If you’ve ever thought all politicians were crazy, spare a thought for us poor old chess players: our illustrious leader, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, not only believes in aliens, he’s met them. He once described on prime-time Russian TV how he was abducted by space aliens and taken on a whistle-stop tour of the galaxy on their spaceship, as you do. Now, a further controversy could well jeopardise a dream world-title match in America for Magnus Carlsen.
Ilyumzhinov, a multi-millionaire businessman and a former president of the Russian state of Kalmykia, took over the leadership of the governing body of chess, FIDE, in 1995. His over-long period in office has been chaotic and controversial - and despite several attempts to unseat him (most recently by Garry Kasparov), no one has come close to doing so.
He is a staunch Vladimir Putin loyalist and regularly met dictators Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi before their deaths. But now his relationship with another controversial leader, Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad, is set to comeback to cause further embarrassment for the chess world, as this week Ilyumzhinov found himself placed on a sanction list by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) - the first chess player to be placed on a US Treasury sanction list since Bobby Fischer - for business dealing’s with the Syrian regime.
Ilyumzhinov was cited for ‘materially assisting and acting for or on behalf of the Government of Syria, Central Bank of Syria, Adib Mayaleh, and Batoul Rida’. OFAC further accused Ilyumzhinov of assisting the Syrian regime via the Russian Financial Alliance Bank of which it stated he is a major shareholder.
Being placed on the sanction list means any assets Ilyumzhinov holds in the United States will be frozen and (more importantly) US citizens are restricted in the dealings they can have with him - and the timing couldn’t have come at a worse time, as this Sunday Ilyumzhinov was planning on travelling to America to sign a contract for the 2016 World Chess Championship match, with the touting of three possible venues: Los Angeles, San Francisco or New York.
Ilyumzhinov was quick to respond on the move by the US Treasury with an appearance on the the TV Channel “Russia 24”. He described the sanctions as a 'provocation', and in a defiant move says he will now go to the US Treasury himself to ask directly about why he’s on the list. 'I was in Syria two years ago, officially,' said Ilyumzhinov. 'There are no commercial relationships or economic ties.'
Whether Ilyumzhinov will go to the US Treasury is anyone’s guess - but it certainly looks likely that any potential big-name US sponsor is going to have to think twice about dealing with FIDE to host what would have been the biggest world title match of the Magnus Carlsen era, especially as top homeland heroes Hikaru Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana, are being heavily tipped to win through from the candidates tournament to be Magnus’ possible challengers.
The rumour mill is now suggesting that, after months of FIDE heavily-hinting that Magnus’ title match would be held in America, Sochi in Russia - with the full backing of Vladimir Putin - could now get the call to host the match. I hope not - but then again, nothing much surprises me anymore with FIDE.
Magnus Carlsen - Radoslaw Wojtaszek
European Team Ch., (9)
1.d4 Nf6 2.Bf4 The London System is a popular opening at club level, as there's no reams of opening theory on it - it's just simple chess with development to match. It fits in well with Carlsen's anti-theory strategy, and he's recently added it to his repertoire. 2...d5 3.e3 c5 4.c3 Nc6 5.Nd2 cxd4 6.exd4 Bf5 7.Qb3 Once Black's white-squared bishop has been committed, this is White's usual response, directly hitting b7. 7...Qc8 8.Ngf3 e6 9.Nh4! The standard London System move of 9.h3 would have been met by 9...h6 - but Carlsen seizes the chance to capture the advantage of the bishop-pair. 9...Be4 10.Nxe4 Nxe4 11.Nf3 Bd6 12.Bxd6 Nxd6 13.Bd3 Qc7 14.Qc2 0-0-0 15.0-0 h6 16.a4 From a simple opening system, Carlsen has emerged with the space advantage and a good bishop - it may seem like little to work with, but Carlsen is an expert at squeezing elite players from such simple positions. 16...Kb8 17.Rfe1 Rc8 18.Qd1 Not falling for a ...Nb4, exchanging off Carlsen's trump card of his bishop. 18...Rhe8 19.Bf1 Re7 20.Rc1 Rd8 21.Re2 Ne4 22.b4 Ng5 23.Ne1! Carlsen doesn't want to exchange pieces in this position, as to do so would only help his opponent. 23...e5 24.b5 Na5 25.Rxe5 Rxe5 26.dxe5 Qxe5 27.c4! (See Diagram) Taking full-advantage of the pin on the rook. It's that well-know syndrome of the "knight on the rim is dim" now, as Black's position dramatically collapses due to the badly-placed knight on a5. 27...Ne6 If 27...d4 28.c5 will leave Carlsen with a big advantage, because to save the knight marooned on a5, Black will have to play ...b6, after which White's bishop will exploit the white-square weakness on the g2-a8 diagonal. 28.Nf3 Qf4 29.cxd5 It's only now you see the deep understanding Carlsen had of the positions with his strategic retreat of 19.Bf1. 29...Rxd5 30.Qxd5 Qxc1 31.g3 With Wojtaszek's knight on a5 having a shortage of squares, Carlsen calmly creates a little "luft" for his king, and in doing so will free his powerful bishop to exploit the white-square weakness in the Black camp. 31...Qc5 32.Qd7 Exchanging queens would only help Black, so Carlsen rightly keeps his more powerful queen on the board. 32...Qf8 Forced, as 32...Qc7 33.Qe8+ Qd8 (33...Nd8 34.Ne5!!) 34.Qxf7 easily wins for Carlsen. 33.Ne5! Nc5 34.Qd5! The not-too-subtle threat is now Qxc5! winning a piece with the fork Nd7+. 34...Kc7 35.Nxf7 Nxa4 36.Qe5+ Kb6 If 36...Kc8 the bishop makes the killing blow with 37.Bh3#. 37.Nd6 Nc5 38.Ne8 1-0 Black is going to lose a piece after 38...Qf7 39.Qd6+ Nc6.