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Wednesday 30 July 2014

World chess leader jets in after meeting with aliens

Philip Ryan

Published 01/06/2014|02:30

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Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, former President of the Republic of Kalmykia and head of the International Chess Federation.
Photo: Tony Gavin
Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, former President of the Republic of Kalmykia and head of the International Chess Federation. Photo: Tony Gavin

He counts some of the world's most heinous dictators as his friend, and now the eccentric president of the World Chess Federation is hoping to meet Education Minister Ruairi Quinn.

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Multi-millionaire Kirsan Ilyumzhinov jetted into Dublin on Thursday as part of his campaign to retain his position at the helm of chess's world governing body.

Mr Ilyumzhinov is a former president of the Kalmykia region in Western Russia, where he ruled for almost two decades before stepping down in 2010.

During his reign he faced accusations of blowing the country's finances on vanity projects and his obsession with chess.

He is a staunch Vladimir Putin loyalist and regularly met dictators Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi before their deaths.

But most extraordinary is his claim of meeting aliens, whom he alleges beamed him up into their spaceship to discuss his love for chess.

Speaking exclusively to Sunday Independent on his first visit to Ireland, Mr Ilyumzhinov said he hoped to make chess a mandatory subject in Irish schools.

"I usually speak with the minister for education when I visit a country, but because of the election I could not this time," he said.

The 55-year-old oligarch jetted in from Jamaica to lobby the board of the Irish Chess Union ahead of the World Chess Federation elections in August.

His rival is the chess grandmaster and former world champion Garry Kasparov.

Although both are Russian natives, they share very different views on the current administration. Mr Kasparov, who visited Ireland earlier this year, is extremely vocal and active in his opposition to Mr Putin.

The chess superstar's anti-Government stance landed him jail on a couple of occasions, most recently when he protested the detention of female punk band Pussy Riot.

Mr Ilyumzhinov describes Mr Kasparov as a "friend", even though the friendship may not be reciprocated.

He keeps a picture of Mr Kasparov selling him one of his prized trophies when he fell on tough times on his mobile phone.

The trophy consists of 1,018 black-and-white Korloff diamonds and weighs seven kilos, according to Mr Ilyumzhinov.

He will not say how much he paid for the trophy, which he keeps in a bank in Switzerland.

"In recent years Kasparov is much more politician than chess player," he added.

He goes on to outline Mr Kasparov's various protests against Russian policies – including his recent opposition to the Olympics in Sochi because of the country's stance on same-sex couples.

"I have no problem with homosexuals," he added. "We are the only sport where women take part alongside men."

Chess is not just a passing interest for Mr Ilyumzhinov, who is quite an accomplished player himself.

He claims his grandfather taught him how to play when he was five years old and within a month he could beat him.

By the age of 14 he was the champion of his region after beating players in their 60s.

After a stint in the army and as car salesman, he worked his way up through the political ranks of the Soviet Union. When asked how he retained his position through various ideological shifts in Russia, he maintains his integrity and honesty saw him win public support.

It could also be the fact his election promises included €100 for every citizen and a mobile phone for the country's many shepherds.

Mr Ilyumzhinov's first decision as president of his region was to make chess a mandatory subject for children once they entered the education system. His campaign to highlight the virtues of chess worldwide has seen him meet with everyone from the British Queen Elizabeth to controversial Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad, who he described simply as like "another politician".

"He is president and he was elected by people," he added.

He was saddened by Muammar Gaddafi's death in the wake of the civilian revolution in 2011.

"I knew him personally – I talked with him for hours and hours," he said.

During his more than 20 visits to Iraq, he chatted with Saddam Hussein about "humanity, reincarnation, philosophy" and of course chess.

He also claims he discussed chess when he was abducted by aliens in 1997. "I believe chess comes from another civilisation," he insisted.

The extraterrestrials told him to introduce chess in schools and become president of the world chess federation.

If Minister Quinn holds on to his job in the coming months, his name may be added to the long list of global and inter-galactical dignitaries who have met Mr Ilyumzhinov.

Sunday Independent

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