Viswanathan Anand as the role model has worked for India: FIDE president Arkady Dvorkovich

The head of the world chess governing body talks about the rise of India and Asia, the upcoming World championship match, FIDE taking chess places it has never been, the need to bring more women to the sport and the suspension of the Russian federation

Published - June 22, 2024 12:27 am IST

In charge: Arkady Dvorkovich, who took over as FIDE president in 2018, is now in his second term, which he won during the Chennai Chess Olympiad two years ago. | Photo courtesy FIDE

In charge: Arkady Dvorkovich, who took over as FIDE president in 2018, is now in his second term, which he won during the Chennai Chess Olympiad two years ago. | Photo courtesy FIDE

Arkady Dvorkovich took over as FIDE president in 2018 from Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. The Russian is now in his second term, which he won during the Chennai Chess Olympiad two years ago. He was back in India recently for the closing ceremony of the World junior chess championship at Gandhinagar. The head of the world chess governing body sat down for an exclusive interview with The Hindu. Excerpts:

This year’s World championship match has attracted three bids, two of them — Chennai, New Delhi — from the same country.

Yes, we have received three strong, very competitive bids. It is quite unique, having three bids and two of them from the same country. We haven’t had such a situation for a long period of time. There are of course some big pluses in all bids, strong government support and really good venues. I think it is important to understand the official government position in this respect. For international sports federations, it is important to have the national government’s support. I understand the specifics of India, of course, and the role of the States.

How exciting is it for world chess to have someone as young as D. Gukesh as the challenger in that match against Ding Liren? He turned 18 a few weeks ago.

Now all the youngsters around the world know they have a chance if they work hard. I have been watching his progress as a player for a long time. I am also impressed by India’s other young players. I think Viswanathan Anand as the role model particularly worked for India. At the Chess Olympiad in Chennai, two Indians teams were strong but the younger one did better. And we saw so many Indians competing at the recent Candidates tournament. Arjun Erigaisi, who didn’t play at the Candidates, is doing very well in open tournaments. I think now he will get invitations to play in closed tournaments.

The defending women’s World champion is also Chinese, like Ding. The next one is guaranteed to be from China too, as Ju Wenjun’s challenger is her compatriot Tan Zhongyi. Are you surprised by Asia’s rise in world chess?

No, I am not surprised. I think numbers matter. And the world’s top-ranked country is the United States. So given the population, it is not a surprise. But, the Soviet chess school is still very strong, if you take the whole thing [countries that used to form the USSR].

A small country like Uzbekistan won the gold at the last Olympiad…

Then there are also countries such as Kazakhstan, Armenia, Georgia, Russia, Ukraine... Asia, no doubt, is very strong now, very competitive. The infrastructure is modern and there is government support, too.

Chess was probably the only truly global sport that grew during the pandemic. And FIDE did some quite good work by organising so many online events, including the Online Chess Olympiad.

Yes, we tried to use the opportunity to boost the interest in chess. Of course we were helped by things in the media like the series, The Queen’s Gambit. But I am not surprised by the rise in popularity of chess. It is the oldest game in the world, but at the same time, it is also modern. Everyone who starts learning chess finds an excitement and intellectual challenge in playing the game.

Working together: Dvorkovich says FIDE deputy president Viswanathan Anand’s experience and reputation are of great value to the game’s governing body. | Photo credit: R. Ravindran

Working together: Dvorkovich says FIDE deputy president Viswanathan Anand’s experience and reputation are of great value to the game’s governing body. | Photo credit: R. Ravindran

Anand is deputy president at FIDE. How do you find working with the five-time World champion in this administrative role?

He is a very good friend and one of the best players in the world. He is a very comfortable person to work with. His opinions are always very important for me, since he has huge experience. And his reputation helps our team in our efforts to increase the popularity of chess around the world.

As FIDE president, what areas would you like to work on?

I want more women to play chess. We are working on equal opportunities. I am happy to see more women playing in the open tournament [and not just the events for women]. I see some Chinese players, like Ju Wenjun, doing it of late.

The recent tournament she won in Norway had equal prize money, as did the Tata Steel Chess India tournament in Kolkata last year.

The parity in pay for women may not be achieved quickly. But we need to make sure that the opportunities are there for them. Apart from the focus on women, we also are looking closely at chess in the universities and schools. And we also want to make the World corporate chess championship bigger. We are also thinking about new formats in terms of time control and combinations to make chess more interesting.  

FIDE has also taken chess to prisons.

We are working with new communities like prisons, slums, families and seniors. We are also bringing chess to new countries and regions. Some regions in different parts of the world like Africa, Latin America and countries in South East Asia require more development in chess. And Indian coaches can actually help in some of the countries there.

Along with India’s rapid rise as a major power in international chess, it is also building a reputation as a capable organiser of big events. Its conduct of the Chennai Chess Olympiad two years ago had won much praise.

Yes, of course. I am sure that during the next 12 months we will have more international events here in India.

How do you look back at your time so far as FIDE president?

Well, I am always ambitious. I always want to do more, but the trend is positive anyway. Our team is quite strong and I feel the support from national federations, including India. This support gives us a boost.

Your comment on the suspension of the Russian Chess Federation by FIDE’s Chess Ethics and Disciplinary Commission?

I cannot comment on the legal issues. It was a decision of the first panel of the commission. I was a part of that and I presented my arguments in my defence. The Chess Federation of Russia did the same. We will appeal. We will see what will happen. I think a fair decision will be made. We have to defend the interests of the players.

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