Monday, August 18, 2014

Garry Kasparov on the Future of Chess

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov retained the title of FIDE (International Chess Federation) President by a landslide vote of 110 national delegates to 61 over former World Chess Champion (1985-2000) Garry Kasparov. Kasparov ran on a reformist platform aiming to end the corruption and waste that has characterized Ilyumzhinov's reign. Ilyumzhinov's victory is not good for chess; while Ilyumzhinov passionately loves the game, his outlandish ideas (including but not limited to his publicly expressed thought that chess was brought to Earth by aliens and that he has personally visited the aliens' spaceships) and his shameful allegiances with dictatorial/tyrannical regimes do not bode well for the sport, art and science of chess. It is not surprising that Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin was among the first to heartily congratulate Ilyumzhinov.

Kasparov's fiery statement after the election, titled The Future of Chess, not FIDE, outlines why Kasparov believes that he lost the election and what he thinks should be done in the future to promote chess. Here are some excerpts:

My campaign was about expanding the horizons of the chess and securing its future, our future, in a world with ever-increasing competition for our attention. My themes were bringing sponsorship, education initiatives, and new technology into the game and empowering the national federations. I do not for one moment believe that this election result indicates a problem with this platform, or with the exemplary individuals on my ticket, or with our many successful activities. The sad conclusion is that working hard and having big ideas and investing millions of dollars for the global development of chess all has very little to do with winning a FIDE election today. It was this disastrous situation that my team and I set out to change...

I faced three main challenges in this campaign. First was the FIDE machinery, the abuse of power that made votes disappear and turned commissions into puppets. This was not a surprise, but I believed at the start that I had enough resources to overcome it and I probably did. There were two other factors I badly underestimated. I anticipated the Kremlin’s involvement but couldn’t imagine its extent or how susceptible Europe would be to it. Nor did I anticipate how resistant even many of the biggest federations are to change. They saw it as a threat and looked for excuses to maintain the status quo.

These last two factors in particular eroded the base I thought I had at the start, a base of anti-Kirsan, anti-corruption, pro-growth federations with democratic traditions and substantial numbers of chess players with interests to protect. Perhaps that base still exists, but it is very small now and nearly every federation is eager to do a little business with Ilyumzhinov’s emissaries come election year. I guaranteed money in exchange for effort and sponsorship in exchange for activity and events. It’s clear that many prefer money with no responsibilities and no activities, regardless of what this means for chess...

It is fitting that the slogan on my posters here in Tromsø was “Kasparov: the future of chess” and not “the future of FIDE.” Eventually, growth and change in the chess world will change FIDE; it is clear that FIDE cannot change itself. More numbers and more effort will be needed at the grassroots level. Lovers of chess must become administrators of chess. I spoke often of building up the base of players to raise up the entire chess world and this is just as true in chess politics. More good people coming in will eventually push more bad people out. You can go and do it! Find a way to fight for chess! People must work in their chess communities and change their federations so that our great game has the representation it deserves.

My thanks again to all my team and supporters, and to our excellent hosts of the last two weeks here in Norway. The summer sun never sets in Tromsø and the sun will never set on the game of chess.

The delegates who voted for Ilyumzhinov because they were swayed by bribes and/or cowed by fear should be ashamed. If a person as brilliant, charismatic and well-connected as Garry Kasparov cannot even come close to unseating Ilyumzhinov then it seems like Ilyumzhinov will stay in power for a long time.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Chess as Art, Chess as Violent Sport, Part II

In Chess as Art, Chess as Violent Sport, I declared, "It is not accidental that top level chess is dominated by young players; chess is very strenuous and thus energy and physical conditioning often outweigh the value of accumulated experience/wisdom." The recent deaths of two players at the biennial Chess Olympiad (hosted this year by Tromso, Norway) further highlight the physically demanding nature of chess.

In Why Chess is Really an Extreme Sport, Stephen Moss details why chess tournaments are so much more demanding than the general public may realize:

At the Olympiad, participants were playing a game a day over a fortnight--11 rounds with just a couple of rest days on which to recuperate. For up to seven hours a day, they would be sitting at the board trying to kill--metaphorically speaking--their opponent, because this is the ultimate game of kill or be killed. In some positions, you can reach a point where both sides are simultaneously within a single move of checkmating the other. One false step and you will have lost. This imposes enormous pressure on players.

These days, some top players use psychologists to help them deal with this stress. They are also paying increasing attention to diet and fitness. I was staying in the same hotel as many of the world’s top players during the great annual tournament at Wijk aan Zee on the Dutch coast in January, and was struck by the regime adopted by Levon Aronian, the Armenian-born world number two, who started each day with a run followed by a healthy breakfast.

After listing the poor health habits that contributed to the early demise of some of the former Soviet Union's great chess players and the equally poor health habits typical of the average club level player, Moss concludes:

So next time someone suggests a nice, quiet game of chess, or paints it as an intellectual pursuit played by wimps, tell them they’ve got it all wrong: this is a fight to the finish played in the tensest of circumstances by two players who are physically and mentally living on the edge. We all need to get fitter to play this demanding game, and society should recognise it for what it is--a sport as challenging, dramatic and exciting as any other. Such recognition would be a tribute of sorts to the two players who sadly played their final games in Tromso.