Friday, June 30, 2006

Chess-playing heads of states

By Frank "Boy" Pestaño

The last time Bobby Fischer played in public was in the Philippines, when he played a televised exhibition match in 1974 against the late President Ferdinand Marcos. The game lasted for 15 minutes and ended in a draw.

Fischer, who was reportedly paid a $20,000 appearance fee, later said Marcos had a good understanding of the game.

It seems we have a lot of chess playing presidents, as Corazon Aquino also plays the game and was thrilled when she met Garry Kasparov during the Manila Olympiad in 1992. Everybody, of course, knows Fidel Ramos is a good chess player and is also a benefactor of the game.

The late National Master Glicerio “Asing” Badilles once confided to me that he was a favorite, together with IM Rodolfo Cardoso, of the late President Carlos Garcia, who was probably the strongest head of state to ever play the game.

RECORD FIELD. Another dedicated chess player among national leaders is Fidel Castro, whose passion for the game has made Cuba a chess power.

Cuba hosted the largest simultaneous exhibition in history, when 6,840 players including Castro played 380 masters in Havana in Nov. 19, 1966, the birthday of the late world champion Raoul Capablanca.

Muammar Gaddafi, another chess playing head of state, has been the leader of Libya since 1969. He provided the prize money in the World Championship in 2004, which became controversial when qualifiers from Israel were not given visas to Libya. This led to a boycott by several Jews from other countries and that is the biggest factor why Fide President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov almost failed to get re-elected in last month’s Fide elections.

Yasser Arafat was chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization from 1969 until his death in Nov. 11, 2004. He was a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 together with Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin for the successful negotiations of the Oslo Accords. There is a story that he respected former Israeli Prime Minister Menachim Begin, because he was as a chess player like himself.

Begin is also a Nobel Peace prize awardee and became prime minister of Israel in 1977. Another story says that when British troops arrived at his house to arrest him in 1944, when Israel was still fighting for independence, Begin was playing chess with his wife and his last words to his wife was “I resign,” before being dragged away. He played several matches with National Security adviser Zbigniew Brezezinski in Camp David and most probably also against president Jimmy Carter.

Vytautas Landsbergis was the first president of the state of Lithuania after the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1990. He is reportedly a strong chess player.

Boris Yeltsin was president of Russia from 1991-1999. An all-around athlete, Yeltsin is not only good in chess but also in boxing, gymnastics, volleyball, track and field and wrestling

There seems to be a connection between being president of the United States and knowing how to play chess. American presidents who play chess are Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt , Richard Nixon, James Garfield, Grover Cleveland, Ulysses Grant, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Rutherford Hayes, Warren Harding, John Quincy Adams and Jimmy Carter. I will devote several articles in the future about these presidents and anecdotes about their game.

YOUNG ACE. Yves Fiel has certainly improved by leaps and bounds .Only 12 years old, he won the June edition tournament of the Cebu Executives and Professionals Chess Association .Last month‘s winner was Atty. Jongjong Melendez.

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