On Chess: Olympics, aliens and ice pieces, fact or fantasy | St. Louis Public Radio

On Chess: Olympics, aliens and ice pieces, fact or fantasy

May 7, 2015

I want to believe.

On the possibility of aliens, I absolutely want to believe that Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, ruling president of the World Federation of Chess (FIDE), has been visited by friends from another world. By now his claim has been openly discussed for more than a decade, the story well known by details easily researched, ranking as the No. 1 evidence when describing the Russian oligarch’s widely accepted, eccentric behavior.

And personally, I choose to believe. Though I’m not completely sold on his description of those yellow suits, Mr. Ilyumzhinov’s promise of super-intelligent beings who travel zillions of miles because they are down for a game chess -- now that is something I can get behind. That, my friends, would easily take chess to the next level, and I’m all for it.

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov
Credit A.Slavin | Wikipedia

Bummer though that, thus far, FIDE has been unable to arrange details for the Alien vs. Predator chess tournament-of-the-millennium (spoiler alert: Humans lose in the semis), leaving worldwide believers waiting with thirsty anticipation. And it’s getting harder to wait.

Ilyumzhinov, who has remained in iron-yet-slightly-laughable control of the global chess kingdom for two decades, has certainly collected a laundry list of flamboyant declarations over the years. Among other to-do tasks undoubtedly meant to bring chess to its earthly potential, Ilyumzhinov has pledged such amazing deeds as bringing North and South Korea together in peace (finally) over a chess game, and offered New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg $10 million toward the construction of a king-shaped, international chess center on Ground Zero.

Back in 2004, Ilyumzhinov also promised the construction of the $2.6 billion International Chess City in Dubai -- a vision nearly as glorious as a ride on a spaceship. The new chess-tropolis was to feature 32 separate buildings, each one shaped like a chess piece and the tallest standing 64 stories high. Dubai was to “annually play host to over 60 million amateur and professional chess followers from around the globe.”

For a game still thriving from the sudden connection of its massive international community, finally realizing itself thanks to the instant gratification of the world wide web, such a declaration was definitely one to get behind. But like aliens, tangible evidence of such a claim was lacking, just a little bit. To this day, the International Chess City remains a sight unseen.

Ilyumzhinov lodged another promise to the chess world last week, announcing intentions to have the mind sport included in the Winter Olympics -- another tantalizing proposition toward the global advancement of chess, to be sure. Less tantalizing, however, was hearing his idea to circumvent the Winter Olympics' pesky rule that its participating sports must involve “ice or snow” -- by having Olympic chess stars play on sets made of ice.

Serious contemplation of the logistics behind a five-hour chess match using ice pieces is only met with disappointment: It is no longer discernible if the president of the World Chess Federation is serious or not.

Fool me once, perhaps, with grandiose stories of chess from other worlds, but forgive me if I’m losing faith in the continued support of fantasy land. These fantastic fables that promise another new and exciting score for international chess, hashed and rehashed by Ilyumzhinov like clockwork, don’t seem to be pulling the same weight in the “results” column. The latest Olympic promise is even old hat in itself: Apparently it means Ilyumzhinov’s declaration to get chess included with the Summer  games, a plan announced 20 years ago, has fallen through.

I want to believe. I want to believe that Ilyumzhinov is taking chess to the Olympics, that he is finally mobilizing an international sport that boasts 600 million players worldwide.

But right now, I’m busy with aliens.