asia and Africa are going to vote for Kirsan almost to a man. Most of South America is also going to vote for Kirsan. Karpov's only chance, but I do not think he has time (he should have begun this last year), is to go around Africa and Asia and BRIBE. The only way to get rid of Kirsan is to use his favourite election weapons against him. And this greasing of the palms of Third world delegates has to start in good time, at least 12-18 months before the elections. Karpov is time barred.

It's a paradox - to get rid of a corrupt man like Kirsan, one has to resort to self-same corruption. Therefore, just before election day Karpov the billionaire should ensure he stuffs as many third world delegate pockets as he can. That might just work.

Arne Moll's picture

Ah, I already wondered when someone would discover this little inside-joke... Anyway, it's not a big secret that we have been very critical of FIDE in the past, no surprise there. So nice to see the discussion touching on some of the big points raised in the article, guys! ;-)

@Alexander: Surely nobody is really autonomous or immune in this world. There are always courts to appeal to, I'm sure, although I wouldn't know which ones from the top of my head.

Rob Brown's picture

As long as the voting structure of the FIDE remains open to graft and collusion -- the ideal situation for a crackpot dictator like Ilyumzhinov -- there is little hope of restoring strong ethical leadership to the organization. Better the large chess nations should form a separate organization with a truly democratic structure, seek corporate sponsorship, and distance themselves from the corruption and ineptitude of the FIDE.

xtra's picture

Illyumzhinov: "Oh boy, will it be expensive to buy the votes this time...".

By the way, one dirty election process to compare with would be that of the International Olympic Committee. Everyone bribed.

Harish Srinivasan's picture

Wow, thanks for all that clarification. I had just previously mentioned this confusion on the chessninja blog and chessvibes comes up with this nice briefing :)

"ECU does not, in fact, have a vote in the presidential elections " ....... lol..... indeed meaningless support from Boris Kutin.

Thomas's picture

@Arne responding to Alexander: Didn't Yaznici sue ECU at a regular Swiss court? To make a long story short, about disputes on which, and how many European championships Turkey should have organized last year.

BTW, while he was successful, we haven't heard anything about actual consequences. The players who qualified for the World Cup at the 2009 European individual championship actually did play in Khanty-Mansiysk in the meantime ... .

noyb's picture

This is simple. Those that actually play chess favor Karpov. Those that sponge off of chess favor Kirsan.

Bobby Fiske's picture

All FIDE delegates have one vote in the president election, independently from how big or small their national chess federation is.

That makes for some funny numbers. Let’s take a small European federation, like The Faroe Islands. http://www.faroechess.com/

I couldn’t find the exact figures for The Faroe Islands. But their Chess Federation has 12 clubs. The Norwegian Chess Federation has about 110 clubs/2600 members. Average 24 members each club. If 24 members in average each club, then totally 288 chess players on the Faroe Islands.

If you calculate chess players divided by population, then there should by only 26 FIDE registrated chessplayers on The Faroe Islands. (50,000 citizens compared with 5 millions in Norway).

Anyway, if there are 26 or 288 chess players on the Faroe Islands, it’s quite interesting that they have the same voting power that the delegates from USA, Russia and other big federations.

Here is the list of FIDE members: http://www.fide.com/component/fidedirectory/?view=federations

I counted 169 countries.
Africa: 33
Asia: 47
Europe: 54
America: 35

It seems clear that Karpov’s wining chances are small, unless he goes on a global road trip, securing votes from all the tiny federations. On the other side, Karpov is a billionaire, while Kirsan Ilyumzhinov is “only” a millionaire. Karpov can afford to fly in his delegates on First Class, rather than Tourist Class.

If Karpov is serious about his candidature, he has probably already some assistants going around in the world, making connections and collecting votes.

forest76's picture

I always have problems with accusitions like by the opposing team, but I have witnessed it myself in Turin. Not money but a lot of DGT clocks were given to the representative of the african nation. And it werent 1 or 2 clocks but really a lot!!

SXL's picture

Kirsan was renamed President of Kalmykia in 2005. It's a seven year deal. How much pie in the face does FIDE stand to get if Kirsan is not renamed in 2012? Odds are grim (well, actually they're good, in the sense that observers reckon Putin won't rename him.) worth taking into account, I'd think. And there are many time zones between Kalmykia and Khanty, not even in the same administrative region)

dlugosz's picture


Mike's picture

Gens una sumus, one country - one vote...
Karpov , the lesser evil?

test's picture

I don't see any realistic solution except for the big chess countries to split and form their own organization centered towards grandmasters. (We don't really need a global organization for amateur chess, national federations can take care of that.) But that would initially cause a lot of problems and difficulty, it seems like the initial hurdle is just too big.

The one country one vote is mainly to blame for all this corruption. It's a democratic principle which is hard to criticize, although for chess it would definitely be more sensible to have one vote for every grand master. (If you agree that FIDE exists or should exist mainly for grandmasters.)

There might still be corruption of course. (Corruption is hard to weed out, it's human nature, yes, I'm a cynic. ;)) But one vote for every grandmaster seems a lot more fair and a lot more transparent. It's direct democracy instead of democracy by proxy in the form of some national federation. Most people don't even know who or what their federation voted for, let alone how to influence it, if that is even possible, which I think it is not (realistically).

B's picture

I remember the first time I visited the FIDE website, I was shocked that the president's face was the main feature. This is such a ex-Soviet idea. Go to any sport's world organization's website, like two of the biggest: iaaf.org fina.org

Snits's picture


I think this court has handled some issues dealing with chess and FIDE before.

EJ Wagenmakers's picture

So here's the contest then: in the left corner, we have Ilyumzhinov; the man has put 50 mil of his own (depending on your perspective, I guess) into the sport. Moreover, chess continues to do very well, even despite the crisis -- almost every week there is an interesting top-level tournament somewhere in the world. The world championship is united, and the damage caused by Kasparov is undone. In the right corner, we have Karpov, who is, in terms of past performance.....a complete nobody.

Yes, Karpov will have respect from the chess players, and rightly so, but what good will that do? In what sense is Karpov's plan for the future superior to that of Ilyumzhinov? Concrete plans is what it should all be about, but there is no mention of this whatsoever in the article. It would have been interesting to see this mentioned as well. Being one of the greatest chess players ever does not automatically make you a good president. So why, exactly, is Karpov the better pick?


Arne Moll's picture


Though it's a different subject than what's discussed in this article, I think perhaps the question shouldn't be what good will Karpov do, but what harm won't he do.
Moreover, your description of the current situation is rather one-sided. For instance, what does FIDE have to do with all these interesting top-level tournaments you mention? One should only look at the FIDE-organized events. Take the Grand Prix series. They were held in Baku, Sochi, Elista, Nalchik and Jermuk - how did this help promoting chess in Africa, Asia and America? This is of course ignoring the fact that several people, including Magnus Carlsen, have withdrawn from it.
Or take the World Championship: yes, the title is finally united, but how many damage has been done? And how many world champions in history do we have, according to you? Was it really such a good idea to get rid of the system candidate matches?
Or let's talk about what FIDE actually has achieved during Ilyumzhinov's reign. Let's take the doping rules, or the 'zero tolerance' rule for showing up late, or the let's talk about the great project 'Chess City' in Elista...
Or let's talk about Ilyumzhinov's promises to attract corporate sponsors. Who's the main sponsor of the upcoming match Topalov-Anand? You've guessed it, the Bulgarian government, not a corporation but a ministry payed by tax money.
We could go on about the international image of chess during the last 15 years. What about the incident at Calvia 2004 involving FIDE vice-president Azmaiparashvili? What about Elista 2006 where Ilyumzhinov was present but refused to take measures against some of the vilest accusations in recent world championship history? What about Ilyumzhinov's way of showing, well, 'leadership' and his 'vertical column of power', as Kasparov put it? What about his political opinions and actions?

Unfortunately, this is not (yet) about what good one can do for chess, but for now only about how destructive one can be for chess.

SXL's picture

Karpov has been a part of the chess world for decades, and he is an active member of the Public Chamber of Russia, the members of which are charged with monitoring the activities of parliament and government, both centrally and of its federal subjects. It also analyzes draft legislation before this is sent for parliamentary approval.
It's not a sinecure.

Karpov has also been involved in business and has an international network both in the world of chess and in parts of the business world. He's definitely not an unworthy candidate - whether he stands a chance remains to be seen, given how these elections have been decided previously.

Chess shouldn't have life rulers - it's a dynamic game where the player with the best plan gets rewarded. The president of FIDE should reflect that value, and he does not presently. The real losers here are the people of Kalmykia, who are seeing important funds and other resources being diverted into the game of chess, when it could be used to provide medical care, food and a roof over their heads.

Miss Elistainsider's picture

Illyumzhinov is not now and has not been the 'millionair' , only he by the law he made disposes 50% of our Kalmykian national budget personally , that is where all rotten bribery and corrupt action starts for the world CHE$$ game , in the most poor republic in all Russia , it is just his 'hobby' and we pay it , shame on his evil head . He even never won the honest elestion here , and now Putin 'put in' him again last time . Its my sad 'joke' .

Thomas's picture

Historically, it seems that the best FIDE presidents were Euwe and Olafsson? Yes, former chess players and in one case a former world champion .... .

Nonationalism's picture

Yes, Thomas, modest diplomats who did not want to be in the spotlights themselves. For a FIde president, not much else required.

Garnoth's picture

Referring to the bribing: I once read that Karpov himself is a billionaire, so bribing wouldn't be a problem.

It's just that in my opinion Ilyumzhinov has had too many failures and conclusions should be drawn. No matter what good things he did, he screwed up some too and fresh management might make FIDE an organisation with a little credibility, which it surely lacks now.

Stephen's picture

Everybody should lobby their own national federation. I'm going to try to find out what my national federation (Argentina) is going to do given that previous posts have implied that the South American vote is already stitched up. Maybe folks in other countries in Africa and South America that have also been referred to above should do the same so we can see whether there is any truth in the accusations about our countries being more "corrupt" and whether the "upright" and "honest" countries in Europe are really any better.

Mehul Gohil's picture


Their is a great rift between African players and African officials. Almost impossible to lobby on these sides of the world where I am. African officials will do as they please (most of them...there are some very well run African federations who work in coordination with the players) without regard to what the players on the ground would want. There is probably two totally different Africa's when it comes to chess. One for its players and another for its officials.

It's a very uphill task for Karpov. I really don't see how he is going to win. It will be a miracle if he does.

SXL's picture

Meanwhile, from the official FIDE-pages, we can enjoy Kirsan chessboxing. I believe the man in blue was cleverly hiding his jab, so to speak.


theun's picture

Amsterdam votes for Karpov!

Jens Kristiansen's picture

Yes, indeed almost anything or anybody would be better than what we have now. As a chess player I have felt embarrased by my international organisation for years, or in fact decades.
But...Karpov? To get my support he will at least have to answer two questions, just for a start:
1) What do you want to do in a different way than Kirsan?
2) Where were you in 2006? Supporting Bessel Kok?
Well, anyhow it could be that he is the lesser evil, at least something new. Can we get any lower?

noyb's picture

Here's a mind-bender:

1985 - Kasparov defeats World Chess Champion Anatoly Karpov to become New World Chess Champion

2015 - Kasparov defeats Medvedev to become President of Russia and Anatoly Karpov is President of FIDE

OK, not gonna happen, but strange to think...

john's picture

Something needs to be done to sort the chess world out and Karpov is the man to do it!

Peter Doggers's picture

In the meantime Karpov has published his mission statement.

Johann Linzer from Vienna, Austria's picture

Please FIDE: It is time for a change ! 15 years of Ilyumshinov have been a desaster for the FIDE !!! The chess world needs a person of highest integrity on its top; please give former World Chess champion Anatoli Karpow a chance to bring FIDE back to its historical roots !!

rank zero's picture

According to the membership lists, it appears that during many years, there were not even membership fees from Karpov to the German Chess Federation. Not really a convincing commitment to the federation which tries to construct a nomination of him.

Latest articles