Now it’s another former world chess champion who is challenging for the World Chess Federation (FIDE) presidency.
Anatoly Karpov tried in 2010 but failed
Four years ago, Anatoly Karpov, the 12th World Chess Champion, entered the FIDE presidential election and lost to longtime incumbent Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. Garry Kasparov, the 13th World Chess Champion, is now taking his turn at bat. With no other nominating tickets coming in by the May 11 deadline, the election in August will be Kasparov vs. Ilyumzhinov.
Kasparov a long shot
Considered by many to be the greatest chess player in history, Kasparov held the world chess title from 1985-2000. In 2010, Kasparov vigorously backed archrival Karpov, but it didn’t help much, as Ilyumzhinov won handily. A report on the FIDE website suggests Ilyumzhinov has a big lead again this year, having been nominated by 56 national federations compared to Kasparov’s 20. Kasparov breaks roughly even with Ilyumzhinov in the federations of Asia and Europe but lags behind in Africa and the Americas. This was the same pattern Karpov could not overcome four years ago.
Kasparov could bring prestige and credibility to office
Throwing his hat into the ring, Kasparov seeks to again impact chess, this time as an executive rather than as a player. What commends him for the post is what favored Karpov in 2010. He would bring great stature and credibility to the presidency and would offer a fresh approach from a unique vantage point. He would improve FIDE’s reputation and chances of attracting top-flight global sponsors. The difficulty in finding a playing site and sponsorship for the upcoming 2014 World Championship rematch between reigning king Magnus Carlsen and now challenger Viswanathan Anand points out just how acute the problem of finding sponsors is. Kasparov is also an ardent supporter of teaching chess in the grade schools and spreading the gospel of chess around the globe, including to the developing world. As a former player, he understands the needs and aspirations of professional chess players. He would also bring necessary and overdue reform to the world chess organization, reform that can only be initialized by an outsider.
Time for a change
To his everlasting credit, Ilyumzhinov has invested much of his time and his considerable fortune in sponsoring and promoting chess. The game of chess is clearly a love of his and he is devoted to it. However, he has made many glaring mistakes during his tenure, the most egregious of which was his authorizing the disastrous FIDE World Chess Championship knockout format that broke the continuity of chess champions that started with Wilhelm Steinitz in the 19th century. The two-game, mini-match, knockout format of 128 players whittled down to a lone remaining champion allowed pretenders like Alexander Khalifman, Ruslan Ponomariov and Rustam Kasimdzhanov to lay claim to being world champions, even though they were not the top players of their era and could not have won the title in the traditional way of round-robin tournaments and lengthy matches. The knockout format is now used for the chess World Cup but no longer directly crowns a champion. But it was in effect long enough to irreparably harm chess history the same way the steroid era sabotaged the baseball record book. Furthermore, Ilyumzhinov has occupied his throne for 19 years now and it is simply time for a change.
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