He belongs to a family with generational ties with the game of chess. His life is inextricably linked to chess, having been exposed to the game since he was four years old. He believes chess gives one the ability to think long-term and adopt the best possible strategy for challenging scenarios and conflict resolution. Asharami Friday had an exclusive interview with Arkady Dvorkovich, President, International Chess Federation (FIDE), the foremost apostle of chess who would love to see the game reach more people – irrespective of their race, gender and creed – across the globe. Enjoy!
When was the very first time you played chess and what was the experience?
Chess has always been part of my life because my father was a chess professional – an international arbiter, organizer, and also a member of Kasparov’s team during his matches against Karpov.
For that reason, it is difficult to single out when exactly I first played chess. For me, chess has always been there. I started to play when I was around 4 years old. With my father, of course, but also with my grandfather on my mother’s side. By the time I was 6, I became a member of a chess club, and I even played some correspondence chess.
Which players have influenced have your style of play the most?
Difficult to say. Different players influenced me for very different reasons: Alekhine, Capablanca, Tal, Smyslov, Kasparov. Also Efim Geller.
What would you say really makes chess a unique game
It is simple enough to be learned and enjoyed from the very first moment. But at the same time, it is complex enough to never get bored of it!
Can chess only be played by people with high IQ?
Not at all. Chess can be played an enjoyed by anyone. But definitely, to become a strong player, you need to have a certain set of skills.
Which is the longest game of Chess ever played?
In terms of the number of moves, I believe the longest tournament game ever to be played was Nikolic – Arsovic, in Belgrade 1989. This game lasted for 269 moves and took more than 20 hours in total to be finished. The rules were slightly different back then, though. Now it would have been declared a draw much earlier!
How can chess be used as a vehicle for promoting global peace and sustainable development?
Through chess, you learn to understand what the person in front of you is thinking, so it helps you to develop some kind of empathy. If you are a chess player you tend to resolve your disputes with strong arguments, and not using your fists. And more importantly, you learn to think long term and to measure the consequences of your actions. You can’t take back your moves. When you adopt this mindset, peace and sustainable development come naturally.
Chess was used to promote the campaign against HIV/AIDS. How is Chess helping to raise awareness and support efforts geared towards stopping the spread of the Coronavirus
Something you learn through chess is that when your opponent surprises you, you have to react quickly and reassess the position you have in front of you. You don’t waste time thinking of what had happened so far in the game, what were your plans or expectations up to that moment. All that matters is finding your best move in the new position that has arisen.
The coronavirus outbreak took us to uncharted territory. We have to think like Grandmasters, adapt to the new scenario, stay alert for threats, but also for possible resources and opportunities.
What does it take to become a Chess Grandmaster?
A whole set of intellectual skills – creativity, memory, calculation, the ability to focus for long period of time, but also a lot of hard work and resilience. And you only put in all this hard work if you truly love the game.
There is a lot of talent in Africa, and we dream of the day when every African nation will have at least one Grandmaster. I hope that, among the readers, we will find some of the people who will help us to make this dream true.
Can young people look to chess as a game that can be a sustainable source of income?
As an international sports federation, we try to create the conditions to make that possible. But, like in any other professional sport, only the very best can make a living just by paying.
Chess, however, offers many other opportunities. Since it is in high demand in schools, being a chess instructor can easily turn into a professional occupation – which can be combined with taking part, occasionally, in chess competitions.
How can the game of Chess be made accessible to people?
We need to give chess more visibility. People tend to get curious about chess once they get in touch with the game. To many, it is fascinating. We just need to propitiate this “first contact”.
Chess in education programs offer us this possibility. Childhood is the best age to teach someone how to play chess.
Multiple Youtube and Twitch channels, as well as social media, are also key to make chess accessible and fun to a larger audience.
FIDE is celebrating its 96th anniversary. What has been the achievements of the organisation?
As I said at the United Nations last week, we are not young anymore: we are big and strong, uniting 195 national chess federations. That makes us one of the largest sports federations in the world. Probably we will celebrate our centenary with 200 members.
FIDE has helped to make chess a truly global sport, and also to have its educational benefits recognized by many institutions around the world. But I hope that our biggest achievements are still ahead of us!
Do you see Chess evolving in the near future to accommodate new rules and styles?
The “rapid” and “blitz” formats are now well established and they have their own World Championships. Fischer Random Chess, where the initial position of the pieces is shuffled before every game, has also become a variant of chess officially recognized by FIDE, with its own world championship as well.
All this adds more variety to the chess ecosystem and makes things more interesting – but without breaking with the 1,500-year tradition behind us.
Recording Chess moves appears complicated. Is there a way this can be simplified?
It is actually very simple! And very instructive for little kids who can learn how to use “coordinates” by playing at the chessboard.
But some Grandmasters, like FIDE’s Vice-President Nigel Short, consider that it is probably not necessary anymore in competitive games, since the electronic chess boards automatically register the moves made by the players.
How can one develop the skill of playing blindfold Chess?
During a game, only a fraction of the moves that you consider are actually executed on the chess board. But all the alternative moves that you have discarded have been examined and “visualized” in your mind. We could say that 95% of any chess game is actually played blindfolded! So, your calculation and “visualization skills” are trained even when you play with your eyes open. The more you practice in “normal chess”, the stronger you get in blindfold chess as well.
View July’s edition of Asharami Friday here.