In a 110-to-61 landslide, chess Grandmaster Garry Kasparov has lost his bid for the World Chess Federation presidency to a man who says that he was abducted by aliens. It's easily Kasparov's most embarrassing defeat in years, maybe since a scrappy little abacus named Deep Blue straight-up taught him how to play chess.
Kasparov's opponent, incumbent candidate Kirsan Ilyumzhinov has lead the World Chess Federation (FIDE) since November 1995, two years before that fateful Saturday night in Moscow, when Ilyumzhinov says he was abducted from his apartment by aliens in yellow jumpsuits.
The race was bitterly fought, with both Ilyumzhinov and Kasparov leveling accusations of back-room electioneering, as they toured the world drumming up votes from regional chess federation leaders. In January, Ilyumzhinov charged that Kasparov had bribed his chief lieutenant, Ignatius Leong, the federation's general secretary, with a secret $1 million donation payable (over four years) from Kasparov's charitable foundation to Leong's own ASEAN Chess Academy. Kasparov counter-charged that Ilyumzhinov had abused his office by intentionally replacing officials in Afghanistan and Gabon that had planned to support Kasparov's election bid. His campaign further alleged that anonymous proxies voting on behalf of federations that could not be present for the August elections in Tromsø, Norway were, in fact, Ilyumzhinov cronies positioned to help him steal the presidency.
Compounding these white-knuckle media battles over campaign dirty tricks was a heated debate over the political character of the World Chess Federation. If you've heard of, or thought about, Garry Kasparov in years, it's probably as one of Russia's premier dissident intellectuals. In 2005, after retiring from chess, Kasparov helped found United Civil Front with the goal of trying "to preserve electoral democracy in Russia" and generally frustrating Vladimir Putin's (uh) unique ambitions. Fearing that Kasparov might use the FIDE presidency as a bully pulpit from which to advocate for Western-style political reforms in Russia, it has been rumored that Russian embassies contacted chess federation officials in the Czech Republic, Ireland, Jamaica, Kenya, Myanmar, Nigeria, Norway, and Singapore in support of his opponent. Ilyumzhinov, for his part, has stoked those fears, emphasizing that he believes chess should remain apolitical.
"Chess is not political," Ilyumzhinov said early in the race. "I am not communist, I am not socialist, I am not a democrat."
He is a man who believes he was abducted by aliens.
New York Times: You have recently stated that chess was given to Earthlings from extraterrestrial visitors. How did you come to believe this theory about the origins of chess?
Kirsan Ilyumzhinov: I do, indeed, consider chess a gift from extraterrestrial civilizations. Chess is one of the world's oldest games. But where was it invented? In India? But an ancient set of figures was also found at excavations in the Bulgarian town of Plovdiv. And two years ago, the president of Mongolia showed me chessmen discovered when they were searching for the grave of Genghis Khan and excavated a kurgan. There have been similar finds in Latin America and other parts of the world. And in those times, of course, travel was almost impossible. But the rules of chess were almost identical everywhere. It is hard to imagine that people in different parts of the world many thousands of years ago simultaneously thought up an identical game with the same rules just by chance.
Kasparov did not stand a chance with Ilyumzhinov enjoying that kind of support.
Still, he made an impressive Karl Rove-style effort to turn this advantage into a weakness, telling the New York Times that he thought Ilyumzhinov's alien ties were scaring off major corporate sponsors from the World Chess Federation's tournaments.
"Anybody Googling FIDE sees he is dealing with someone who is taken by aliens and is playing chess with Gaddafi," Kasparov said.
(That is Ilyumzhinov pictured above, by the way, chessing it up with the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.)
A helpful bit of context here: After making millions in the post-Soviet wheeling and dealing of the Yeltsin era, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov successfully became the first president of Kalmykia, a federal subject of Russia to the south, near the Caspian Sea. Ilyumzhinov has done a bunch of truly fantastic, silly things in his two decades as leader of Kalmykia: make chess compulsory for elementary school students, attempt to stump for his policies remotely with psychic powers, and promise everyone $100 if they voted for his reelection. He would be too broad for an Arrested Development character, and that's before we even get to his friendly relationships with world dictators and strongmen, like Gaddafi, the late Saddam Hussein, Putin (of course), and Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. In photos:
Ilyumzhinov's apolitical weltanschauung is so all-encompassing that once, in 1996, he attempted to schedule a match between chess kings Gata Kamsky and Anatoly Karpov in Baghdad—until international pressure forced him to relocate.
He's just got a bigger, more intergalactic picture than the rest of us.
"Tomorrow, aliens will fly down here and say, 'You guys are misbehaving', and then they will take us away from the earth," he once told Michael Specter of the New Yorker. "They'll say, 'Why are you fighting down here? Why are you eating each other?' And they'll just put us in their ships and take us away."'
It's easier to take in when you see Ilyumzhinov explain it himself. Below is a bootleg translation of his 2007 appearance on Al Jazeera's recurring "Meet the President" series. For unknown reasons (probably some Majestic 12 conspiracy), "the uploader has not made this video available in your country."
So wonderful. So Kirsan.
How will this beautiful weirdo lead FIDE for the next four years?
According to a report Wednesday from the Armenian News sports desk, Ilyumzhinov plans to devote his new term as federation president to expanding the global chess community from around 6 million players to 1 billion. That's how the invasion begins.