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Waters Muddy as Kirsan Ilyumzhinov Resigns, but Didn’t…

It is hard to find supporters for FIDE‘s Dear Leader Kirsan Ilyumzhinov outside of Vladimir Putin’s inner circle and those loyal to the oppressive regimes of Iran and Syria. Yet, the man manages to get re-elected to the post every cycle since 1995! Several attempts to oust him including a poorly run campaign by former World Champion Garry Kasparov have failed. 

The FIDE website and some chess news outlets reported yesterday that Kirsan had resigned as FIDE President following a special board meeting in Athens, Greece. Before cities around the world started the fireworks show, Kirsan himself released a statement via the Russian Chess Federation stating that he had not resigned from FIDE. Moreover, he claimed that the announcement was made because he is the victim of a plot by the United States to overthrow him. 

Kirsan’s dealings with dictators like Muammar Gaddafi (pictured above) has damaged chess’ international reputation and set back FIDE’s efforts to have chess recognized by the Olympic Committee. He was sanctioned by the U.S. Government in November 2015 for providing support to the Syrian government and stepped down temporarily until he could clear up the sanctions. However, he has remained a key figure in some of FIDE’s biggest events, which has led to some confusion in the professional chess community. 

Kirsan continues to assert that he has not resigned, but things seem to be more unclear now than ever before. According to the FIDE website through official statement, AGON (evil), and the professional chess community outside of the Russian Federation, Kirsan has been officially removed because he stated in the 26-Mar-2017 meeting that he had resigned.

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US Chess Sends Open Letter to FIDE

Earlier this week, the United States Chess Federation (US Chess) released an open letter from Gary Walters, the federation’s president. In the letter, which is addressed to Nigel Freeman of the World Chess Federation (FIDE), US Chess made official many of the concerns that the larger chess community has expressed for some time about the state of FIDE and the effect that Kirsan Ilyumzhinov’s seemingly endless tenure as FIDE president has had on the sport. The letter is very telling in that it shows the depths of leadership, communication, and organization problems that exist within FIDE; they are much worse than some had expected.

Gary’s letter addresses the hijab controversy at the 2017 Women’s World Chess Championship in Tehran (still ongoing) and problems surrounding Ilyumzhinov’s sanctions by the United States Government and the contradictions between FIDE’s statement that he would step down temporarily to address the sanctions. Instead, Ilyumzhinov has appeared regularly at major chess events in the capacity of FIDE president and has made no apparent effort to clear his name with the Department of the Treasury. This is all stuff that we know, but perhaps the most interesting moment comes when Gary addresses the 2016 World Chess Championship in New York City.

…this indecorous behavior is coupled with the conduct of a World Championship on U.S. soil without so much as a word in advance to the nominal “host” Federation, FIDE’s conduct becomes insulting.

Say what? Apparently, the announcement that the championship would be held in the United States in 2016 was never communicated to US Chess prior to the declaration. The United States was happy to host the event, but any professional governing body like FIDE owes the host nation’s federation a courtesy call and head’s up prior to announcing such a major event! Although, US Chess does have a recently unemployed resource that could help them gather intel without FIDE knowing…

Gary’s right in that this kind of behavior is insulting to US Chess and to chess in general, but I am inclined to believe that US Chess did not receive a phone call prior to the announcement because Ilyumzhinov made the decision on the fly and that the intention to host the event in the United States was a last minute gamble to generate publicity. In addition to the Championship problem, Gary also addresses every chess fan’s least favorite shadow company: AGON.

on several occasions AGON has failed to live up to its end of agreements with FIDE, with a predictable injurious effect on FIDE. The failure of AGON to make contractual payments has caused difficulties for some federations that would normally receive support from FIDE. President Vega states that he has informed FIDE in strong terms that it should cancel the agreement with AGON in light of its nonperformance.

Oh. My. God! Yes! Please, cancel this contract…but it will never happen unless Ilyumzhinov himself is relieved of his position because AGON is another one of his pet projects. AGON’s failure to follow through on its contractual obligations is hilariously hypocritical considering its incessant attempts to sue legitimate companies like Chess24 and Chessbomb for sharing moves during the Candidate Tournament and 2016 World Chess Championship. Unit the dirt is cleaned from the FIDE leadership ranks, this will continue to happen only to the detriment of chess around the world.

The motto of FIDE is Gens Una Sumus, which means We Are One People. As lovers of chess, we are one people but FIDE continues to act as though it is above the law and above the players and fans within its charge. Although I doubt that much will come of it, I am proud of my chess federation for speaking out against the destruction that FIDE is bringing to the sport. It is refreshing to know that US Chess remains committed to the truth of American ideals, which is obedience to law and standing up for what is right. I applaud Gary for his letter and for the board of US Chess for showing that they stand with the larger chess community as a body committed to fixing problems and promoting our game!

Here is the letter in its entirety. Plus, you can read the original post on the US Chess website here.

To: Mr. Nigel Freeman, Executive Director, World Chess Federation

Dear Mr. Freeman:

I write openly on behalf of the United States Chess Federation (“US Chess”) to express growing concerns that our Federation has with the World Chess Federation’s (“FIDE’s”) general casualness toward its own rules and statements, to FIDE’s lack of responsiveness to us as a member nation, to the questionable status of its president, and as well as to its economic health.

On October 6, 2016, I wrote to FIDE, care of yourself, to ask that any religious requirements for the Women’s World Championship in Iran be spelled out plainly respecting the obligatory wearing of hijabs, as well as for any other religious conduct requirements that might be imposed upon the participants. Without repeating my earlier letter, the text of the provisions at issue may be found in Section 1.2 of the FIDE Handbook, as well as set forth in Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter. At the time of my earlier letter, we found it peculiar that FIDE held itself to the world as being opposed to discriminatory treatment and as a guardian of equal rights, only to award the Women’s World Championship to a country that resides at the center of controversy concerning the fair and equal treatment of women. We continue to find FIDE’s actions peculiar.

I never heard from you on the above matter except in the briefest email by which you told me that my questions would be answered after FIDE conferred with the Iranian Chess Federation. That was months ago. Later, and without any of the promised answers being provided, you invited me to search out Mr. Makropoulos while he was in New York for the World Championship. For a world sporting organization, this lack of a formal response was troubling. When this indecorous behavior is coupled with the conduct of a World Championship on U.S. soil without so much as a word in advance to the nominal “host” Federation, FIDE’s conduct becomes insulting. Chess deserves better. So does US Chess.

We are also concerned about the ongoing role of the current FIDE president. FIDE’s communications regarding its President have created a confused state of affairs. FIDE issued a public statement more than a year ago, shortly after the time Mr. Ilyumzhinov was sanctioned by the U.S. Government, in which FIDE declared that Mr. Ilyumzhinov would have no further business, legal, or financial involvement with FIDE’s affairs. The ostensible purpose of his withdrawal from those affairs was so that he could “concentrate on clearing the situation with the US Department of the Treasury.” (See FIDE’s Statement of 12/16/15.) It is beyond time for FIDE to update the world of chess on that “situation.” The world’s greatest game suffers immeasurably under Mr. Ilyumzhinov’s persistent cloud. His own statements do nothing to benefit chess, but rather exacerbate the confusion, including an absurd demand that he be granted U.S citizenship. Moreover, despite that the December 2015 FIDE statement set forth that Mr. Makropoulos would exercise the powers of the president, we note that Mr. Ilyumzhinov has recently attended more than one international event appearing in ceremonies as the President of FIDE. If there has been a change in FIDE’s December 2015 statement, please announce the revisions.

Finally, we have received an open letter from the President of the Confederation for Chess of Americas (“CCA”), President Jorge Vega, in which he states that he finds FIDE’s financial situation “worrying.” As President Vega points out in his December 2016 letter, on several occasions AGON has failed to live up to its end of agreements with FIDE, with a predictable injurious effect on FIDE. The failure of AGON to make contractual payments has caused difficulties for some federations that would normally receive support from FIDE. President Vega states that he has informed FIDE in strong terms that it should cancel the agreement with AGON in light of its nonperformance. We echo President Vega’s concerns and recommendations.

US Chess will not standby and quietly watch as FIDE’s corporate and presidential conduct damages the game of chess. While we remain ever optimistic and continue to believe in Gens Una Sumus, we fervently hope that FIDE will improve its communications, sets its Presidential Board in full order, adhere faithfully to its rules and regulations, and forthrightly present and improve its financial health for the good of the game. Very Respectfully,

Gary L. Walters, President, US Chess
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America Shows Agon How an Open Market Works

Just prior to the start of the 2016 World Chess Championship (WCC) in New York City, Agon Limited filed suit in United States Federal Court against Chess24, Chessbomb, and ChessGames.com to prevent them from broadcasting the moves just as they did (and lost) in Moscow earlier this year.

“These entities expend no time, effort, or money of their own in organizing, producing, or hosting the chess events for the World Championship and instead reap economic benefit from free-riding on the work and effort of World Chess.” – Reuters

However, just as with their loss in Moscow, New York District Judge Victor Marrero ruled in favor of the defendants for most of the reasons that have been covered on this blog and in countless others in the chess community already. The most important of those? CHESS IS FOR THE MASSES!


Chess is a game that transcends all boundaries. (Credit: WikiMedia)

RIAA of the Chess World

Although they were readily handed defeat in two countries, Agon promises to continue pursuit of its business model despite widespread business and consumer disapproval. Despite obvious attempts to assist the company with its model, Agon refuses to acknowledge that its attempts to restrict access to tournament moves is misguided. As a direct result, it seeks to force consumers to engage its unreliable and third-rate content delivery system instead of offering a compelling service for fans of the game to watch and enjoy.

Agon has quickly turned itself from an obscure entity into the modern chess equivalent of the Recording Industry Association of America which successfully sued a multitude of families in the early 2000s for downloading mp3 files from Napster and other file-sharing services. By suing grandmothers and teenagers for untold millions of dollars, the RIAA quickly became synonymous with corporate greed, censorship, and created a gap between recording artists and their fans from which some artists never recovered.

Hope for an Agon awakening remains dim, but I am pleased to see that both the United States and Russia dealt a blow for freedom to its blatant attempts to monopolize public domain information.

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Carlsen-Karjakin Tied After Second Round

The showdown for the title of World Chess Champion between Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin is tied at 1 point each after rounds one and two ended in a draw. Carlsen drew white for Game One and opened with a homage to recently elected President of the United States Donald Trump with a combination called the Trompowsky Attack, which some have re-branded as the Trumpowsky Attack (1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5). An unusual opening at this level of play, the response from Karjakin neutralized the attack and led to a draw between the two.

Game One also had its share of American celebrities on hand as Actor Woody Harrelson made the ceremonial first move to begin the match.


Woody Harrelson makes the first move in Game One! (Credit: FIDE)

Game Two had some interesting twists and turns throughout, with Chess24 demonstrating throughout why it is a revolutionary medium for watching high-level games. Guest commentary by various Grandmasters and assertions that Game Two was boring led to some interesting and entertaining social media exchanges.

Game Three will be held at 1400 EST on Monday.

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How to Watch the World Championship

Updated November 09, 2016: Added additional viewing details and options. Campfire Chess will offer periodic reflection and post-game analysis throughout the event.

Few chess fans will be as lucky as those living in New York City when the World Chess Championship kicks off later this week, but that doesn’t mean we are entirely removed from following the match and taking in some expert commentary from Grandmasters and fans around the world. The recent victory in Russia over Agon has probably lessened some of the push for more subversive broadcasts and the web will be teeming with opportunities for chess players and fans to follow and comment on the event.

So, how can you view the match?

  • Chess.com will be hosting the official Agon widget on its site with access to chat functions with full video breakdowns scheduled after each round.
  • Chess24.com continues to establish itself as a bold new powerhouse in chess broadcasting and will cover the event with several big name commentators.
  • Playchess is the online chess play and broadcast service of Chessbase.
  • Agon/FIDE, who is currently like the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in terms of its behavior against modern chess, also has an official website where users can view the moves for free, but pay a premium fee for additional analysis and special commentary.

The live match itself will happen in the historic Seaport District with tickets available via Ticketfly.

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Agon Loses in Moscow Court

As the world prepares for the coming showdown between Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin in New York City, a Moscow court dealt a serious blow to Agon/FIDE’s attempts to limit the broadcast of moves from the event. The court ruled that Agon’s claim to the moves as trade secrets was not accurate and even ruled that its claims against Chess24 were invalid because Chess24 is outside of Agon’s legal jurisdiction.

English translation of the ruling. (Credit: Chess24.com)

The ruling is re-printed in English above from Chess24’s article with a full explanation of the ruling and its implications for Agon’s ongoing war against chess freedom located on the same page.

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Nazi Paikidze and Hijab Hubbub

Editor’s Note: I try to keep away from writing about politics, but sometimes the world of chess becomes intimately entangled in the affairs of the world. The battles on the board begin to mimic those of the world around us and something has to be said.

US Women’s Chess Champion Nazi Paikidze rocketed into mainstream fame recently with her vocal protest of Iran hosting the 2017 Women’s World Chess Championship due to the country’s strict laws regarding female dress codes and specifically, compulsory wear of the Muslim hijab. Given that Nazi (pronounced na-SEE) is an immigrant to the United States herself and with the foundation of our country being that of individual liberty, one would expect rousing support for the champion. Yet, that is not the case in a world gone mad.

Social Justice Warriors Weenies, who seem to insert themselves anywhere they can criticize, ridicule, or otherwise remind others of their professional victim status, have lashed out at Nazi for her protest because she is too white to make a difference… As a man who has served with people of all races, genders, nationalities, and sexual orientations, I have reached my wit’s end with the incessant blame game on race, inequality, or random social condition flavor of the week used to marginalize the voices of people trying to make a legitimate difference for others. The voices on Twitter and on television crying racism, sexism, or whatever-ism simply do not represent the truth in much of our country.

One need not look too far to see that Nazi is not alone. Chess champions Garry Kasparov, Nigel Short, and lesser entities like Campfire Chess along with thousands of others have voiced their support for the protest because silently accepting the Iranian venue demonstrates a remarkable contempt for women’s rights around the world. You can sign her protest petition here.

Chess is a game that empowers men and women of all races and all backgrounds to break down the walls that typically restrict them. That is why I am proud of Nazi and her resolve. She represents the best of what our nation was founded on.

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Daily Caller Fires Shots at Queen of Katwe

The Disney adaptation of Tim Crothers’ book, The Queen of Katwe is due out next week and buzz is high on social media. Phiona has held countless interviews and reveled in the international spotlight on the eve of the film’s release. Yet, as is often the case with newfound international fame, some are not taking her rise to mainstream stardom too well. The Daily Caller recently published this hit piece in which phantom grandmasters are quoted and heavy attention is paid to tearing down any hint of success and triumph that makes her story worthy of such attention.

Her actual performance in the chess world shows these to be puff pieces with very little attention paid to empirical fact. Mutesi has no doubt achieved something as a young Ugandan girl living in poverty, to capture the attention of the world, but that something she accomplished is not being good at chess.

Given the deplorable conditions in which she was raised and the odds of becoming good at anything in her life, is it not fair to say that Phiona Mutesi overcome immense odds to become much better at chess than people who live in similar conditions? ELO is not always an indicator of chess greatness. A 1600 ELO player can inspire millions with her story and encourage others to sit down at a chess board far more than a 2000+ ELO player with no personality, no spirit, and no understanding of what really makes the game great.

The Queen of Katwe will be released in most major theater markets on September 30, 2016.

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Russia Makes Play for Control of WCC Cycle

There are some people out there who believe that the Russian Bear has been awakened and that the country is swiftly moving back to its Soviet history or at least, a future influenced by the political and ideological positions of its Soviet ancestor. While the world is distracted by the Olympics in Rio, Zika, and Russia’s (non)participation in the games, the Russian Chess Federation has made a play for control of the World Chess Championship cycle by submitting a proposal to FIDE that would effectively allow sponsors to buy positions in the championship and undermine any chance that chess has for expanding its audience and recognition as a competitive sport. Here is the letter in its entirety:

To: Chairman of FIDE Commission for World Championships & Olympiads (WCO)
Mr. GEORGIOS MAKROPOULOS

Dear Mr. Makropoulos,

Russian Chess Federation asks the Commission to consider and (if needed) improve and approve the below mentioned amendments to the current system of determining the World Chess Champion at the 87th FIDE Congress (04–14.09.2016 Baku, Azerbaijan). RCF suggests adding an article to the rules governing World Chess Championship matches stating that the World Chess Champion can accept the challenge of any player who can contribute to the prize fund and the costs of holding of the match.

Herewith a number of basic conditions should be fulfilled:

• The FIDE President would have the power to veto any proposed match. Any proposed World Championship match would be carried out under the auspices of FIDE and according FIDE rules.

• 50% of the prize fund will go to FIDE.

• The match must be held before the end of the current FIDE qualifying round, that is, before a challenger has been determined by the Candidates Tournament.

FIDE Vice President
President of the Russian Chess Federation Andrey Filatov

Needless to say that many in the world outside of neo-Soviet insanity are unhappy and have launched a petition against the proposed changes. The Association of Chess Professionals issued a response to the Russian request and has launched a campaign to encourage FIDE to reject the proposal. Of course, knowing that Kirsan and Putin are best buddies leaves little hope that the next World Chess Champion could be nothing ore than the man whose country is willing to pay the price for a seat at the board.

Here is ACP’s response to the proposal:

The Russian Chess Federation submitted an official proposal to the FIDE Congress for an addition to the current World Championship Cycle rules: anyone guaranteeing a required prize-fund can challenge the reigning World Champion.

We as ACP believe that this idea is completely detrimental to chess for a number of reasons, among which:

– The World Champion Title must be achieved only through a proper sport cycle, especially at a time when chess is increasingly recognized as a sport. The RCF proposal goes against the chess tradition and against the very spirit of modern chess. Although purchasing the right for the match was common practice 100 years ago, it was more of a sad necessity than a good system.

– Staging a “commercial” match would seriously undermine the appeal of the regular cycle match. As things stand, the Title Match is a unique event which is held every two years and which acts as a catalyst for all the chess world. Even so, it is very difficult to raise proper funds for the World Championship Match – we do remember several examples from the recent past and we are witnessing the same problems right now. Who would be interested in paying for the ‘regular match’ if it is no longer a unique event? Who would organize the Candidates under these circumstances? Who would regard chess as a proper sport a company can invest in?

– The World Champion Title would be devalued and, more importantly, the image of chess would suffer greatly at all levels and worldwide. It would also put the players on grossly unequal terms: some would have to battle their chances out against the best players of the world in the regular cycle, others would buy their shot at the title by securing the money. This is outright unacceptable. It could also bring a disrepute to our noble game, opening the door to problems we can’t even foresee now.

– The RCF proposal would inevitably mess up the World Championship Cycle. It would also limit the World Champion’s participation in other events, as he would need to spend most of his time preparing/recovering after the matches. Again, this is certainly not desirable.

The ACP strongly opposes changes to the World Championship Cycle that undermine the very sporting sense and the unique value of the World Chess Champion Title. Our opinion is supported by the results of the ACP Poll – 2016, where over 80% of the chess professionals clearly disapproved the idea of purchasing the rights for the Title Match. If you share our vision, please help fighting this proposal and join the ACP stand by signing and endorsing this statement. The RCF proposal could be approved already in September, and we feel the chess world has to take a clear stand on the matter before then.

ACP Board

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Chess Defies All Stereotypes 

There is no shortage of stories where chess teachers have used the game as a metaphor for the challenges of life and the importance of thinking about the consequences of a move before making it. Some of these stories, which have been dramatized in movies and books, are fictional but there are many real-life examples to show how chess has broken barriers and united some incredibly unlikely groups of people. Seattle Deputy Denise “Cookie” Bouldin is no exception. Once convinced by her peers that she was not smart enough to play chess, the veteran police officer has used chess to transform the lives of the people in her neighborhood through regular classes and through running her own chess club.

Ten years ago, Bouldin was teaching her anti-violence course to fourth- and fifth-grade students and wanted to come up with a fun activity she could do with the kids. She suggested a basketball game between the students and police. The kids fired back with the suggestion of a chess tournament. Bouldin, who had never played chess, was initially skeptical but agreed. She brought in people to teach the kids the game and she eventually learned it herself, three years after starting the club.

Chess continues to grow around the world and the United States is no exception. The World Chess Championship will be held in November in New York City and Saint Louis continues to grow as the Chess Capital of the USA. I hope that as chess continues this growth that we will continue to see more stories like Deputy Bouldin’s.

Read the full story here.

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