In autumn 2013, the Kalmyk Republic will celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Elista 33rd World Chess Olympics. Of course, the Tournament of Nations is the most important and the biggest political event in the centuries-long and glorious history of Kalmykia.
Such an epoch-making event, attended by about two thousand chess players, who have arrived from almost 120 countries, for the first time was held on the Kalmyk land. Never before chess-fanciers of Kalmykia have seen such a huge number of grandmasters of the first magnitude. Never before this land was in the focus of such a heightened attention as in those unforgettable days. For nearly three weeks, the interest of the international community was riveted to the small steppe republic. In the Russian Federation, only Moscow, apart from Kalmykia now, had the honorary right to be host-land of such a significant event. In this connection, we can still hear reasoning of the perplexed colleagues from other regions. Moscow? Ok, it’s clear. This is the capital, the largest metropolis of the country, a city with rich chess traditions. `But how could a provincial city of Elista come to enter the chess elite list?`, they ask. Really, why was it small Kalmykia to be given the honor to play host to these prestigious international competitions? After all in Russia, we have a lot of large cities with developed chess infrastructure, capable to bear the brunt of such competition properly.
From a historical point of view, the chess Olympiad to be held in Kalmykia is a quite natural phenomenon. For centuries chess has been and nowadays is close to the Kalmyk. Chess is mentioned in the Kalmyk folklore, it is considered a national game. Not only representatives of the steppe nobility, but also common people were fond of this game. However, the game had some specific features as played by ancient Kalmyks. For example, if in modern chess the king occupies in the initial position a square of another color, in chatr (Kalmyk chess) the king (Khan) must start from the square of his own color. In chatr Kings cannot make castling, but once the game, they have the right to jump, like the knight moves, to the first or to the eighth rank of the chessboard. Moreover, there are other distinctions of Kalmyk chatr from classic chess, such as chessmen’s names or their functions. All this makes evident that the spiritual culture of our ancestors, including chess, was at a sufficiently high level.
Many of steppe inhabitants played very well both Kalmyk chess and classic chess. Petrov, one of the strongest Russian chess players of the XIX century and the founder of the opening called «Russian game», tells in his memoirs, remaining in the archives, about a stubborn opposition at the chessboard that he had against a Kalmyk prince.
Considering the foregoing, it is logical that the first Russian elected FIDE President was Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, representative of the people playing this game from time immemorial and having preserved up to our days the original rules of the Kalmyk chess.
Three years after K. Ilyumzhinov had been elected the FIDE President, the Republic of Kalmykia was awarded the right to hold the 33rd World Chess Olympiad. Indeed, the organization of the world chess Olympiad in Elista became possible thanks to the FIDE President, the head of the Republic of Kalmykia Kirsan Nikolayevich Ilyumzhinov.
Preparing activities for the Olympiad took place in the conditions of an extreme time trouble, speaking the chess language. On December 31st, 1996, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov convened a meeting of the republican construction industry leaders and announced the decision of the FIDE Congress to hold the 33rd World Chess Olympiad in 1998 in Elista. Then he set the task to construct and put into operation a sophisticated Olympic village with all modern facilities of social, cultural and recreational purposes. In connection with the preparation of the chess Olympiad, serious attention was paid to the improvement of the architectural image of the steppe capital. It was necessary to reconstruct parks, stadiums, to build fountains, monuments… Architects were given a special task to give the city of Elista an oriental flavor. And the work started! All together — a large number of architects, designers, engineers, construction workers — gave it full swing. Within three months, from January to March 1997, the construction site of the Olympic village was prepared and the Kalmyk design Institute elaborated the design and engineering documentation. So that in the first day of April, construction engines entered the construction site where it was supposed to build, in a period of very few months, a magnificent chess city.
The builders worked perfectly in total comply with the requirements of designers and architects. All varieties of typical houses were taken into consideration. The corps of architects was headed by Yuri Sangadjiev. The architectural ensemble of the City Chess was developed by architect teams led by Sergei Kurneev, Lev Amninov, Ahmet Bostchaev, Vladimir Gilandikov and Batyr Moshuldaev. Finally, the major part of the residential complex construction scope was completed in 1997. All republican construction companies, organizations, construction material stocks were involved in the project.
As regards the city chess hall, the first foundation stone of the future building was laid in January 1998. It appeared that within a mere eight month the Palace of chess was due to be put into operation. And this, seemingly impossible task was realized in time by our workers. It was fair enough when, at the opening ceremony of the Olympiad, their work was called feat of labor.
The organizational functions were entrusted to the Commission called `on parallel activities`. The Commission prepared scenarios of the Olympiad opening and closing ceremonies, inviting the best creative forces of the Republic of Kalmykia to participate in festivities. These ceremonies were accepted with enthusiasm and evoked delight of the participants and of the guests of the tournament. The Art Director of the opening ceremony was Frolov, Honored Culture Worker of Russia. At the end of the festivities the organizing Committee received hundreds of positive comments about the event. The referee Guyssen, for example, wrote the following words: `In my opinion, the opening of the forum of the chess-players was a fantastic performance. Your artists deserve the highest praise and words of gratitude. What is more, I am literally charmed by the hospitality and friendliness of the people of your Republic!`.
During the Chess Olympiad the city lived an intense cultural life: premiere performances, exhibitions, concerts chained one after another… The emphasis was not only made on the amusement, but on the demonstrating the national color, ethnic flavor, historical and modern features of the steppe republic.
Each Olympic team was taken under patronage by different enterprises and institutions of Elista. They took care of their wards, doing their best to provide the chess-players with everything the guests could need. Every day, the patrons delivered fresh food, fruits, juices and water to the teams under wardship. On days off they took the guests to the theatres, exhibitions, concerts and performances or sometimes went for outings with them. Every day the patronage organizations came to the competitions to support their teams.
The participants and sportsmen themselves gave enthusiastic appreciation of the Chess Tournament of Nations. According to their words, never before they had met such a high organizational level of competitions, such excellent conditions of life and rest. The reason is simple. Local residents worked with all their might, they worked a lot… Yes, the reputation of their cherished Kalmykia was at stake.
The good news about the Olympiad in Kalmykia, about the unique City Chess constructed in Elista, has spread around the world. The first thing the tourists coming to Kalmykia do, is visiting the City Chess. There is really what to see. The City Chess is a cottage village, situated in the South-Eastern part of Elista. It consists of a number of elite houses and cottages, in which the guests stay during their sojourn in Elista.
The City Chess has another sobriquet; sometimes it is called New-Vasuki. This nickname is taken from a Russian comedy, the main character of which Ostap Bender dreamt about a world chess championship in a small village of New-Vasuki. That`s why many things remind visitors of this story: at the entrance to the City a monument to Ostap Bender catches the eye, one can seat on the chair that this charismatic hero hunted to find treasure hidden in it or else take a photo with a lookalike of the famous character.
Walking across the territory of the City Chess, tourists meet unusual abstract figures made by the participants of the Symposium «Planet of Kaissa». Almost before each cottage bizarre sculptures are set. Each of them has a deep meaning: the figure of «Time-trouble» (sculptor Ginevichus) reflects the state of the player under time pressure when he makes hasty and ill-considered moves; the rapid and assured start of the game is embodied by a taking off eagle — the sculpture is called “The Gambit» (sculptor Kalinushkin). The Central figure of the alley is the work «Yoral» or «Good Wishes» by Vladimir Vaskin representing a column of marble decorated with symbols of oirats (Kalmyk people) and with a golden crown on the top.
The principal building of the City Chess is, indeed, the Palace of chess. This is a huge glass edifice of a six-storeyed building hight, the shape of which reminds of a round nomad tent of ancient Kalmyks. But the interior of the Palace is equipped according to the latest achievements of science and technology. An impressive size transparent glass-elevator takes you to the top of the building, where a beautiful panorama of the steppe capital opens from. In the City Chess Hall, that hosted the Olympiad, up to one and a half thousand people can play chess at the same time.
The chess theme appears everywhere in the Palace. Just at the entrance, in the middle of the hall, you will meet a huge chessboard with chessmen. Wherever you look — everywhere on the walls of the Palace you can see various photos of well-known chess players, cartoons and fun drawings about chess, awards of the prestigious competition winners. On one of the upper floors there is the Museum of chess glory, unique in the world and named after the eighth world champion Mikhail Tal. It`s not for nothing the Museum bears the name of this famous chess-wizard from Riga: many of his personal belongings and documents are exhibited in the Museum. A large number of well-known chess players visited the Museum of chess glory and the famous competition halls where V. Ivanchuk, R. Ponomarev, V. Topalov, M. Adams, P. Swidler and other top grandmasters were playing. World champions of different years came to the City Chess as guests of honor, and among them: Boris Spassky, Anatoly Karpov, Garry Kasparov, Alexander Khalifman, Rustam Kasimjanov, Ruslan Ponomariov, Vladimir Kramnik and Veselin Topalov.
The 33rd Chess Olympiad gave a powerful incentive to chess development in Kalmykia. Sport activities never stop in the City Chess: one competition gives way to another. The Palace of chess hosted the World women championship, the Men championship of Russia, four Russian women championships, the finals of the Cup of Russia, the first international Botvinnik memorial competition and dozens of other regional and local tournaments. In total — more than 200 of competitions. Organizational and technical support of all the tournaments held in the City Chess Hall is ensured by the Chess Department of the special representation office of the Kalmyk republic in the administrative-territorial unit (ATU) «City Chess».
Due to the multitude of international and rating tournaments held in the Republic, and mainly in the Palace of Chess, the number of highly skilled players increases year after year in Kalmykia. At the present time, the Republic of Kalmykia has more than a hundred carriers of individual ratings, about 30 candidates for sports mastership, two international masters, five FIDE masters. Lately Kalmykia has seen the appearing of its own grandmasters. The title of the women’s grandmaster was awarded to Baira Kovanova, and then 15‑year-old Sanan Sugirov won the grade of man`s grandmaster.
The number of tournaments organized by ATU «City chess» increases from year to year. Since 2005 such competitions as «The Cup of the Head of Republic of Kalmykia» and «The Cup of the ATU «City of Chess» yearly take place and the first tournament has the status of the open competition. Another traditional tournament held in the City Chess is the memorial of the chess referee Alexei Molozhay. Moreover, there are other regular competitions devoted to different holidays and significant dates.
Since 2007, a Grandmaster Scholl is in operation within City Chess. Here, famous grandmasters and children’s trainers teach chess mastery to the most talented Kalmyk children.
The City Chess Hall hosts not only chess tournaments, but also other important social and political events. Suffice it to mention that in June 2005 the meeting of the State Council of the Russian Federation under the chairmanship of the President of Russia Vladimir Putin took place here. It was just at this meeting that the important national project called «The Development of the agro-industrial complex» was adopted.
In March 2011, another significant event took place in the City Chess: the President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev visited it and got acquainted with the unique chess town.
Numbers of meetings were held in the City Chess Hall with participation of such eminent political figures as Plenipotentiary representatives of the President of the Russian Federation in the Southern Federal district (of different years) V. Yakovlev, E. Kozak, G. Rapota, V. Ustinov. The guest book of the unique in the world City Chess keeps complimentary words of the Minister of the RF economic development G. Gref, the President of the Mongolian People’s Republic Nambaryn Enkhbayar, the Chairman of the Council of the Federation S. Mironov, the Deputy Chairman of the RF Duma V. Zhirinovsky and other officials.
Other direction of activity of the unit «City Chess» is charity. In the last seven years the ATU supports the Municipal institution «Child House». Every day the children`s home receives 60 liters of drinking water purified at «City Chess» treatment stations. The ATU offered children refrigerators, soft furniture and goods of the first necessity. Inmates of the children`s home are regularly invited to the New year performances with participation of actors of the Russian Theatre of Drama and Comedy. Each child receives presents. The Special representative office of the Republic of Kalmykia renders charitable assistance to the Yashalta regional hospital, to the Troitsky municipal school, to the Elista and Kalmyk eparchies, to the Elista Hospice for aged and disabled persons and other institutions which are in need of support.
All of the above gives evidence that the City Chess lives a full and active life, attracts the attention of tourists as one of the most unique chess buildings in the world, the brand name of the capital of Kalmykia — the city of Elista. And the 33rd World Chess Olympiad went down in history as one of the brightest sport events of the second half of the twentieth century.
By Vasily Shakuev