Ilyumzhinov’s Game – For the Benefit of the Elites

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While not commonly thought of as particularly controversial, the politics of world chess made international headlines late last month when a Kremlin aide hired a private security force to raid the offices of the Russian Chess Federation, evict its chairman, and seal off its accounting books.

The move came a week after the Federation nominated chess grandmaster Anatoly Karpov, backed by opposition leader and longtime chess rival Garry Kasparov, as a candidate for the presidency of the World Chess Federation. The incumbent, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, is the multi-millionaire president of Russia’s autonomous Republic of Kalmykia. Among other things, Ilyumzhinov is famous for declaring an “economic dictatorship” and claiming to have been visited by aliens.

What exactly the stakes are in this unlikely scandal is the topic explored in this column written for by Russian political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky.

The column is also available in Spanish.

Ilyumzhinov’s Game – For the Benefit of the Elites
By Stanislav Belkovsky
May 24, 2010

Another striking move was made the other day in the battle for the presidency of the World Chess Federation [FIDE]. By order of Arkady Dvorkovich, an aide to the president of the Russian Federation and chairman of the Supervisory Council of the Russian Chess Federation (RCF), several men in black seized the legendary Central Chess Club on Gogolevsky Bulvar and sealed off the office of RCF Chairman Alexander Bakh and, of course, the accounting office. Such is the way that all professionals and fans that support the candidacy of 12th World Champion Anatoly Karpov for the post as the head of FIDE were given a clear signal: you can meddle about, bustle around, do whatever you want – but we (that is, Dvorkovich & Co.) will never, under any circumstances, ever give you FIDE.

What happened was unsurprising. It fits entirely into the theory and practice of contemporary Russian monetocracy (monetary power is absolute). What’s surprising in this story is something else: that the progressive community of the Russian Federation began, for some reason, to sob like a whale over the “modernizing liberal” Arkady Dvorkovich, and became terribly worried about the possibility that the presidential aide could lose his untarnished reputation. Which, obviously, is no less of a national asset than all of our chess world champions put together.

In connection with that, I want to call for a vote on the following question: on what basis was it concluded that Dvorkovich, the aide mentioned here, is a “modernizing liberal,” and not a corrupt crook, perfectly typical for the contemporary power machine of the Russian Federation? What has this civil servant done in his career that’s been modern or liberal?

By all appearances, the progressive community once counted Mr. Dvorkovich as one of their own, given his Jewish surname, nice haircut, and expensive cuff links (you would think Igor Sechin had more expensive cuff links). Following these artificially chosen criteria further, we must come to the conclusion that there are only modernizing liberals in the government of the Russian Federation. Everyone else has left. And that means that the progressive community has been victorious, although this is not yet very noticeable.

Yes, a couple of years ago, when the Medvedev Thaw had only just begun, Arkady Dvorkovich made one radically liberal pronouncement: he promised to slash the VAT; and if the bureaucracy was going to resist, then he would swap out the entire bureaucracy for a chess-playing grandmother. But here, out of our impassible taiga, the terrible roar of Finance Minister Kudrin was heard, and not once has any bleating by aides about the VAT been repeated ever since.

In general, in order not to focus on cuff links, let’s analyze an abstract civil servant and figure out what exactly his concrete motivation is.

See here, ladies and gentlemen, respected progressive community. If some civil servant arranges for a personal living room named after him in the building of a commercial bank, and his brother has a job as an officer for public relations or government relations in the country’s most scandalous construction company, then believe me, he has long ago defined the terms of his reputation. He is actually publicly announcing to all interested parties: yes, I am a thief, I am corrupt, and I’m proud of it. Because the laws of the monetocracy are the social morals of the current Russian Federation, I would say. In the Euro-Atlantic world, such a bureaucrat would be thrown out of the civil service and blacklisted. But we aren’t in the Euro-Atlantic world.

Well, and if a civil servant makes such a fuss over such internationally renowned businessmen as Ziyavudin Magomedov (one step away from the Russian Chess Federation presidency) and David Kaplan (FIDE Director for Development and FIDE representative in Moscow) – what does this say? Or do you not know what kind of businessmen these are? No, I do not wish to dwell in detail on the reconstruction of the Bolshoi Theater, which their company, Inteks, is carrying out in full swing. Or even on the third oil terminal in the port in Primorsk, although parts of that are interesting. Remember all the financial institutions like Diamant, VIP-Bank, etc.? That they were closed for money laundering? And the murder of Andrei Kozlov, the first deputy chairman of the Central Bank, remember? It’s true that a certain Alexei Frenkel took the rap for everything. He, apparently, didn’t have the chess know-how to jump off the board in time.

If an abstract civil servant recklessly promotes the interests of such a business, then already nothing frightens him. And there’s no need to cry on his Gucci vest. Save your tears.

Still, something sometimes occurs to progressive society so that at the last moment, fearing a total loss of face and FIDE’s reputation, all these little kids, including Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, stop. And they don’t bring the matter to the finish line. And that means that Anatoly Karpov will then become president of the World Chess Federation.

No. The little kids aren’t going to stop. FIDE’s reputation interests them somewhat, but only to the extent to which they control the Federation and all of its financial commodity flows. And they’ll do anything to keep that control. The seizure of the Central Chess Club – that’s only the beginning.

Next they’ll do everything that has become customary. They’ll convene some kind of emergency session of the RCF that will wipe out any of Karpov’s followers from any and all of their posts. They’ll draw up court rulings that confirm that the candidate for the FIDE presidency from Russia can only be a man with the surname starting with the letter I. Foreign participants of the FIDE Congress who are coming to Khanty-Mansiysk to vote for Karpov will not be granted entry visas. They’ll post a video on the Internet showing Karpov copulating with a rook. Finally, under some pretense, they will expel foreign federations from FIDE that cry out the word “Karpov” too persistently. There are many ways. Now they’ll put out yet another installment – we’ll see the new results. By the way, according to ancient folklore: if former television host Solovyov begins to piss on Karpov on his blog, it means that the installment is underway.

You ask: and why are these kids so hung up in general on this FIDE that they’re ready for the sake of their victory to bring down the entire edifice of world chess? For what? In the conditions of a monetocracy there is but one response: dough. Lots of dough. They have extensive plans to reform and commercialize chess. For example, it has already been announced that the FIDE headquarters will be moved to Moscow after Ilyumzhinov’s reelection. What does this mean? It means that the little kids are going to get money from the government or from banks close to the government (VEB, VTB, whoever else) to construct the headquarters. I think it’ll be around $300 million. They don’t give out more for such a plan, and less would be pointless. How many mouths there are to feed! Then, relying on the unprecedented experience accumulated in the process of reconstructing the Bolshoi Theater, $200 million (of the $300) will be immediately sawed off. More accurately, it has already been sawed off. Now. Today. In advance. And what – as if they’d allow Karpov to come and break up their entire saw-happy joyride?

In general, they have very extensive plans to work on chess. Just recently, David Kaplan (that same FIDE director for development and FIDE representative in Moscow) gave an interview to a popular Moscow newspaper. The person who did the interview – who seems to be a grandmaster – characterized him as a “mathematician.” Since I’m not such a well-known mathematician like Kaplan, I’m afraid of distorting the trajectory of scientific thought here, and am forced to bring in a piece of the interview. Here it is.

Kaplan: This is what my know-how consists of. I thought up the so-called “principle of squares.” I’ll clarify what that is. The worst thing in chess is when you are constantly beaten and you lose all interest in the game. Why, for example, is poker so popular right now? Because any player always has the chance to stand out. This means that chess players need to join into groups where all the players who meet have equal chances amongst themselves. I call such groups squares. And if a million dollars in prize money awaits the winner of the “square,” then young people will give up absolutely everything.

Interviewer: But who is going to give them this million?

Kaplan: I am personally ready to invest 32 million dollars in this venture. And I’ll find more sponsors for a billion. Two large banks have already agreed to allocate money for this project. Moreover, chess players will be attracted by stars of a global proportion. We already have 300 famous people on our list, including, for example, Madonna… The main task is to bring about the players’ interest. It’s important that they spent time every day on the virtual chessboard, playing in their square (there are 64 overall), even if for just a few minutes – a couple of games in a blitz. And in a year they would have played a thousand games overall. There are altogether 200 thousand fans the world over who routinely play on the Internet. And to earn a million while playing with those equal to yourself you’ll find more. So for money, a minimum of 50 million people will come. Let’s think about this further. How much is a portal for that number of visitors worth? A billion dollars! There’s the trick, the stunt, an effective business idea… Believe me, we’re standing on the brink of a chess revolution.

It is entirely believable that a gigantic supercomputer, perfectly and of course absolutely necessary to manage a portal for $1 billion, would be set up in the Skolkovo Innograd [Russia’s aspiration to recreate Silicon Valley near Moscow -ed]. And they’ll spend another, say, $500 million from the Russian budget on it. It would be, one could say, entirely logical.

But Ziyavudin Magomedov, who in the case of Ilyumzhinov’s reelection will probably become head of the RCF, has announced that, in the very near future, a series of chess tournaments will be held directly on the borders of conflicted countries (Azerbaijan/Armenia, North Korea/South Korea, etc.). This is a very rich topic. It wouldn’t be bad, either, to send a group of leading chess players (headed by Karpov and Kasparov, naturally) to the Gulf of Aden to hold a chess match with the Somali pirates. The promotion for chess will be ballistic. FIDE and its sponsors will split the ransom fifty-fifty. There’s the trick, the stunt, an effective business idea.

We also mustn’t forget that FIDE and the general structures of chess are almost ideally suited for money laundering in general and bribery in particular. So you’d like for your person to have, for example, a big post in whatever Ministry of Economic Development, the VEB or there in the Skolkovo Innograd – sponsor a chess tournament on the border between Sudan and Zimbabwe. And there’s no corruption!

There is no doubt that the little kids are going to think up a whole lot more to raise the level of income for chess. Why not, for example, rent out the names of chess pieces? For example, for $150 million a year the king could be named “Oleg Deripaska,” and for $200 million a year, the queen could be “Elena Baturina.” “The grandmaster has sacrificed Baturina and has bravely advanced on Deripaska.” The sort of new income that would flow right away! To economize, we could modernize speed chess. The new rules are extremely simple: two chess players meet – whoever has more money before the beginning of the game is the one who wins. Not to mention the knockout system, for which there are always blackguards who know no pity.

When Anatoly Karpov said that the polemic in the FIDE Congress in Khanty-Mansiysk could turn out to be unsafe for human life, he wasn’t at all mistaken. For the little kids, money means a great deal more than life (someone else’s, naturally).

Should the understanding be that the little kids are afraid of nothing in general? No, they’re afraid – of the FBI in the United States, of the seizure of foreign assets, and of visa problems in Euro-Atlantic countries. This is what we need to work on.

In sum, this is how we’ll live to see chess in the 21st Century.

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