Friday, September 10, 2010

“Kirsan Ilyumzhinov – True Leader of the Chess World” – Interview by Prospero Pichay

Interview Originally Published at the

For almost three years, Prospero Pichay has been the head of the Philippine Chess Federation, and under his leadership chess in the Philippines have been thriving, which is no surprise given Pichay’s strong leadership background and political affluence in the country. He is one of the most respected and popular politicians in the Philippines: he served in Congress and now is a Member of the Board of Local Waterworks and Utilities Administration.
His recent contributions to the development of chess in the Philippines include the 6th Prospero Pichay cup and the Compomanes Memorial — a chess tournament with a staggering $100,000 in prizes and participants from over 100 countries. This September, Mr. Pichay will cast a vote in the FIDE presidential elections in Khanty-Mansiysk on behalf of the Philippine Chess Federation.
The Chess Review met with Prospero Pichay during the Compomanes Memorial Tournament:
You’ve been the head of the Philippine Chess Federation for three years. What did you achieve during this time?
Let me give you the numbers that speak for themselves: the Philippines were on the 44th place in the FIDE Rating, and now we are on the 35th place. Before 2007, for 45 years of the Federation’s existence, there have been only four Grandmasters in the country. Now there are ten. Also – many Asian players got their GM titles at the tournaments organized here. In particular, the winner of the last edition of Prospero Pichay Cup, Anton Filippov from Uzbekistan, has not only won the first prize of $5,000, but also made a GM norm.
How did the idea of organizing the Campomanes Memorial come into existence?
The idea first materialized in April, when the FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov came to the Philippines on a working visit. It turned out that we both have been thinking for a while about organizing a tournament to commemorize the former FIDE President and one of the most outstanding Filipinos, Florencio Campomanes. Kirsan gave us an incredible gift — he set up a prize fund of $1 million. In turn, I expressed the idea to take this million further and to share the prize-fund for ten tournaments that shall be organized in the next 10 years. Not only in the Philippines, but in the other Asian countries. The importance of Campo went far beyond the borders of our country – he was the true citizen of the world.
Kirsan liked this idea very much. And after only three months of planning and hard work, the tournament was launched. I would like to express my appreciation of Mr. Ilyumzhinov and the fact that he paid his tribute to the great Campomanes. Everybody knows that it was Campomanes who persuaded Ilyumzhinov to become the FIDE President, and it is clear that the incumbent President is a worthy choice.
What are your memories of the 5th FIDE President?
He is a legend. And he was a blessing for chess. Thanks to Campomanes, this wise game has become popular not only in Russia, but around the world. He also was a true and dear friend. He could understand one’s feelings and was very compassionate. People loved him.
Is is true that he has been keeping his illness a secret until very last moment?
This is true. Campomanes wanted to be remembered as a strong and self-assured person. That’s how he lived his whole life. When Florencio was taken to a hospital, I came to see him and to offer my support. But instead of discussing his illness, we discussed chess and how to make it the most popular game in the Philippines and around the world. This is how he was — chess was his life.
Do you see chess developing in Asia?
I am very optimistic in this respect. Now India and China are among the world’s strongest chess powers. There is an evident chess boom in such countries as Iran, Vietnam, Kazakhstan, Philippines, and etc. In five or ten years, we shall catch up with the European countries in terms of development of chess as well as in the number and quality of players.
What can be done in the immediate future to expedite the process?
We discussed this question recently with the FIDE President. I told Kirsan that we should focus our efforts on making chess a part of the TV programming. It is clear that classic chess, which requires hours, would not work on television, but we should develop rapid chess. We should introduce the World Champion title, international ratings system, and focus on the organization of the rapid chess tournaments. The 25-minute games are fit for TV programming. This programming, in turn, will bring hundreds of millions of people into the sport. And I am very happy that Kirsan has a clear plan of how to bring chess onto television.
You have very strong media connections in the Philippines. Why not use them and organize a similar programming in this country?
The project is already in progress. It will launch in 2011.
You actively support Kirsan Ilyumzhinov in the upcoming FIDE presidential elections. Why?
During the years of being the FIDE President, Kirsan has proved that he is the true leader of the chess world. He is a world-class politician and his contribution to chess is invaluable. Why should I support his opponent, who does not have any experience whatsoever? It’s one thing to be a chess player, and completely different one – to lead the sport of chess. There is nothing personal in my decision. I respect Mr. Karpov as a player and admire his skills. But it would be much better if he would continue doing what he knows best and what he is great at — playing chess.
Both you and Kirsan Ilyumzhinov are not only prominent members of the chess community, but also working politicians. Does your daily government responsibilities interfere with those in the Chess Federation?
On the contrary. My position helps me to establish contacts with sponsors and supporters. Of course, I am very busy most of the time, but I found a very useful solution: work more and sleep less. And of course, I have learned how to delegate responsibilities and work in a team. I have a very strong team of experts and I count on them.
Do you see high potential in the 16-year old Filipino Wesley So, who is already in the top-100 chess players worldwide?
- Today, Wesley is number 71 and he has unlimited potential. Wesley has a quality which differentiates him from the other players – he does not take any other result than a victory. Some chess palyers try to play for a draw, but he plays only to win. He is also a phenomenally disciplined person. So, if his continues to work this way, in a few years Wesley could become a serious candidate for the World Champion title. He does not have much experience yet, but this is easily remedied.
Are there any other potential chess stars?
Yes, there are, and there are many more who are yet to be discovered. Kirsan is right a hundred times over when he focuses on the development of the “Chess in Schools program”. We recently signed a Memorandum with the Ministry of Education to introduce chess into the school curriculum. I think we will see immediate results.
And another important issue is funding. My friends and I provide financial support to all of the Philippine chess players who play at a certain level. But they can’t progress as fast as the chess players in Europe. The are only four professional chess tournaments in the Philippines per year. In Europe, GM can travel from one tournament to another, earning enough to support themselves. Players in Asia don’t have this luxury. And this means that our task is to establish the relationship with sponsors to be able to organize at least one tournament with $25,000-prize-fund per month.
And now one personal question. You are considered to be one of the top candidates for the Philippine Presidency. Does this resonate with your personal ambitions and plans?
It’s up for God to decide. I served three terms in Congress and and will be running for Senate in 2013. I don’t know where life will take me from there. We shall see.

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