Cold War musical ‘Chess’ a dated relic

BY DOMINIC P. PAPATOLA
Theater Critic

Minneapolis Musical Theatre is dedicated to bringing rarely performed musicals to Twin Cities audiences. It’s a laudable mission and has brought to light such lost gems of the genre as “When Pigs Fly,” “A Class Act” and “Bat Boy.”

But there are some musicals that deserve to be consigned to the mists of time, and “Chess” — the company’s most recent effort — is one of them.

Conceived by composers Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus (the guys behind ABBA and the Broadway smash “Mamma Mia”) and lyricist Tim Rice (“Jesus Christ Superstar,” “The Lion King” and others), the 1980s-era musical centers on a championship chess match between the American grand champion and his Soviet counterpart.

Chess is held up as a metaphor for Cold War-era international relations, business dealings, the ineffability of love and just about everything else. Fair enough, I suppose. But the ultra-lightweight, faux-serious tenor of the plot has aged poorly, and the music, though filled with catchy hooks, now sounds as dated as a pair of parachute pants.

Minneapolis Musical Theatre’s production is an unstudied one (note to propmaster Robbie Droddy: laptop computers and cordless telephones weren’t in wide use in the 1980s) that strives more for musical excellence than emotional truth.

Tim Kuehl (a Bobby Fischer stand-in named Freddie), Thomas Karki (as Anatoly, the Soviet challenger), Emily Brooke Hansen (as Freddie’s erstwhile love interest, Florence) and Shaun Nathan Baer (as the narrator/arbiter) all have strong voices capable of handling a score filled with rocky anthems and “popera” pretensions.

But it’s almost as if they spent so much time on the music that the acting came as an afterthought. Granted, Richard Nelson’s book is almost extraneous, since Rice’s lyrics are forever telegraphing precisely what is going on in the characters’ heads. But the story is, among other things, a love triangle, and there’s very little in the way of chemistry among the characters.

Kuehl creates a few sparks, strutting around the stage as the cocky Freddie, and Hansen pouts prettily as Florence, but Karki makes for a soggy Anatoly. So neither the chessboard conflict nor the romantic one ever really kindles.

The musical’s international intrigue angle was once a zeitgeisty selling point. Today, it has all the currency of the War of the Roses, and despite the machinations of Michael Jurenek and Joseph Bombard (who play a scheming Russian operative and his American counterpart), it lacks luster.

The set and choreography are both unaccredited and unremarkable. The former is a monochromatic assemblage that does little to augment the proceedings. The latter strives for the funky, but most especially during a go-through of “One Night in Bangkok,” leaves you in an uncomfortable cold sweat muttering “Please … don’t … dance.”

Director Steven J. Meerdink might have been able to ameliorate some of the show’s datedness with a firmer hand that treated the material as the historical curio it’s become. But he seems content to let the material stand as it is, and consequently, his production of “Chess” largely winds up in a stalemate.

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I tried to find info on this in english but to no avail. I reproduce Susan Polgar’s post on it , please visit her site here.

The Magistral Ciutat de Barcelona-Casino tournament took place from October 19 to October 27, 2006 in Barcelona, Spain. The tournament is a strong category 14 event. It was organized by the Catalan Chess Federation. New fide time control, approved in Turin (90′ + 30” + 30′ + 30”).

GM Lenier Dominguez of Cuba ran away with the event by scoring 8/9 for a 2900+ performance.

Final Standings:

1. Dominguez, Lenier g CUB 2655 8.0
2. Ivanchuk, Vassily g UKR 2741 6.5
3. Korneev, Oleg g RUS 2657 5.5
4. Bologan, Viktor g MDA 2659 5.0
5-7. Peralta, Fernando g ARG 2574, Narciso Dublan, Marc g ESP 2511, Granda Zuniga, Julio g PER 2646 4.0
8. Lopez Martinez, Josep m ESP 2508 3.5
9. Timman, Jan g NED 2565 2.5
10. Lacasa Diaz, Jose m ESP 2410 2.0

The man who bought chess

October 29, 2006

The man who bought chess

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, President of the remote Russian republic of Kalmykia, and friend of the Kremlin, last month achieved what no one had been able to do for more than a decade: he reunified world chess when he hosted the most thrilling match since the days of Fischer and Spassky. A devout Buddhist and mystic, he claims to have been abducted by aliens, rules with an iron fist and wants to turn his homeland into the world’s chess capital. Interview and report by Ed Vulliamy

Sunday October 29, 2006
Observer Sport Monthly

A breeze, rare in this land of gales, rustles a canopy under which a Buddha sits. A woman puts down her shopping bag to place a flower and speak her devotions. Across the main square there is a statue of Lenin. And between the Buddha and Lenin, in the centre of the square, is a huge chess board with outsized pieces, around which a crowd watches a game between two rugged men.This is Elista, capital of the faraway Russian republic of Kalmykia, one of the federation’s poorest and most remote. Beyond the dilapidated, low-rise blocks that encircle the city centre are nothing but windswept steppe and boundless distance, where flat earth meets the sky. The nearest functioning airport is several hours’ drive away, in Volgograd – formerly Stalingrad – in Russia proper, past nothing but a few sheep, the odd lonely shepherd or bareback rider and thick and swooping murders of crows.Very few people had heard of this southern republic before the world chess championship was held here in October. It was won by Russia’s Vladimir Kramnik, who beat Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria. Staged here by the world chess federation, the Federation Internationale des Echecs (FIDE), the match made Elista the undisputed world capital of the ancient game, and it became so because FIDE’s president – the man who was driven from the championship venue to a dancing display and then to a banquet in a white Rolls-Royce – also happens to be the President of Kalmykia: the multi-millionaire chess fanatic Kirsan Nikolayevich Ilyumzhinov.

Ilyumzhinov is eccentric to say the least. For a start, he believes in – and, indeed, claims to have travelled with – space aliens. He combines a political ruthlessness that tolerates little opposition with a deep spiritual devotion and a belief that bringing chess to his country is divinely ordained. He can be charming, yet his narcissism and ambition are shameless. He has had discourses with Pope John Paul II, the Dalai Lama, Henry Kissinger and Vladimir Putin, while fighting his own election campaigns on promises of a free mobile phone for every shepherd and that Diego Maradona will play for the local football team.

And now he has crowned himself the king of world chess through hosting the reunification into a single championship of a game played by millions but riven by 13 years of acrimony and intrigue. With Kramnik’s victory, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov completes his purchase of the world’s most venerable and esoteric game. Writing in the Wall Street Journal during the championship, Garry Kasparov described Ilyumzhinov as having established ‘a vertical column of power that would be familiar to any observer of Russia today. He runs the chess world in the same authoritarian way he runs his republic.’

The final enthralling match of the championship took place on 13 October. After the match finished level at 6-6, the championship was decided on a tense afternoon of tie-breaks – equivalent to a penalty shoot-out in football – to give chess its first undisputed world champion since Kasparov split from FIDE in 1993 to found the Professional Chess Association (PCA), a title he once defended against Britain’s Nigel Short in London. Since then, the PCA and FIDE have held separate championships, so that chess has been like the two American baseball leagues, but without an equivalent to the World Series. Attempts to organise a merging ‘final’ between the two parallel columns had proved unsuccessful … until now, when Kramnik, the PCA champion, agreed to take on Topalov, FIDE champion, after Ilyumzhinov put up $1m prize money, to be shared between the two players.

This is how world chess established itself in the back of beyond: in 1995, FIDE – the second-largest sports organisation in the world after Fifa, with 154 national members – was in crisis, its president Florencio Campomanes besieged by allegations of financial irregularity. At the FIDE conference in Paris that year, Campomanes stood down, on condition that his successor would be Ilyumzhinov. Two years previously, Ilyumzhinov had been elected as President of Kalmykia after campaigning across the steppe in a Lincoln stretch limousine, promising to transform the wretchedly poor republic into the ‘Kalmykia Corporation’, a ‘new Kuwait’. He was re-elected, unopposed, in 1995, and celebrated by staging a Boney M concert in Elista’s Lenin Square. In 2002, he was reappointed by Vladimir Putin after elections for heads of republics were abolished by Moscow.

By taking over FIDE as well as Kalmykia, Ilyumzhinov cast himself and his country into a leading role on the world stage that would combine fantasy and reality, delusion and realpolitik, chess and money. Ilyumzhinov has funded prizes all over the world; he has spent $100m on a complex called City Chess on the edge of his capital – including a hotel and chess museum – with an even more extravagant development to come. For the present championship, Kalmykia’s parliament building – the only suitable arena – had to be completely refurbished at huge cost. Once, Ilyumzhinov approached Kasparov in Budapest and gave him $100,000 in cash, to compensate for the loss of Soviet royalties on a book he had written. Quite where Ilyumzhinov’s spending ends and where Kalmykia’s begins is a matter of bitter debate.

Ilyumzhinov belongs to a people descended from Genghis Khan’s Mongol hordes, who wandered west to the Caspian to establish the only Buddhist nation in Europe. The word ‘Kalmyk’ is Turkish for ‘remnant’. A people of nomads and shepherds, their religion and ways were generally tolerated by Imperial Moscow and St Petersburg, so long as their warriors protected Russia’s southern edges. But Stalin was convinced the Kalmyks were sympathetic to the Nazi invasion of 1941 and, from 28 December 1943, ordered the deportation of the entire people to Siberia, a third of whom died in cattle trucks en route. When they were allowed to return in 1957, during Nikita Krushchev’s ‘thaw’, there were 70,000 Kalymks left. Now, there are 320,000, and their national sport is their President’s obsession, the game he made compulsory in school soon after taking office: chess.

No match since the days of Spassky and Fischer, or Kasparov and Karpov, attracted such wide attention among the non-initiated as that between Kramnik and Topalov, thanks to what became known as ‘the great toilet scandal’. After four games, with Kramnik winning 3-1, Topalov’s team complained that Kramnik was visiting the toilet on average 50 times a game – with each game lasting between three-and-a-half and seven hours. The implication was that he was cheating with a computer. An appeals committee ruled out ‘external help’ and said that Kramnik was visiting the toilet only 18 times a game. But the committee partially upheld the complaint, having been advised by Ilyumzhinov that Kramnik’s toilet should be sealed and a common lavatory used, with videotapes of Kramnik’s rest breaks (though not in the toilet itself, which is not surveyed) passed on to Topalov’s team for analysis. Incensed, Kramnik refused to play game five, which he forfeited to Topalov. The chess world rallied behind Kramnik and, after a direct intervention by Ilyumzhinov, the rest of the match was played under the shadow of a threat that Kramnik would not recognise – indeed, would legally contest – a Topalov victory.

The audience for the final tie-breaks was divided into two: those watching live, in the hush of the arena, and those following on a screen in the lobby, under a sign reading: ‘Keep Silence’. Fat chance. Leather-skinned old men wearing Soviet military medals debated each move, while various hypotheses were played out on a second screen by the commentator from Moscow, Grandmaster Vladimir Belov. ‘It’d be crazy for black to go g4!’ someone shouted. ‘No! He has to open the queen!’ ‘It’s great having the match here,’ says Belov. ‘In Moscow, chess gets lost in everything else. Here, it is everything else.’

Tambayev Samdjevich, who is 83, was wounded at Stalingrad and was then ‘retired to Siberia because of my nationality’. After working as an accountant, he returned to Kalmykia to become a full-time Communist Party official. He is a Topalov fan, ‘because of his offensive game. Maybe I learned to respect that approach in the Red Army.’ Dmitri Akuma and Stanislav Nastashouk, both 14, have attended every game and love chess, because, Dmitri says, ‘it helps us develop ourselves and our minds, to keep us away from alcohol and drugs’. Another enthusiastic onlooker is Oksana Sitnik, with her blond tresses, micro-skirt, sheer stockings and sharp-heeled boots. ‘Staging the championship here is the achievement of our President,’ she says. ‘Kalmykia is a chess nation, and the President reflects that.’

With the championship won by Kramnik, it is Ilyumzhinov – rather than the dazed champion – who once more takes centre stage: first at a performance of traditional Kalmyk dancing, during which Kramnik is crowned with a huge wreath and presented with a gold cup. Ilyumzhinov gives the champion a further prize – a thoroughbred horse. ‘I know you will both be back in Kalmykia,’ he tells the two chess champions. ‘In fact, Mr Kramnik was saying just now how beautiful our Kalmyk women are, and I would point out that both these players are bachelors.’

The banquet that follows features rounds of ‘Hello Dolly’ and ‘Strangers in the Night’ on full orchestra. ‘Millions and millions of lovers of chess all over the world have looked to this moment to unite the game in Kalmykia,’ Ilyumzhinov says. ‘Both outstanding players came here with much to lose, but did so in the name of chess, to create a single champion, and to do so here in Kalmykia.’ Oddly, and unlike Western politicians who flaunt their happy family lives at every opportunity, Ilyumzhinov airbrushes his wife and children from the scene and his life story – there is no visible First Lady of Kalmykia.

Ilyumzhinov’s reputation goes before him. It does so in ubiquitous billboards and photographs of him with the Dalai Lama, who came to Elista in 2004 to consecrate land for the $50 million Buddhist temple. Or with Pope John Paul II, whom Ilyumzhinov met in 1994, after which he built a church for Elista’s reputed sole Catholic. Or with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who came in 2002, for whom he also built a church.

The City Chess complex was built for $100m for the 1998 Chess Olympiad. It comprises a hotel with huge chess boards in the lobby, a chess museum of trophies and memorabilia, chess tables, a swimming pool and luxury flats for Elista’s nomenklatura. In the event, the championship could not be held there because there was no public arena large enough.

On arriving in Elista, the visitor receives a copy of Ilyumzhinov’s autobiography, translated into English. It is called The President’s Crown of Thorns, and can be read as a text book on the cult of personality, locating Ilyumzhinov and Kalmykia at the centre of Russian, global and, indeed, cosmic events.

The narrative recounts how Ilyumzhinov was born in 1962, the grandson of a Russian Civil War hero. Growing up under the influence of his grandfather, who played chess, the young Ilyumzhinov reflected on how ‘the 32 white and 32 black checks on the board seemed to me to encompass the duality of the whole world’. At night, he played chess with a ‘black-masked ghost’, and learned the art of leadership through captaining a youth chess team. He experienced spiritual enlightenment while sleeping out on the steppe – ‘I am the merest speck of dust in the boundless, living world’. Ilyumzhinov drew inspiration from Buddha’s promise that one of those born in the Year of the Tiger (which he was) will be ‘summoned to govern’ the people in their hour of need ‘and bring nobility’. And so it goes on until Ilyumzhinov is admitted to the Foreign Relations Institute in Moscow, to study Japanese, where he encounters Western reports on UFO sightings, ‘clairvoyance, bio-energy and enigmatic phenomena’. During the period of Glasnost, Ilyumzhinov was appointed Russian director of a Soviet-Japanese firm, Liko-Raduga, importing Audi and Volkswagen cars. As the USSR collapsed and was looted, Ilyumzhinov took ‘bigger risks’ and founded his own Sun Corporation, now with 50 subsidiaries and an annual turnover of $500m, as we arrive at Chapter 7: ‘Without Me The People Are Incomplete’.

So begins Ilyumzhinov’s political career, at the urging of others, craving deliverance, and a sense of duty towards the poor. First, he becomes Kalmyk deputy to Moscow, then President of the republic, as predicted by Vanga, the Bulgarian clairvoyant he consults. The Sun Corporation, meanwhile, is ‘earning huge profits’, so great that ‘we could no longer keep track of the money’ – but always ‘honest’, ‘no shady dealing’. ‘When I left the world of business, many cried,’ Ilyumzhinov writes, his ‘Kalmykia Corporation’ having now ‘entered the international economic arena as an equal partner’. Then he moved into politics, becoming President of Kalmykia.

On the final afternoon of the championship Ilyumzhinov was in an excited mood. ‘Consider,’ he said, ‘the championship will be decided on Friday 13th, 13 years after the 13th champion, Kasparov, left FIDE. This is more than just numbers – this is a sign. I believe that chess comes either from God or from beings flying a UFO. I should know! They took me aboard their airship while I was on a business trip to Moscow, in 1997, to a distant star. It’s perfectly normal – last year, I visited America and learned from official statistics that there are 4,000 annual reports of contact.’

We continue for some time discussing the divinity of chess. ‘Each year, archaeologists find evidence of chess in America, India, Japan or China, played under the same rules, from a time without planes or the internet. Look, the chessboard has 64 squares, and our cells are made of 64 pieces. All this shows that chess comes either from God or from UFOs.’

There is divinity, too, in Kalmykia’s anointment as capital of chess: ‘God intended Kalmykia to be known for chess. Through chess, I have opened the world to Kalmykia and Kalmykia to the world. Every year, I visit 50 or 60 countries, meeting heads of state.’ Chess, he says, is also ‘a sign of law’, a way of governing ‘to achieve order and peace’ and the key to his success in business. ‘As in chess, I have to think, in politics and in business, not only about the next move, but to be 10 moves ahead. A ruler and a businessman must be 10 moves ahead of his people or competitors. And as in chess, there are no compromises.’

The people he most admires for combining order, morality and wisdom are the Dalai Lama, Genghis Khan, Lenin and Jesus Christ.

He enthuses about foreign investment pouring into Kalmykia, for which last year, he says, the republic came sixth out of the 89 republics in the Russian Federation. There will be a joint venture with a German company to process wool and with an Italian firm to manufacture plastic windows. A deal was agreed in Amsterdam to develop wind power and another for a port on the Caspian and oil extraction. ‘I also made an offer of $10m to bring Lenin’s body from its mausoleum in Moscow. I thought: if the Russians don’t want him, we do. His grandmother was Kalmyk, and it would be good for tourism.’

The most revolutionary forthcoming venture, he says, results from ‘investment I made into research in Kalmykia and Moscow for a new automobile gear system that will make cars cheaper and safer. I invested this money 10 years ago and people said, “You’re crazy – why haven’t Ford thought of this?” But they hadn’t, and we spotted the people who had. In that way, I am crazy, and my friends are crazy – but wait and see.’

Ilyumzhinov planned to stage the 1996 FIDE championships, between Anatoly Karpov and Gata Kamsky, in Baghdad, after a meeting with Saddam Hussein (it was eventually played in Elista, after widespread protests). ‘I wanted to organise a big tournament in Iraq because Saddam Hussein is an intelligent and cultured man,’ he assures me, ‘and he supports chess, he understands its value.’ Ilyumzhinov discusses his vision for the next stage. ‘I want to establish a global chess corporation, based in Amsterdam, to concern itself with securing major sponsorship from companies like Microsoft, Intel and Google. And, of course, Coca-Cola – in fact, as I sit here talking, I’ve come up with the slogan: “First think, then drink!” How about that? Why don’t you come with me to Atlanta and we’ll propose it?’ Ilyumzhinov returns to it again and again: ‘Have you got that? – “First think, then drink!”‘

The tie-breaks are about to begin. We conclude, and during a quick debriefing session, the keeper to Ilyumzhinov’s gateway, Buichna Galzamov, advises: ‘Call it quantum psychology.’

‘How can the law-abiding nature of social development co-exist with the cult of personality?’ Ilyumzhinov asks in his book – an observation worth heeding as one prepares to explore his fiefdom.

Yashkul, Kalmykia’s so-called second city, has grass growing between the flagstones of its main square, and another statue of Lenin waving from one end at a mural commemorating the Red Army on a crumbling wall opposite. Devastated by the agricultural crisis that followed the closure and looting of state farms during the Nineties, the town is a sprawl of buildings at various stages of completion or abandonment. But in the First Gymnasium School, there is a little miracle at work, fruit of Ilyumzhinov’s Directive 129: ‘On government support for the development of a chess movement’. Tseren Bukhayev is taking a chess class for 10- and 11-year-olds whose confidence is as disarming as it is enchanting. ‘I like chess because it is an intelligent game and helps me to speculate,’ says Aysa Valentova, who is 10. ‘It’s a kind of entertainment,’ says 11-year-old Kema Tsandikova – in English – ‘but it helps me to concentrate and helps me in other subjects, of which my favourite is biology.’

After school, some of these children walk across a scrappy yard to the comfortless Palace of Culture, where the chess club opens at four in the afternoon. There, they play one another, or against old men and women, among volumes on chess history and beneath a hall of fame, featuring portraits of champions back to Wilhelm Steinitz, Jose Raul Capablanca and Alexander Alekhine and giving equal prominence to Nona Gaprindashvili and the famous Georgian Empresses of the women’s game. ‘More and more people are coming to play,’ says Oleg Murgayev, preparing for the evening’s competition. ‘Sometimes they will stay all night.’ It all seems to bear out what Ilyumzhinov’s assistant Berik Balbagayev says when he talks about chess as ‘the young generation’s best protection against drugs’, and ‘a way to consider and take responsibility for one’s moves, to learn defeat wisely so that next time you won’t make the same mistake’. Or the Elista chess school teacher Mikhail Golosya’s dictum: ‘Chess helps to create a rational, conscious sense of citizenship and self.’ But unfortunately Kalmykia cannot live on chess alone.

Soon after being elected President in 1993, Ilyumzhinov effectively abolished parliament, re-appointing his own, smaller version and packing ministries with his inner circle. There’s even a joke in his own cartoon book: ‘If you want to succeed, ask a wizard to make you one of Ilyumzhinov’s classmates!’ Any cogent opposition was effectively driven underground, and that is where its leaders remain, cowering like hunted foxes in a shabby office at the Hotel Elista.

There, a former construction engineer, Valery Baldaev, and a lawyer, Boris Andzhayev, label Ilyumzhinov ‘a master of illusion’. Baldaev posits that: ‘The economy has stagnated, there is no development or investment.’ Unemployment runs at 43 per cent. ‘If all this investment exists, where is it? Where are the factories? Where are the companies that went bankrupt and the farms that closed? Where are the 40 planes that flew from the airport, now closed, in Soviet times?’

Ilyumzhinov’s insistence that Kalmykia ranks sixth in foreign investment raises a hollow laugh – ‘That’s his fantasy’ – and Baldaev produces a report from the auditing committee for the Southern Russian Republics that, he says, places Kalmykia in 81st place in the federation. Another report shows Kalmykia as having well below average income, at 1,978 roubles (£39) per month (the federal average is 2,376).

Meanwhile, says Andzhayev, City Chess was built in part from the public budget, as was the towering Buddhist temple. It was the same with the refurbishment of parliament for the present championships. ‘He is lying if he says that all his own money was used,’ says Baldaev. ‘It is, in effect, almost a kind of personality tax,’ says Valery Ulyadurov, editor of the opposition paper, Sovietskaya Kalmykia. ‘The chess championships are all surface and when they’re over they do nothing for the people of Kalmykia, except for the bill we have to pay.’

In 1994, Sovietskaya Kalmykia’s offices were raided by police and equipment was confiscated. The paper instead printed in Volgograd and was distributed from the back of a car. And, in 1998, it began investigating one of Ilyumzhinov’s schemes: the creation of an ‘offshore’ haven for Russian companies, which, by paying a registration fee to an agency alleged by opposition groups to be connected to Ilyumzhinov, could avoid paying republic taxes, though they were still liable for federal tax – making Kalmykia in effect a Cayman Island on the steppe.

The journalist Larisa Yudina was about to publish her findings on the eve of the 1998 Chess Olympiad, an event that the Glasnost Defence Foundation, a human-rights group based in Moscow, had pleaded players to boycott because, ‘you will eat and drink on money received by a racket – President Ilyumzhinov’s private fund, which is financed by an unlawful tribute by all the companies registered in Kalmykia’s offshore zone’.

In 1996, Yudina had described Ilyumzhinov to a Western newspaper as ‘a Khan, charming abroad but vengeful at home. If you are against him, that’s it.’ On the eve of the Chess Olympiad, her investigation into the tax haven still in progress, Yudina was stabbed to death, her body dumped near a pond.

Federal authorities took over the murder investigation and, in autumn 1999, convicted two men, on the basis of their own confessions. They were sentenced to 21 years. One, Sergei Vaskin, was an adviser to Ilyumzhinov; the second, Shanukov, is described by Ulyadurov, as ‘a criminal gangster’. A third man, an accomplice, turned state’s evidence against his companions in return for acquittal on a conspiracy charge.

Kalmykia’s offshore system was closed by federal authorities after a prosecutor’s report of 29 August 2002 concluded that few taxes had arrived in federal coffers from the Kalmyk-registered companies, and that: ‘As a result, 4.238bn roubles have not been received by the federal bank during the year 2000 … and 6.295bn in 2001.’ Moreover, ‘Criminals are using this system to commit their illegalities of a regional, inter-regional and international character, doing grave harm to Russian state interests.’ Kalmykia is now liable to Moscow for the missing taxes, which the opposition estimates at some 20bn roubles.

A portrait of the murdered Yudina is the only decoration on the dank wall of the opposition office, where Baldaev says: ‘We still can’t distribute the paper in the shops or post it, and any advertiser would have to be sanctioned by Ilyumzhinov.’

The paper’s aim, he says, is simply ‘to present an alternative point of view to that of the Ilyumzhinov government – socially, economically and politically’. For instance, says Andzhayev, a fraction of the amount spent on the chess championships could have gone to refurbish and provide hygienic equipment for a hospital treating victims of tuberculosis – rife, he says, in Kalmykia – which is instead due for closure.

‘What I say to these critics,’ says Ilyumzhinov during our interview, ‘is this: “Come to Kalmykia! Come to Elista and see! You will find simple people here, living in order and in peace while all around there is war and terrorism, explosions in every republic.” In Moscow, I am afraid, I am told: “You’re not a Russian, go back to the Caucasus!” – while here, everyone can play, everyone is safe, everyone is welcome. That is democracy.’

On the death of Larisa Yudina, Ilyumzhinov says: ‘That newspaper wrote something, but I have nothing to do with this. In a country of 300,000 people, we have 50 or 60 newspapers, more than any other republic in the federation – that is a free press.’ On the funding of City Chess, the temple and the present championship, Ilyumzhinov is adamant that ‘not a rouble came from the people. It was all paid for by the sponsors, me and my friends.’ On the offshore tax scam: ‘Anything wrong had nothing to do with me whatsoever. What I want here is an offshore zone for all the religions of the world, in the interests of peace. And this we will have.’

In a place of whispers, echoes and caution, it is hard to gauge Ilyumzhinov’s esteem. He seems popular among the young: on Saturday night at the Overdrive Club, girls dance with each other on Russia’s regulation stiletto boots, while their boyfriends drink. Brig, drummer in the band playing, called Noizz, says: ‘Ilyumzhinov’s my neighbour, one of us, a regular type.’ Konstantin, from behind sunglasses, calls Ilyumzhinov, in English: ‘A cool guy – hey, he got rich.’ Sasha, a thoughtful language student, considers Ilyumzhinov ‘a very good model for our nation’.

But not everybody agrees. ‘He’s a very young leader,’ says Stalingrad veteran Samdjevich, when we meet again after the championship, ‘always promising things he can’t deliver. Like that port on the Caspian, like this airport that never opens. Things are so much worse now – people can’t get jobs, and the pension value goes down and down.’

Vladimir Kusko, a PE tutor thinks: ‘It seems wrong to spend all this money on chess while poor people are short of food and housing is bad. But then, ask yourself: is Tony Blair paying for your Olympics, or will you?’

The low-rise flats in Ulan-Egre have been demolished and where the social club stood there is now a football pitch. On an outlying road, what was once the collectivised farm is practically lifeless. Beside it, old Nina Mikhailovna tends her three goats on a patch of scrub. ‘It’s all gone downhill over the last eight to 10 years. It was lovely here when we had water,’ she recalls. ‘There were strawberries and trees. But the pipes broke, and no one came to mend them. The farm had tractors and a truck, but they all disappeared. My pension is worth less and less since the Brezhnev times, but I can live off the goats: these two to eat, and this one for milk. Ilyumzhinov? Well, it’s a bit like Putin, isn’t it? I’ll make up my mind when I see what they do. Yes, Ilyumzhinov has made Elista bloom, all those flowers and the chess. But what about the rest? Will he re-open the farm? Let’s make that the judgement, shall we, now that the chess is over.’

· Ed Vulliamy is an Observer journalist and was named Foreign Reporter of the Year in 1993 and 1997 at the British Press Awards

 

OSHA for Chess Players

October 24, 2006

Via the Boylston Chess Club, we learn the hazards of chess…

from the nashville city paper
The Opryland Hotel has been named as a defendant in a federal wrongful death lawsuit…

The civil action claims [that Rosanna] Lane died as an indirect result of injuries she sustained when an Opryland Hotel conference table suddenly collapsed on her lap.

Lane was attending a chess tournament held at the Opryland Hotel April 2005 when, according to the complaint, a conference table “suddenly and without warning” broke and fell directly on Lane’s lower body.

Her injuries required surgery to her knee, the lawsuit says. And as a result of that surgery she developed an infection that ultimately killed her.

Garry Kasparov on youtube.com

Howard Stern, GM

This post here combines my two passions, FUTEBOL and chess.. Simen Agdestein, 7 time Norwegian champ and a football player to boot

McCheckmate

October 20, 2006

McCheckmate: Chess players square off under the golden arches on Kimberly Avenue Jim Shelton , Register Staff -NEW HAVEN — To the victors go the fries.

At least, that’s how it works at the McDonald’s restaurant on Kimberly Avenue, where fast food meets speed chess.

One Saturday a month, spindly prodigies and gray-haired masters meet up with other chess fanatics in the front lobby of the restaurant, ready for battle. They spend the afternoon matching wits in the restaurant’s sleek booths, while hungry diners look on from their Quarter Pounders and supersized fries.

“It’s a perfect marriage of location and game,” says Jim Celone of Orange, who has organized highly successful chess programs at West Haven High School and other area schools. “This is a more social setting, but also a great opportunity for new players to get a taste of what a tournament is like. It’s the first time we’ve done a tournament in a fast food restaurant.” On this day, nearly 30 players turn out for the competition. They range in age from grade-school kids to octogenarians.

“I can’t think of anything other than a physical sport where you can get a whole cross-section of age, race and cultures doing something together,” says Bennie Morris, 47, of New Haven.

Morris is here with his buddy, 44-year-old John Edwards of Hamden. “This is my first tournament, so I’m the new kid on the block,” Edwards explains. “I came to see what it felt like.”

Mainly, it feels swift. During each game, players have individual timers that tick off seconds as they contemplate their chess moves. Each player has a maximum of 15 minutes to complete their game. Celone and his tournament director, Cameron Bishop of West Haven, determine the match-ups for each of the tournament’s five rounds. There are trophies and free meals for the top players.

“It’s 15 minutes. Win, lose or draw, you’re not going to take it too seriously,” says Richard Chang, 39, of South Windsor. “It’s free entertainment. You can’t beat that.”

Cheetiri Smith, 14, of West Haven, says she’s been a chess player since sixth grade. “It’s fun to get out and meet people and play,” she says. “I usually just play at school or at home.”

But make no mistake. A strong current of competition is in the air, along with the smell of Big Macs and McNuggets. As the first round of match-ups is announced, players shake hands, unroll their game boards and set up their chess pieces.

“Hopefully, you get to play some good talent,” confides James Jalowiec, 30, of Hamden. “You want somebody to really give you a run for your money.”

At the outset, Celone sets some ground rules:

“If you happen to be an adult and a master, and you’re paired up with a non-master, PLEASE remember this is a fun tournament,” he says. “We want our younger players to hang in there as long as possible. OK, is everyone ready? Start your clocks.”

There is quiet at first, other than the sound of hands slapping at time clocks. Spectators amble into the game area, including a teacher here to root for a student, an older married couple who recently took up the game, plus some curious diners.

The restaurant’s owner-operator, Santiago Negre, looks on with pride, as does Gail Grant, the restaurant’s marketer. Grant helped organize this tournament with Celone.

“I taught my three sons chess from a library book,” Grant says, watching the action. “Jim and I had a two-hour meeting about our visions for this. We want to introduce more people in the community to this wonderful game. It encourages learning, communication and concentration.”

As the rounds continue, different styles of play emerge. Morris, for instance, plays his game standing up — a technique he picked up from chess great Bobby Fischer; another player, a teenager, covers his head and part of his face with his hoodie. An even younger player chooses to swivel his chair side to side throughout his matches.

“Strategy. I love the strategy,” says Lisa Bostick, 44, of New Haven. She’s been playing chess for decades, primarily with co-workers at the U.S. Postal Service facility in Wallingford during breaks. Also, Bostick’s grandfather was a chess champion in Trinidad-Tobago in the early 1960s.

“I like the fact there’s old-timers and kids here,” she says. “A tournament, any tournament, gives you bragging rights. I’ll see these people again and I’ll build a network of friends.”

Ultimately, chess master Hanon Russell of Milford wins the event, with high school player William Turpin of West Haven coming in second and octogenarian Leonid Exler coming in third.

“Chess is a discipline that makes you think,” Celone says. “There’s no one to blame if you mess up, and a host of positive benefits to gain. It teaches you to win or lose gracefully and react well under pressure.”

ChessBase.com has posted a funny film off of youtube, Chess Club.  If you are a fan of FightClub and/or chess, you’ll enjoy it.

Kasparov fears for his life

October 12, 2006

Chess champion Kasparov fears for safety after journalist murder

LISBON: Former chess champion Garry Kasparov, an outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said on Thursday he fears for his safety in the wake of the weekend murder of a critical Russian investigative journalist.        

 

“I try to protect myself and my family as much as possible but I am aware that no protection is possible,” he said in an interviewed published in daily Portuguese newspaper Jornal de Negocios.          

 

“Putin’s regime is seen in the West as a strange democracy, a Russian-style democracy. But in reality it is a police state. And the sooner Putin leaves, the better off the country will be,” he added.        

 

Speaking at a business conference in Lisbon late Wednesday, Kasparov said “it would be stupid for someone who is hostile to an authoritarian regime to not be afraid,” daily newspaper 24Horas reported.   

 

Kasparov, who was born in the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan, helped set up Committee 2008, a group dedicated to bringing down Putin and stopping the constitution from being changed so that he can run for a third term.              

 

On Saturday Anna Politkovskaya, one of the last journalists to investigate human rights abuses in Chechnya and openly criticise Putin, was gunned down in what police said was a professional hit.          

 

The murder caused an international outcry and raised fears about freedom of the press in Russia, where at least 42 journalists have been killed since the Soviet collapse in 1991.

It comes down to this..

October 11, 2006

All tied up, with one game to go..

Topalov says he’s a “tabula rasa“..

Yesterday Nigel Short and Gata Kamsky had a little spat during commentary.. Daily Dirt has recap and Susan Polgar has the play by play with her own commentary, which occured during game 11..

 

Grandmaster flak over the message in a yoghurt

Harry Pearson
Friday October 6, 2006

“Like madmen they were,” my friend’s mother said. It was the late 70s and she was explaining why she had banned chess grandmasters from her house.They were an emigré family from the Eastern bloc, the father was a talented chess player and for years the house had been a port of call for visiting checkmate greats. But not any more.

“Like madmen!” My friend nodded. According to his reports a chess grandmaster could wreck a house faster than a drug-crazed Keith Moon. The destruction was not wilful but absent-minded. So focused were they on their profession that their peripheral vision was non-existent. They were domestically purblind. Crockery was smashed, drinks spilled, taps left running until baths overflowed. The mother’s patience had finally snapped when a grandmaster from the banks of the Danube had set light to the living room curtains with a cigar while reading the chess reports. His hostess was cooking lunch and had only been alerted to the conflagration when the grandmaster, still immersed in “Bc4 Bd7” and the like, wandered into the kitchen with flames leaping from his shirt. She saved him by throwing a saucepan of water over his head.

Chess has been in the headlines this week, thanks to the Bulgarian challenger Veselin Topalov, who raised the alarm because the world champion, Vladimir Kramnik of Russia, went to the toilet 200 times during their first four games. Topalov was worried that Kramnik was visiting the toilet to receive messages. What messages he would have got in a toilet beyond the usual ones – “Be here 12 Sunday if U want sex” – was not stated, but when I read the reports I could clearly hear “Like madmen they were!” echoing across the decades.Minor incidents can mushroom in the game’s muggy atmosphere. There was the European Cup tie between Slough and SV Merkur Graz which ended in acrimony after the Austrian captain was accused of sneaking up behind an opponent and poking him in the back; the match between Viktor Korchnoi and Tigran Petrosian in which both were alleged to have been kicking the other under the table; and the 36th Olympiad in Majorca at which the vice-president of the game’s ruling body, Fide, spent the night in jail after allegedly headbutting a security guard.

Perhaps the greatest illustration of my friend’s mother’s words came a few months after she uttered them, when Korchnoi and Valery Karpov did battle for the world championship in the Philippines. Karpov was a man who recalled Jim Laker’s description of the Pakistan leg-spinner Abdul Qadir: “Slightly on the nervous side of highly strung.” Korchnoi had a temperament so mercurial he could have been used as a makeshift thermometer.

Korchnoi demanded that his opponent’s chair be x-rayed to check for “extraneous objects or prohibited devices”. Karpov claimed the glare from his opponent’s sunglasses was giving him a headache. Korchnoi said his adversary was swivelling his chair in an an attempt to disturb his concentration.

The sparring over, Korchnoi waded in with a protest that Karpov was receiving coded messages from his break-time yoghurt. According to Korchnoi, the flavour of yoghurt signalled advice from a team of watching experts. For instance low-fat hazelnut translated as “Bf1 g5”, black cherry as “NxB7” and a choco-hoop crunchy corner as “switch the board round quick when he’s not looking, or you’re buggered”.

Korchnoi was persuaded to drop his protest after it was pointed out that there are hundreds more chess moves than there are varieties of yoghurt, a point only slightly undermined by the arrival of Karpov’s afternoon snack – lite ‘n’ low Greek-style solid-set yak’s milk with kipper and birch bark. Yet by then, Korchnoi also had a hypnotist to worry about.

In their previous meeting, Karpov claimed to have noticed a member of Korchnoi’s coaching team “trying to catch my eye”. Most of us would simply have assumed the man was trying to draw our attention to the fact our flies were undone. Karpov leapt to the conclusion that this was an attempt to hypnotise him. Perhaps he was right, and the hypnotist had said, “Now when I click my fingers you will act like a paranoid idiot,” because this time Karpov employed his own hypnotist, Dr Vladimir Zukhar, to stand in the crowd and stare at Korchnoi.

Korchnoi counter-attacked, bringing in two members of the Ananda Marga sect as yoga instructors. This saffron-robed pair unnerved Karpov, though that may have had less to do with their transcendental powers than the fact they were out on bail pending appeal, having been sentenced to 17 years in jail for stabbing an Indian diplomat.

I cannot recall who was victorious, though I think we can safely say that in this case and that of the toilet-break fracas, the game of chess was the genuine winner.