Friday, September 25, 1998
Olympiad begins amid troubles
By Quah Seng Sun
THE 33rd Chess Olympiad is set to open tomorrow in Elista, the capital of the autonomous Russian republic Kalmyk. According to a statement from the World Chess Federation (Fide), about 120 men's and 80 women's teams will be housed in the new City Chess complex which is also the venue for the three week long competition.
It is a wonder that the Chess Olympiad gets off the ground at all. For several months now, construction workers have struggled to get the City Chess complex ready in time for the event. Also there were serious doubts about whether Elista airport could be upgraded in time to receive charter flights from Moscow. To add to Kalmykia problems, Russia is in the midst of an economic crisis with its rouble suffering a drastic devaluation in recent weeks.
Such a scenario has led to claims that the Kalmyk Government has diverted funds to the Chess Olympiad at the expense of the common folk. Thus, recently human rights groups in Russia stepped up calls for international chess players to boycott the event.
Sergei Kovalev, a Russian dissident and a member of Russia's Parliament, alleged that Kalmyk president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov has disregarded fundamental human rights. Ilyumzhinov is also the president of Fide.
People were going hungry and Kovalev was charged because City Chess was built with funds from Moscow's central government, which were originally earmarked for development and easing poverty in the republic.
First elected as Kalmyk president in 1993, Ilyumzhinov originally promised to bring prosperity to the republic, set on the parched steppes north of the Caucasus mountains. It is the only Buddhist nation in Europe.
Five years on, the Kalmykians are still among the poorest in Russia, and human rights campaigners accuse Ilyumzhinov, a multi-millionaire businessman, of restoring some of the worst excesses of Soviet rule.
Kovalev added: "I don't understand how someone like Ilyumzhinov can be in charge of an international sporting body. It shows how undemanding the rest of the world is in such matters."
But perhaps Kovalev should not be so disappointed. History, after all, has shown that it is on the side of the sports organisations and chess is not that different from most other sports and games.
In 1980, athletes from all over the world, except for the Americans, had ignored human rights activists and participated in the Moscow Olympics. This was after the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan and the KGB had rounded up dissidents in the old Soviet Union.
Nevertheless, I contacted the Malaysian Chess Federation secretary, Hamid Majid, earlier this week to find out whether the MCF is sending a team to Elista.
I reminded him of the horror stories that I had heard when the Chess Olympiad was last held in Moscow four years ago. At that time, chess players were warned not to wander far from their hotel in case they were mugged or extorted. Several chess players were robbed at gunpoint inside a Moscow bank.
Hamid said as long as the Malaysians were not in Moscow, he was not scared for their safety. Elista should be quite safe as all the players and officials would remain within the City Chess complex.
When the Malaysian contingent arrives at the Moscow international airport, they would be escorted immediately to the domestic airport for the connecting flight to Elista. The Malaysians would also travel with other foreign chess teams, including our counterparts from across the Causeway.
But early this week no decision had yet been made on sending a contingent to the Chess Olympiad.
With Petronas contributing only RM10,000 towards the expenses for the team, MCF would have to come up with some funds. The players too might have to fork out the balance of the costs incurred.
Because of this, Hamid said the MCF would not send a women's team to Elista. As for the men, they have been told to be prepared for the trip.
If the trip materialises, the team chosen could comprise of: Lim Yee Weng, Ng Tze Han, Ismail Ahmad, Ghalam Sani, Azahari Mohd Nor, Wong Ji Zing, Tan Wei Sin and Ng Ee Vern. Of these eight players, Lim Yee Weng, Ng Tze Han and Ismail Ahmad will certainly be in the team as they were the top three in last year's national closed championship.
Four notable names not in the list are Mas Hafizulhelmi, Jimmy Liew, Mok Tze Meng and Lim Chuin Hoong. Mas and Lim have declined to participate because they are preparing for their Form Five and Form Three examinations respectively while Liew and Mok cited work commitments.
Penang Grand Prix circuit
The Penang Chess Association (PCA) will organise the second leg of the Penang Grand Prix chess circuit on Oct 4 at the Bukit Mertajam Country Club. Only PCA members are allowed to take part in this circuit.
The circuit is divided into four preliminary legs and a final. Each of the preliminary legs will be a six-round event using a 30-minute time control. The first leg was run on June 28.
Readers interested in playing in the second leg are requested to contact Goh Yoon Wah (04-644 5687 in the evening) or Ooi Kiem Boo (04-657 4596, office hours).
Prizes for these legs include RM200 for the winner, RM120 for the runners-up and RM80 for the third-placed. There are five other smaller cash prizes, and also prizes for the best junior and woman players.
The entry fee is RM10 per player.
Besides cash prizes, top players from each leg will be awarded GP points. For example, the winner will get 1,000 GP points; the second-placed, 900 GP points; and so on until the 10th-placed winner who will receive 100 GP points.
The selection of 10 finalists will depend on the total GP points accumulated by the players from three of their best legs.
Entry to the final will be by qualification only. The final will be a round-robin tournament with a one-hour time control.
The winner will receive RM400 and a challenge trophy. The second prize is RM200; third, RM100; and fourth and fifth RM50 each.
For details of this circuit, see the PCA homepage at www.geocities.com/TimesSquare/Stadium/2379/ .
This column will appear fortnightly from next month.