Columns | October 12, 2010 0:01

Talking 'bout a (FIDE) revolution

Ilyumzhinov FIDE President 2010-2014After Ilyumzhinov's victory in the FIDE Presidential elections in Khanty-Mansiysk twelve days ago, it's become awfully silent on both fronts. Those seeking change in the World Chess Federation have been struck dumb at the prospect of another four years of Kirsan's reign. But they needn't despair. They just shouldn't wait for the big shots to change things.

About half a year ago, as a private initiative, I formed a group on Facebook for chess players who wanted change within FIDE. It started with just one member - myself. But over the past months, over 1,100 people from all over the world joined. Although quite a few notable grandmasters and other known figures in the chess world also joined the group, the vast majority of the people in the group consisted of amateurs - they may have been a member of some local chess club, but more likely they just enjoyed chess as a game and were concerned about the course of FIDE over the past 15 - or more - years.

Strangely, the biggest group of people who play chess - the fans, the youngsters playing chess in their schools, the amateurs playing in pubs or coffee shops, the club players sacrificing their holiday days in local tournaments, the sub-IM level players fighting to separate themselves from the masses - those countless chess lovers don't have an official voice in deciding the course of the World's Chess Federation. If they did, judging from the support even my little Facebook group received, things might actually look pretty different.


In theory, of course, even within FIDE there is some kind of 'democracy'. Once amateurs have become paying members of their country's federation, the federation delegates can vote during the FIDE Presidential elections. Thus, the amateurs can indirectly 'influence' the course of FIDE itself. (Although I've never heard of a federation asking its amateur members for their opinion on such political matters!) The problem is, however, that the majority of active chess players (not to mention the strongest chess players) live in a pretty limited set of countries.

Though I don't have the official figures, I wouldn't be surprised if the number of chess players within the German, Russian and Spanish federations (and a few others) make up as much as 80% of the total number of players in all the world's federations. Yet, according to the infamous 'one country, one vote' system FIDE maintains during elections, every federation - no matter how small - has the same weight of vote: namely 1. A country's federation with just 100 members has exactly as much influence as a federation with 100,000. So much for democracy.

Interestingly, even Anatoly Karpov didn't openly want to change this system which gives power to the (small) federation delegates but not to its underlying members. Although Karpov's campaign language was littered with words like 'grassroot support' and promises to involve not only chess officials but also 'ordinary' chess players, when I asked the Karpov Campaign webmaster to add a simple link to my Facebook group, all I received was silence.

The Karpov 2010 campaign website

The Karpov 2010 campaign website

In fact, both Karpov's and Ilyumzhinov's campaign sites decided to completely ignore the entire ChessVibes news reporting about the elections. Perhaps the webmasters were confused by the fact that we were critical of both candidates and their election programs in our columns while still trying to be as objective as possible in our regular reports.

Taking sides

Some readers have reproached us for taking sides during the elections, but in fact we've always tried to separate our personal opinions from the arguments that were simply put forward by both sides and which needed explanation (or questioning!). Also, giving equal weight to all statements - regardless of the contents - made by either side in an election is hardly the same as objective journalism - rather, it's an abdication of journalistic responsibility.

Looking back, I think Karpov's campaign was really not all that much about changing the democratic (or lack thereof) structure of FIDE (though, of course, Ilyumzhinov's was even less, and Karpov, to his credit, did mention many of Ilyumzhinov's and FIDE's darker aspects towards the end of the campaign) but about something else. It was about raising funds during gala dinners for business people, in order to find sponsors for the elite tournaments and the organization of the World Champioship. As always, it was mostly about money.

Money vs. Moral

Now, don't get me wrong: money is important in chess. It's important for federations in order to organize national and local chess events, to fund innovation projects like Chess in the Schools and promote chess for groups like disabled people and minorities. Most of all, money (preferrably, a lot) is important for chess professionals who need to live from prizes and good conditions. It seems that money makes the chess world go 'round. Or does it?

Thrilled though chess lovers all over the world are and always have been about grandmaster participation, top level tournaments, Candidate Matches and World Championship matches, they are also annoyed by a lot of things. The zero-tolerance rule, which applies not only to top events but also in local competitions, is just one example. Then we have the increasingly tough-to-understand Elo rating calculations.

Another annoyance of many is the fact that so many big FIDE events are organized in a rather restricted area of the world - the Caucasus and the former Soviet States - making a visit to their favourite chess tournament a rather problematic goal for most of the world's chess fans. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the fact that FIDE is reigned by people who have a more than dubious track record on several aspects of political life is a concern that cannot even begin to be expressed in terms of money. It's a moral issue.

So if two former World Champions can't change things; if rich business men can't (and make no mistake, Karpov and Kasparov are both!); if elite grandmasters won't; if the delegates of the world's largest chess federations are powerless -then who can? Perhaps we shouldn't expect change from the top of the food chain. After all, they're much too dependent on good relations with FIDE (and yes, that also applies to federations in favour of change).. We may have more chance starting at the bottom. Why wait for the big shots? Why wait for 2014?

Lenin in the Bolshevist headquarters in October 1917 (Painting by Wladimir Serow)

Lenin in the Bolshevist headquarters in October 1917 (Painting by Wladimir Serow)

Real change hurts

Unfortunately, as Malcolm Gladwell has recently argued in the New Yorker, real revolutions aren't likely started, let alone won, on the internet. My Facebook group is nice, but it hardly changes things in real life. It's too easy to sign an online petition or join a group with the click of a mouse, too comfortable. Real change hurts - at least a little.

So why not look at things in real life? Here's a couple of suggestions to get a taste of what I have in mind. Suppose all FIDE-rated chess players refused to play in tournaments organized by FIDE, starting next week. I suspect Ilyumzhinov and his team of rating experts would have a problem even before the end of the year - if not because of empty chairs and tables, then surely because of a distortion in progression for the rating population.


Somewhat more realistically, suppose club members wrote a letter to their federation stating they refuse to pay the part of the annual fees that their federation sends to FIDE. I'm pretty sure the FIDE treasurer wouldn't be amused. And what if arbiters refused to comply with some of the more bizarre 'new' rules within the FIDE handbook? I bet the frequently organized Arbiter Seminars would definitely become much more exciting! As the great essayist H.L.Mencken said, "progress is furthered not by conformity, but by aberration."

Of course, these suggestions don't imply that there couldn't be any more chess tournaments organized. It's just that FIDE would not be involved anymore. Game score sheets wouldn't be handed over to FIDE anymore. Perhaps even rating results wouldn't be passed on anymore - surely I can decide that my rating shouldn't be used or published without my explicit permission? (Actually, my FIDE rating is so embarrassingly low that I'd prefer to ignore it anyway. I guess it just goes to show that self-interest doesn't by definition have to contradict a good cause.) But otherwise, who cares if FIDE is or is not involved?


A little rebellion won't hurt anyone. Players can simply disassociate themselves from FIDE and still happily play chess. After all, it's the organizers who decide the participants of a particular tournament, not the FIDE board. Heck, someone can even start an alternative rating system - after all, they're plenty of experts out there. (As a matter of fact, such systems have always existed in the past: my own national federation - the Dutch Chess Federation - has its own rating system, the "KNSB" rating, and - until recently - it was fully separated from FIDE ratings.)

In the end, things like ratings and rankings are just peripheral aspects of chess, mostly established for the benefit of professionals, which amateurs and club players can easily do without (I know I certainly can). And if the professionals don't like what I'm saying - well, tough luck. Serves them right for looking only at their own interests and refusing to stand up against FIDE (for instance by boycotting the Olympiad in Elista in 1998) and passively letting things get out of hand over the past decades, eh? After all, how many chess pros have actively spoken out against FIDE politics in recent years even when their personal interests couldn't possibly be hurt by doing so?

Talking 'Bout A Revolution

When I was in high school, in the year of Tracy Chapman's Talking 'Bout A Revolution, I learned an interesting 'rule of thumb' in history class to find out if there's a real revolution going on: it's only a revolution if the trams stop riding. (Apparently this was said during the October Revolution in 1917). In other words, real revolutions are felt not only in parliaments and oval offices (and czar's palaces), but also on the streets. They require the involvement not only of politicians but also of citizens.

Tracy Chapman

Tracy Chapman | Photo Hans Hillewaert, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

In chess, the majority of the 'citizens' are not top grandmasters or even titled players. They are the people who love chess but can only dream of ever beating an FM in a serious game. The citizens of the chess world are the amateurs sacrificing their spare time to pay for the prizes of the winners.

And that's OK, we're fine with that - but a little something in return wouldn't hurt. Gens Una Sumus. If the chess citizens really want to, I believe they can do what the two greatest chess professionals alive couldn't. Now wouldn't that really makes us 'one family'?


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Arne Moll's picture
Author: Arne Moll


L.Medemblik's picture


"No one makes a revolution by himself; and there are some revolutions which humanity accomplishes without quite knowing how, because it is everybody who takes them in hand."
George Sand
French Novelist (1804-1876)


"Every revolution evaporates and leaves behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy."
Franz Kafka
Chech German-speaking writer (1883-1924)

CAL|Daniel's picture

FYI Arne, a book I'm sure you would enjoy a thousand times over is "Rules for Radicals." If you haven't read it, I highly recommend that you do.

noyb's picture

Chess citizens should just walk away from FIDE. Tear up your membership, refuse to play in FIDE sanctioned events and just move on. Any further efforts on FIDE are just a waste of time.

Rob Brtown's picture

I think it was G.K. Chesterton who pointed out that the problems with revolutions is that they tend to revolve.

Rob Brtown's picture

that should read "problem" of course.

Oscar's picture

I think that calling for a voting system based on "one player, one vote", instead of "one country, one vote" would be political suicide. In such a system the federations with many players (Russia, Germany and so on) would get more votes - they would be happy. However, the smaller federations (Bermuda, US Virgin Islands and so on) would lose all of their influence. That is not in their interest, so they would probably vote against such a proposal. And as there are many more small federations than big ones...

Arne Moll's picture

True, Oscar, that's exactly why something new shouldn't come from within FIDE but from without. Personally, I've never understood how delegates could so shamelessly vote against what's obviously democratic and fair, instead of what's just good for them, but then I'm not a politician I guess :-)

vladimirOo's picture

I love chess but never play in tournaments, since i do not want to give my money to a corrupt system that do not care about "citizen players" (nice concept), either it be FIDE or national federations.

I guess i will never and i completely regret it - but i would lose my time and damage my passion in such an awful system.

But there are so many other ways to play chess!

bayde's picture

Realistically... *truly* realistically looking at things here.. Nothing from within FIDE, or within chess has a chance of dislodging Kirsan. The biggest hope recently was Medvedev's refusal to reappoint Kirsan as President of Kalmykia. That got some hopes afluttering, but we don't know yet what it means for the future. But the point is, things outside of chess have big implications for things within chess.

I think, realistically, the biggest chance for change will come from outside of chess. Consider the fact that Kirsan, no longer President, will now have more time to devote to his business empire. Consider also, the fact that "businessmen" (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) in Russia rarely finish their lives naturally, if you know what I mean. Sooner or later, a rival business empire may find it useful to see Kirsan eliminated. Without his official Presidential guard, his security surroundings will probably be reduced. It is a not insignificant possibility.

One of the biggest stories in Russia lately has been the hit on "Ded Khasan", one of Russia's biggest "businessmen." There are reports that Kirsan has been seen in the company of Ded Khasan. You choose your friends.

It sounds horrid, I know, but really looking at things without blinders.. I think that we will have to wait for our President-for-life to be dead before there is change in FIDE.

anant's picture

What a stupid article. Kirsan has done much great to chess. People who are supporting Kasparov should realize that he was the person who destroyed chess world.

Bert de Bruut's picture

@anant, yes Kirsan is a great chess lover, too bad he doesn't even know on which squares to place the king and queen.

rivaldo's picture

Arne, you are totally right.
many like to read and complain about chess politics, but are afraid or too lazy to do anything against it. in the sport of chess it's even easier to start a revolution, than in other sports. Kasparov tried to think big and started the "revolution" from the top - beginning with huge Intel sponsorship for top tournaments. the healthier and more enduring kind of revolution should be to start at the bottom. the average chessplayer is not very dependant on FIDE. the main and only!? benefit ist a working rating system, which is, as most chessplayers would agree with, a good thing.

so why not start with one basic thing:
- take the best and most appropriate rating system from the current jeff sonas rating system competition
- built a database and a freely available rating calculation software (which is not that much work)
- set up a server, where tournament organizers can upload the tourmnament summaryfile produced from this software
- contact as many tournament organizers as possible anbd it will be supported by many, who are unhappy with the FIDE fees

the new system could be used in addition to the current FIDE system until people start to spare the huge fees for rating evaluation by FIDE

it just needs a group of volunteers in the beginning, that produce the technical background and do some communication.

this would remove the main dependancy on FIDE

NoClue's picture

I think FIDE should dump handling "national" ratings anyway. Does FIFA rate third tier teams in national leagues? Of course, they won't, since it is one of the tools to make the people dependent on them.

Does anyone have amounts on how much FIDE charges for ratings?

Mikhail Golubev's picture

the article is a bit chaotic;

to blame Kaprov site webmaster that he refused to add a certain link is not serious; you should have asked not webmaster, but his bosses

some realistic forms of united protest are needed, imho

for example, as we think that opinion of majority of chess-players was ignored in Khanty-M (for the record, also in Russia majority of players suported Karpov according to all internet polls), a well thought petition can be prepared which can be signed by players from all countires and which would express our opinion

Arne Moll's picture

@Mikhail: believe me, I did ask someone who is in direct contact with Karpov. Besides, others from within the Karpov campaign team certainly knew about the group since they were also a member of it. Apparently they just weren't interested in it. And that's fine with me, but it did make me wonder how seriously we should take their appraisal of the 'grassroots' approach.

Ben's picture

FIDE is certainly democratic; it just doesn't use a representational metric that you (or I) like. I'm curious how that rule originated. The U.S. government in the Constitutional Convention of 1787 were having much the same problem with the many small states and the large, populous and powerful ones. After months of heated argument, they compromised with the bicameral legislature.

Change would require lots of money for a new organization, lots of commitment, sacrifice, unselfish sharing of power, and a lot of patience. For example, the WC will be under contract with FIDE as just one super obstacle. Something happening to Kirsan would change nothing as someone would just step into the void.

eric lobron's picture

as long as corruption exists fide voting procedures will not change...

CAL|Daniel's picture

Arne have you read Rules for Radicals.... ?

chandler's picture


I think a lot's been written about what's wrong in the chess world now; but, as an amateur : starting from scratch, what hurts me is the zero-tolerance and shorter time controls. I also feel bad for the elite when the candidates or some such is postponed/moved/cancelled. But in no way are these (trivial) problems making me lose sleep...

So how is this enough for me to want to overthrow Kirsan? Maybe he's a bad guy as some say, probably he's a crook and insane.... but that's ok as long as I don't have to meet him :)

Why should I vote for Karpov? Just because he's gonna remove the zero-tolerance rule? Not enough.... maybe you're thinking of the broader "no ludicrous rules"; but who's giving a guarantee that Karpov or someone else won't come up with other more ludicrous rules in their term??

Suppose we're able to elect our prez... I've no reason to prefer Karpov over Kirsan(e.g. see ). I can live pretty well in the current chess world and don't have to worry that Karpov's "changes" might screw things up even more. I prefer no change as an alternative to changes whose effects will be unknown.

What we really need is a prez who is willing to consult all players (easy in these internet days) before introducing a new rule that would affect a chess game. (And that's something that even Kirsan can do if he wants to.)

As an aside, note that zero-tolerance isn't mandatory now (based on feedback, I guess); the players committee at many tourneys have asked for and gotten the traditional 15/30 mins tolerance. Conceited arbiters/organisers are to blame whenever "zero-tolerance" is effected.

I'm pretty happy with the no. of elite tourneys being held now in the world (can't recollect a busier year-end in the past).

Corporate sponsorship for the candidates?? What am I gonna gain from it? Maybe eventually that'll trickle down to some sponsorship for my weekend tourney, but that's something I can do without as well.

(I'm just paying devil's advocate here...)

chandler's picture

Forgot to link:

"I’ve no reason to prefer Karpov over Kirsan (e.g. see "

Arjon's picture

There is one big element missing: a concrete alternative. You can't only be against the current regime, there should be some structural goal. Okay, so I'm not playing in FIDE events anymore, and I'm sure you would agree and principally ignore corus this year, but then what?

This revolution is really equal to abandonment and resignation until someone comes up with a plan to really support.

test's picture

FYI: There is an interview (in Dutch) with Kasparov about the elections here:

(Not much was said however that we didn't already know.)

Stephen's picture

I think that the article is very insightful. I too have been feeling that FIDE is more interested in the chess professionals rather than the grassroots players.

From my own point of biew, I find that I am participating in fewer and fewer FIDE events and looking more to the internet for my chess enjoyment.

Maybe for the average player FIDE is really redundant. Maybe the internet can provide all that average chess players require...

There are already many alternatives to FIDE chess on the internet. For example most chess servers have their own rating system. (If they used a common rating service instead of their own, we would be a long way along the road to having an alternative to FIDE rating).

For over the board chess, the TWIC site already provides far more than FIDE does. It would seem to be an ideal "clearing house" for all over the board chess results. If you could combine this with the work done on the live ratings list server, you wouldn't need FIDE ratings at all.

Chess and the internet go together very well (as has been said many times before) maybe the best way to "get rid" of FIDE is for the chess citizens to build all the required institutions on the internet.

CAL|Daniel's picture

I love how I've asked my question three times and still Arne ignores me. I guess I didn't insult his ideas so it wasn't worth a response.

joma's picture

1. democracy is a key word in this article, but be careful what you wish for! the perfect form of governance has not been found yet and this equally applies to the chess world. democracy may have -unexpected and- unwanted side effects too. this is a problem to solve also with a new president or even a new world chess federation.
2. no matter how much criticism, fide is in my opinion a very valuable structure that we should aim to keep. if everyone and everything simply detaches from fide we will be left with chaos and power may be grabbed by anyone, not necesssarily 'good guys'
3. if national federations alone or jointly want to influence fide politics they should know what is the best way to put pressure on fide. (see 4)
4. if you want to hit fide where it hurts most (in their pocket) you should know a thing or two about their financial situation. this information is not available to me and 99% of the forum readers. i doubt even most federations know in detail where fide get their funding
5. don't put too much emphasis on morale. surely (?) the big federations can survive if fide would be run fairly with a lot less funds, but others may not. why don't federations alone or jointly operate a development fund? this could decrease others' dependency on fide-help-with-a-string
6. random remarks:
a) ratings are not only interesting for the top, they are for everyone and 90+% wouldn't do without them. of course these need not necessarily be fide ratings
b) how much freedom do national federations enjoy in choosing to disobey fide rules without being excluded from olympiads, IOC funds etc?
c) private tournaments can choose not to send their results to fide for rating calculation. does this hurt fide? how much?
d) is it really possible for individual members to disassociate themselves from fide, while remaining a member of their national federation?
e) people will not write a letter to their national federation if it costs more than 3 mouse clicks

Arne Moll's picture

@CalDaniel. Strange though it may sound, there are other things in the world for me except ChessVibes, such as a job and a family. Therefore I hadn't seen your question, but no, I haven't yet, though I've heard many good things about it.

@Arjon: I don't see why most amateurs would need an alternative in the first place. Do you really need FIDE? It's not as if the game of chess disappears if we ignore FIDE from now on, does it? But perhaps it will make professionals realize something has to be done because they, too, depend on the amateurs to sponsor them.

Arno Nickel's picture

Lack of democracy and dominance of corruption aren't only bad for the chessplayers themselves but also for their image (at least in democratic countries). So such a rebellion is urgently needed, the more as chessplayers are missing a clear sign from the defeated opposition inside FIDE.
The line of attack should not be against FIDE, but trying to take over FIDE, e.g. encouraging federations not to pay money any longer to them. The slogan should rather be: "We are the FIDE! Democracy now!"

Valchess's picture

From Sergey Shipov's "Olympiad Conclusions and Where Now for FIDE?" (

"I believe it’s necessary to fundamentally reform the FIDE legislation and the whole election process. The principle of “one country – one vote” has been completely discredited. If we’re all really one family, then we need to think up a system that takes into account the chess weight of different countries. Either in terms of the number of grandmasters, or the results in recent Olympiads, or the rating of the ten best players in the country – in general, there are a lot of options. Probably the electoral weight of the country should also depend on its influence in organising international tournaments – then there’ll be an additional new, albeit small, stimulus for organisers. And all those factors will determine, for example, the number of electors from each country. Of course, it shouldn’t be directly proportional. The votes of the small (in a chess sense) states should still remain in demand… In general, we need some sort of balance of interests."

"The second, more cardinal approach is to divide FIDE into two organisations. One should run professional chess, the World Championship cycle and major events - some sort of analogy of the ATP in tennis. While the second part, the second organisation will run mass chess and raise the level of our game around the world, organising children’s championships and so on..."

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