Kirsan's Gambit

Doesn’t take much to take your eye off the ball. It could be something like...I don’t know, say, a World Cup. Or a Tour de France. And then a month passes and the biggest sports news of the summer goes unreported. Well, that won’t happen here.

As you most certainly know, I am referring to the upcoming presidential election that will answer the question everyone is asking, “Who will lead the Fédération Internationale des Échecs (FIDE) (known to you as the World Chess Federation) into the 21st and two-tenths Century?”

Who, indeed? How about the current FIDE president and FIDE president for the past 15 years, and, praise be, candidate for another presidential term? Introducing Kirsan Nikolaevich Ilyumzhinov. If it please the court, allow me to present his bona fides.

Firstly, Kirsan, 48, is rich; this by way of Moscow’s Institute for Foreign Relations, where he matriculated for six productive years, networking the cream of the Soviet ruling class. When the Soviet Union crashed, he became a player during the subsequent frontier days of Russian capitalism. Kirsan made huge money in ways that have never been coherently explained. Nowadays he owns a private jet, six-plus Rolls Royces, digs in Moscow, and says he spent $40 million of his (or someone else’s) money building City-Chess (think Olympic Village built in the shape of a yurt) to host international chess tournaments. The chess spa is just east of Elista, the capital of Kalmykia, the town where Kirsan was raised and where he keeps a home.

This works out well, since Kirsan is president of Kalmykia, a republic within the Russian Federation, whose capital city is...wait for it, Elista. Kalmykia borders the Caspian Sea, is a little bigger than West Virginia, and is inhabited by 300,000 eternally poor people and Kirsan.

Kirsan has been president since the age of 31, first elected in 1993 on a platform of gifting $100 to every family and a mobile phone for every shepherd. After the election he abolished the constitution and introduced presidential rule, or “dictatorship of healthy reasoning” (take your pick), and has lived happily and presidentially ever since.

Moving over to chess, Kirsan has been president of FIDE since 1995. Malcontents and whiners have complained about vote-buying, election-rigging, cheating at the 2006 World (chess) Championship, chess civil war, lawsuits among presidential contenders, other words, the usual.

Kirsan says he has a planet named after him. The old planet’s name was “55-70.” The new name is “Planet Kirsan.” President/President/Planet Kirsan is happy to give directions: “It’s between Jupiter and Mars...310 million kilometers from the Earth.”

Kirsan says Chuck Norris owes him a bottle of whiskey. Says he’s played chess with Henry Kissinger, Saddam Hussein, Colonel Gaddafi, and the crown prince of Jordan. Says, “I couldn’t win or lose — I had to do everything I could to ensure the games ended as draws.”

Says the Russian Federation refused to pay Bobby Fischer royalties on his book published under the former regime. Says he flew to Budapest and, “We went to [Fischer’s] flat and made lunch. I’d brought caviar and vodka. I remember we also cooked pelmeni. I gave Bobby $100,000. He wept and said, ‘For the first time in my life I haven’t been deceived, I’ve been paid for my efforts.’”

Kirsan told an Izvestia reporter, “Irrespective of what I tell people, I give them instructions on a subconscious level, a code. I do the same thing when I communicate with Russian citizens from other regions. I am creating around the republic a kind of extrasensory field and it helps us a lot in our projects.”

Later, on a Svoboda radio station, Kirsan said that he was abducted by aliens in 1997 while on a business trip to Moscow. “They took me from my apartment, and we went aboard their ship. We flew to some kind of star. They put a spacesuit on me, told me many things and showed me around. They wanted to demonstrate that UFOs do exist.”

Two months ago, on Russian prime-time TV, Kirsan again said he’d been abducted in a spaceship, forced to communicate with aliens telepathically, and later entertained aliens in his apartment.

Kirsan is also an author, has written his autobiography (published when he was 36 years old), entitled The President’s Crown of Thorns. Gripping chapter titles include, “Without Me the People Are Incomplete,” “It Only Takes Two Weeks to Have a Man Killed,” and “I Become a Millionaire.”

What’s not to like?

Barring unpleasant court decisions, the FIDE election will be held in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia, this September. Kirsan’s opponent is former world chess champion Anatoly Karpov, who once cruelly remarked, “Even a dickhead would do a better job than Ilyumzhinov.”

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Not that Patrick Daugherty would divulge his sources, but I'd really like to know how he found out about this guy. I guess if you're looking up stuff about the World Chess Federation....

Kirsan's slogan, "Without Me the People Are Incomplete" is pretty close to "We Are the Ones We've Been Waiting For" or whatever line of baloney it was we all bought in 2008.

Anyway, what a great story. Thank you.

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