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Staunton Memorial Dinner 2010 (Press Conference)

Karpov-Kasparov Press Conference, 8 September 2010

Anatoly Karpov, CJ de Mooi and Garry Kasparov. Photo © John Saunders

Anatoly Karpov, CJ de Mooi and Garry Kasparov. Photo © John Saunders |

The Karpov-Kasparov Press Conference, 8 September 2010 by John Saunders / Chess & Bridge press release. Today saw a lengthy press conference with former World Champions Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov along with former challenger Nigel Short and chaired by CJ de Mooi.

Karpov-Kasparov Press Conference, 8 September 2010 by John Saunders / Chess & Bridge press release

Karpov talking at the press conference, Nigel Short in the background. Photo © John Saunders:

Anatoly Karpov's campaign for the FIDE (World Chess Federation) presidency arrived in London on 8 September with a press conference at the famous chess venue Simpsons in the Strand.

As is well known, the Grand Divan at Simpsons hosted all the great chessplayers of the 19th century, but even this distinguished chess haunt has rarely seen such a galaxy of chess superstardom - Garry Kasparov, Anatoly Karpov and Nigel Short, the three men who contested the glut of world championship matches held between 1984 and 1993, the last one a few doors along the Strand at the Savoy Hotel. The press conference was chaired by the president of the English Chess Federation, CJ de Mooi.

The trio of famous world-beaters arrived in ebullient mood, as well they might as they already have pledges of support from all six national federation based in the British Isles and Ireland (England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, Guernsey and Jersey). As such they were preaching to the converted but what they had to say was no less interesting for that.

Anatoly Karpov outlined some of the problems of the campaign, alleging that FIDE was making threats against those federations which had come out in support of his ticket. He was also scathing about the range of improbable promises being made by the incumbent to prospective voters. "He would have to be Russian president to deliver on these promises," said Karpov, with an ironic aside on Ilyumzhinov's "fantastic qualities" (he meant that in the literal sense, of course). For his own part, he talked about the importance of chess education and his plans to educate teachers, organisers and arbiters.

Garry Kasparov commented on the recent resignation of Kirsan Ilyumzhinov from his ‘day job' as the president of Kalmykia. "It is one big fake," opined the former champion, making the point that, far from being an elective position, the presidency of Kalmykia is in the gift of the Russian president. "He resigned before he was kicked out!"

Kasparov gave us a short appraisal on the decline in major chess events since Ilyumzhinov became president. Having listed all the major cities where he, Karpov and Short used to play their major matches, he was scathing about what has happened since: "You have to be a student of geography to know where modern events are played!" - a clear reference to the number of major chess events held in obscure parts of the Caucasus, or in President Ilyumzhinov's back yard.

As regards FIDE's help to federations, Karpov and Kasparov told the audience that they would be hard pressed to find a federation that receives more from FIDE than they pay out in terms of affiliation fees. The Karpov campaign promise is to abolish all fees from federations, seeking to replace it with a major injection of sponsorship money. Commercial sponsorship has run a mile from the current regime, with a president who appears to believe in "little yellow men" evoking the guffaws of western media and potential sponsors alike. Karpov's team are in the process of compiling a list of prospective sponsors but understandably could not elaborate at this stage of the campaign.

It might seem surprising that Karpov, Kasparov and Short should be co-operating so closely after their bitter chess matches of the 1980s and 1990s. Ray Keene even likened this to the political coalition currently in power in Britain. However, there were a few good-humoured verbal cut and thrusts between these former chessboard adversaries. Nigel Short commented that the Kirsan camp was not "fighting for their lives but their livelihoods" but Kasparov interrupted: "they don't differentiate!" - to much laughter. Much later in the press conference, Kasparov showed he has lost little of his powerful memory skills when he returned to this theme. He was expanding on the theme of Ilyumzhinov's reduction to the ranks following his resignation as Kalmyk president: "His claims of Kremlin support are fake. Now people can see that he is a just a Russian citizen - he's nobody, he doesn't have any clout. Kirsan will not be fighting for his livelihood, but his life!" [because there is an enemy of Ilyumzhinov on the ‘United Russia' party list of candidcates for the vacated Kalmykian presidency].

Karpov, CJ de Mooi, Kasparov at the Press Conference. Photo © John Saunders:

Nigel Short, who is standing as part of a allied ticket in the forthcoming European Chess Union election, paid tribute to his illustrious colleagues: "we have these people who care about chess" and contrasted them with current FIDE administrators who demonstrate that they don't care about professional chessplayers, forcing them to sign one-sided undertakings in order to take part in FIDE events. There is no reciprocity, he stated, as FIDE doesn't hesitate to change the venue or reduce the fees payable in return.

Nigel Short gave some examples of FIDE leaning on potential Karpov supporters and wheedling people with improbable promises. About to launch on another such anecdote, he was warned off by Kasparov: "no names, Nigel!" The Karpov campaign is being careful not to name specific examples as it has already lead to trouble for some of the national federations cited, who fear come-backs when they go public. "It is dangerous for small federations to support Karpov. People are scared." Short felt the Ilyumzhinov campaign was "based on deception and myth-making. It's science fiction." "But without the science!" added Karpov.

As to how the campaign is faring, Karpov felt that his campaign was winning the battle in the western hemisphere, with something like two thirds of the support of European federations. He felt that Africa was closer and that there were more problems in Asia where Ilyumzhinov had his natural power base.

The next big event in the campaign is likely to occur on 15 September when Karpov has filed a lawsuit against FIDE in the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, with some pro bono support from a Manhattan law firm. He is seeking the disqualification of the Ilyumzhinov's presidential candidacy on the grounds that he (Karpov) is the Russian federation's official nominee and not Ilyumzhinov (whose contingency plan for getting round FIDE candidacy rules by exploiting his Argentinian honorary membership foundered when it turned out he was not an honorary Argentinian after all).

Kasparov flagged up one major weakness of the Ilyumzhinov position in grandmasterly fashion. "People are afraid to put their support in writing because of the illusion of Ilyumzhinov's invincibility. People like to go with the winner but they are starting to understand that the momentum is with Karpov."

Conference chairman CJ de Mooi, after thanking the distinguished delegates, summed up succinctly: "this is our one chance to save world chess."

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