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End Chess Madness, and Stop the Killing of Russian Journalists

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Chess makes for strange bed fellows.  Last night at a party at the Trump SoHo hotel in downtown Manhattan, two former world chess champions, Anatoly Karpov and Gary Kasparov, put aside their bitter rivalry—they played a record 144 games for the world title between 1984 and 1990—to try to rescue the game they love from the iron-fisted grip of a quixotic billionaire named Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. 

For the past 15 years, Ilyumzhinov has run the world chess organization (known by its French acronym FIDE, for Federation Internationale des Echecs), and Karpov, with Kasparov’s backing, wants to replace him.  The two K’s are intent in bringing blue-chip corporate sponsorship to chess, and they contend that Ilyumzhinov is a big obstacle.  First, they think he is a wack job: Ilyumzhinov claims that he was once abducted by yellow-robed human-like extraterrestrials who took him aboard their interplanetary spacecraft.  Then there is the terrestrial company he kept, dictators like Muammar el-Qaddafi and Saddam Hussein.  Then there are the human rights violations Ilyumzhinov has been associated with in his day job as president of Kalmykia, a barren, poverty-stricken Russian republic on the Caspian Sea.

The Trump SoHo party was the official launch of Karpov’s campaign to wrest the presidency of FIDE from Ilyumzhinov.  Kasparov indicated that while he may not like Karpov (“Do the Yankees like the Red Sox?” he said), he believes that his rival can save the game of chess from “withering away under Ilyumzhinov.”  The crowd of hedge-fund managers at the party apparently agreed.  To fund Karpov’s campaign, they were bidding more than $10,000 to play blitz chess with Kasparov and the 19-year-old chess phenom, world No. 1 Magnus Carlsen.  “Now we know where the bailout dollars went,” one pundit quipped.

Karpov came by Big Think just before the party for a long video interview.  We’ve interviewed poker and Rock Paper Scissors champions before, but he is our first grandmaster.  He told us why he is moving into chess politics and described the mind-set it takes to play world-class chess.  Back in the Soviet Union, Karpov was the darling of Brezhnev.  Now, in chess
for sure, he represents the face of democracy, even if he is still apparently a supporter of Putin. 

Kasparov is one of Vladimir Putin’s chief detractors.  He has been attacked and imprisoned for challenging Putin’s authoritarian rule.  Many journalists in Russia have fared even worse.  Today’s New York Times has a disturbing article called
It’s Open Season on Journalists Near Moscow” about the many reporters who are now maimed, brain-damaged, or dead for daring to report on political corruption in Russia.


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