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Florencio Campomanes (1927-2010)

Florencio Campomanes 1927-2010

Florencio Campomanes 1927-2010

Florencio Campomanes 1927-2010 |

Former FIDE President Florencio Campomanes has died at the age of 83. Campomanes was President of the International Chess Federation FIDE in the period 1982-1995. His period of presidency was a highly controversial one. He suffered injury in two major car crashes. The one in 2007 left him in intensive care. Campomanes was born Manila February 22, 1927 and died of cancer May 3, 2010.

Florencio Campomanes had a degree in Political Science from the University of the Philippines in 1948. Then, he studied at Brown University (Providence, Rhode Island), where he earned his M.A. in 1951. He undertook doctoral studies at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., from 1949-54.

Although not an outstanding player he was of National Master strength a played in five Chess Olympiads: Moscow 1956, Munich 1958, Leipzig 1960, Varna 1962, and Havana 1966.

One thing that can be said about Campomanes is that he did genuinely love chess. Whilst he spent a lot of time campaigning throughout the world maintaining his support base amongst the Federations it can also be said that these visits often "degenerated" into late night blitz chess sessions, which to be clear, I think is a good thing. He also continued to play in chess competitions such as the Malaysian Open until very near the end of his life.

A national delegate for the International Chess Federation FIDE he came to prominence in organising the World Championship match in Baguio, Philippines, in 1978, between Anatoly Karpov and Viktor Korchnoi.

As an official with FIDE he traveled the world making contacts with almost all the Federations. When he came to stand against Fridrik Olafsson in 1982 he won the election and forged a power base amongst the smaller chess nations that still remains.

His first major decisions were defaulting Kasparov in the Candidates before his match against Smyslov. This match was then rearranged. Then one of the moves controversial moments in his career was the calling off of the 1984 World Championship Match between Gary Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov without result after 5 months and 48 games. The match was first to six wins (a typically impractical Bobby Fischer idea) and Karpov in particular looked pretty much dead on his feet. This decision earned the enmity of Gary Kasparov who thought he could win the match. Whilst I'm all for sticking to the rules once a contest starts, his decision was not quite a ridiculous as his critics made out. However his motivation for doing so, health and fairness, or just a wish to help the Soviets and Anatoly Karpov have never been fully established.

The final press conference turned out to be a catastrophe for Campomanes and was probably the low point of his entire career. Looking uncertain and confused as both Karpov and Kasparov claimed they wanted to continue. This moment is the only moment the general public will remember as it appeared on television all over the world. ChessBase have a quote from a forthcoming book "The KGB plays chess" (already out in Russian and German) by Boris Gulko, Viktor Korchnoi, Vladimir Popow and Juri Felschtinski where they claim:

"FIDE President Campomanes, who was already a KGB agent, was persuaded with the help of numerous promises and presents to prevent Karpov's defeat at any expense. At the same time [USSR Chess Federation President, Vitaly] Sevastianov turned to Campomanes. With the signature of [deputy chairman of the KGB] Bobkov a proposal was finally sent to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union to terminate the match and start again with a 0-0 score. The intention was to avoid the impression that the decision favoured Karpov. But mainly people did not want to displease Kasparov's powerful patron Gaidar Alijev. The Central Committee supported the proposal of the KGB and Campomanes terminated the match."

Read which also has a video interview with Campomanes on the 25th Anniversary of "the termination".

Sadly I couldn't find a video of the actual press conference to remind myself of the details. A correspondent reminded me of the infamous Campomanes quote caught off camera "But Anatoly, I told them just what you said".

That said, I personally do not think the termination was necessarily a bad thing.

With a return to a more sensible 24 games for a world title match he presided over further matches between Kasparov and Karpov in 1985, 1986, 1987 and finally 1990. Kasparov won all of these except the drawn one in 1987. Both players became rich as did FIDE (and indeed prize funds in chess as a whole were very good in that period). However FIDE started spending money profligately and when the economic recession hit in the early 1990s they could not turn this spending back.

If Campomanes had quit in 1990 after two terms (which I believe should be the limit for the FIDE Presidency, and indeed all presidencies) he could have pointed to solid achievements by the end and emerged with his reputation reasonably intact. Instead things rapidly fell apart.

Nigel Short expected the prize-fund for his 1993 match against Gary Kasparov to be somewhere in the same ball park as that of the Paris 1990 match. This proved impossible and so he and Kasparov decided to split away from FIDE and hold the match themselves, thus taking out FIDE's cut from the equation. Whilst FIDE immediately defaulted them from their system and held a match between Anatoly Karpov and Jan Timman to keep the "official" title in their hands. This split lasted until a reunification match in Elista between Veselin Topalov and Vladimir Kramnik in 2006.

Meanwhile FIDE's finances were in turmoil and in 1995 it became clear that FIDE was bankrupt and that Campomanes had lost the support of the Federations (Campomanes re-election in 1994 in Moscow was accompanied by accusations of threats against delegates and candidates). He didn't give up however and he found a young Russian multi-millionaire, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov who ran his own former Soviet Republic (Kalmykia), to bail the organisation out and he got the support for him to be elected. I believe that FIDE should have been allowed to go bankrupt and the officials should have faced the consequences of their profligacy. Also that was the time for a long needed root and branch reform of the organisation. Campomanes became an honorary life President with a large stipend from Ilyumzhinov.

Campomanes oversaw the expansion of FIDE with membership growing by about 50 nations, and at the high point the richest World Chess Championships to that time when Kasparov played Karpov in 1990. One of his campaign promises was that every country should have a Grandmaster (or at least a titled player) and like many politicians he achieved this by simply moving the goalposts. He reduced the standards required to become a titled player, a process that has continued unabated to this day.

Campaigning for re-election in 1990 Campomanes had his first serious car accident in Uganda in which the President of the Ugandan Chess Federation was killed. He was badly injured and it has been speculated that he was never quite the same after that. In 2007 he had an even more serious car accident which left him in intensive care but he again recovered. The cause of his death was cancer.

In February 2003 the Philippine anti-graft court Sandiganbayan convicted Florencio Campomanes, the former FIDE president, for failure to account for the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) government funds amounting to PhP12.876 million (or US$238,746). Campomanes escaped major penalty on a technicality.

This is a brief run through of his lengthy career. His contributions and deficiencies may very well be discussed more openly now that he has gone.


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