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Interview with FIDE Vice President Beatriz Marinello

Beatriz Marinello

Beatriz Marinello

Q: Today we are talking with FIDE VP Beatriz Marinello. Beatriz, before we get to the upcoming FIDE Presidential election and other current topics that you would like to talk about, can you tell us a little about yourself?

Beatriz Marinello “BM”: I was born and raised in Chile, in 1990 I immigrated to the United States. I have two nationalities, I love both countries. I have been devoting most of my chess career to the USA, I hope to have a chance to give as much to my native country one day. Chile has supported me throughout my chess career, and I deeply appreciate it.

Q: I’m sure you’ve moved around the country a lot – chess players seem to like to do that. Where in the U.S. are you living these days?

BM: I came to play in the New York Open in 1990, I stayed in the USA. The USA opened so many opportunities for me, it’s true that I have been working really hard all my life, but I am happy that my efforts are making a difference.
Currently, I live in New York City.

Q: Let’s focus on your chess experiences for a moment. How many times you played in the US Women’s Championship?

BM: Prior to moving to the USA, I was the Chilean Women’s Champion and one of the top players in South America. In the USA, I played in 7 US Women’s Championships and I have represented the USA in two Women’s Interzonals and a Chess Olympiad.

Q: You’ve had a number of chess-related jobs while living in the United States. You’ve taught chess to public school students?

BM: Yes, I’ve taught chess to public school students. I don’t see my chess related activities as a job, for me this a mission. My main focus for the last 24 years has been the development of scholastic chess. Chess in the Schools has revolutionized the chess world. I am pleased to see that FIDE has made the development of Chess in the Schools one of it’s priorities. Hopefully, we can also expand these goals towards Social Chess.

Q: And you worked in the US Chess Federation (USCF) office as its scholastic director?

BM: Yes, that’s right, from 1997 to 2000. I believe chess people in the USA are familiar with my contributions to the policy making, organization, development, networking and promotion of Chess in the Schools.

Q: You spent time on the USCF Executive Board – even served as USCF President.

BM: Yes, I was elected the first Woman President of the USCF, I was also a Zonal President, General Secretary of FIDE Americas, and I am honored to serve as Vice President, the first woman elected to this position as well.

Q: What do you consider to be your biggest achievement as USCF President?

BM: You have to understand that I was on the USCF Executive Board during a time of tremendous financial stress. Some people might say that the USCF is always under financial stress, but back in 2003 it was facing a real crisis. I would say my two biggest achievements were the move of the administrative offices (to Tennessee) and the sheer survival of the federation as a governing body.

Q: And now you’ve moved on to FIDE governance. You’ve been a Vice-President in FIDE since 2010.

I think everyone understands that you’ve committed a large block of your life to chess. You’ve had success as a player, you’ve served at the national and international levels of chess governance – you know how these organizations work. And you have some concerns about the coming FIDE election cycle. Tell us – why is this particular election so important?

BM: Because although FIDE is having a lot of success right now, it is still a fragile organization. After a long period of internal conflict and uncertainty, we have had several years of stability – almost tranquility – in the chess world. For example – we’ve had several years in a row where the World Championship cycle has run smoothly, without any major controversy or disruptions. We need to continue that record of stability in the chess world.

Q: Let’s make it clear – just for our readers. The candidates are the current FIDE President, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, and former World Champion Garry Kasparov. How long has Ilyumzhinov been in office as FIDE President?

BM: Since 1995 – about 18 years.

Q: That’s a long time to hold any political office. Isn’t it time for a change?

BM: Under most circumstances, I would agree with you. But not in the present situation.

Q: Can we assume that you are backing the current FIDE administration?

BM: Yes, that’s right.

Q: Why?

BM: As I said, stability is my number one FIDE priority. Was nice to see a new World Champion crowned without any of the usual drama.

Each election cycle decision is based on the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates. An election is not just a referendum about the current leader. One can’t just decide that the current administration has been serving too long or is too entrenched and vote for the challenger that way. That gives the challenger too much of a free pass.

This election is a choice between continued stability…and uncertainty. And I just don’t believe that FIDE is in a position to choose uncertainty.

Q: You mention stability. Everyone in chess has heard the stories – about the FIDE President’s visits with Saddam Hussein (in Iraq) or Moammar Gaddafi (in Libya). Aren’t you concerned about chess being linked to those sorts of things?

BM: I am not saying that the current FIDE President is a perfect leader. I wouldn’t say he has always made the best decisions. But I do know that – overall – he has acted for the best interest of chess.

And let’s be clear, some of these things you mention (like visits to Iraq or Libya) are troubling from a Western perspective. But FIDE has 178 national federations. Any person serving as FIDE President has an obligation to take a global perspective. He cannot be limited by one set of international sensibilities. He has an obligation to represent – and interact with – ALL national federations. Not every candidate can do that well.

Q: Let’s put it the other way – wouldn’t chess be better served by having a strong grandmaster – a former world champion – as its President?

BM: That depends entirely on the identity of the grandmaster. When Max Euwe was President of FIDE, he was effective because everyone – everyone – knew that he would make decisions in the best interest of FIDE and chess, that he would do the right thing. That he could be trusted.

When you have the right candidate, then of course it is helpful if they have been a strong player.

But that is why I said you have to compare the two candidates – to ask yourself which one is more likely to do what is right for FIDE and for chess.

Beatriz Marinello

Q: Some newer readers may not know the history here – can you give us a quick recap?

BM: Well, that might take a long time (chuckles). Let me be brief, but also direct. GM Kasparov competed in the FIDE system. He gained his world champion title under the FIDE system. But in 1993, under a very flimsy pretext, he and challenger Nigel Short broke away from FIDE and started the Professional Chess Association (PCA). They tried to take the integrity of the World Title with them. The PCA was a direct competitor to FIDE.

FIDE had to make tough decisions. GM Kasparov and GM Short were stripped of their statuses. FIDE had to arrange a substitute title match, had to select a new champion. With two competing organizations, FIDE lost sponsors. It lost credibility in the eyes of the world media. Kasparov’s actions cost FIDE a lot of money. Even worse, his actions cost the core FIDE countries – the ones who put a lot of time and effort into running major FIDE events – he cost them a lot of extra work.

When it came time for the 1995 Karpov v. Kamsky world title match, FIDE could not find a sponsor. The match was pushed off to 1996, partly because of a lack of funding. The new (at the time) FIDE President – Kirsan Ilyumzhinov – said that he would fund the match himself using his own funds.

Ilyumzhinov put a lot of money into FIDE from 1996 to 2000 – money that otherwise would have come from outside sponsors. Money that the Kasparov’s breakaway cost FIDE.

When Kasparov lost to Kramnik in 2000, there was a chance for the two sides to come back together, to repair the damage. But it took quite a few more years (up to the Topalov v. Kramnik unification match) before the chess world had a unified title again. And it took yet another cycle before we had an undisputed champion (Anand) and an undisputed cycle (the FIDE cycle).

All of that uncertainty – that chaos – can be placed at Kasparov’s feet.

Q: I see what you mean. Is it your view that Kasparov would have a hard time convincing people that he would work for the best interests of FIDE – an organization that by your own historical account he once tried to destroy?

BM: Yes, but it goes deeper than that.

Q: What do you mean?

BM: Prior to the 1993 breakaway, Kasparov was having an open feud with former FIDE President Florencio Campomanes. He accused Campomanes of influencing votes from the smaller chess federations by using his position as FIDE President to hand out funding to his allies.

But now, in 2014, candidate Kasparov is doing the same thing – only on a much larger scale.

Q: Don’t all candidates do that – don’t they try their best to convince voters? Isn’t he just doing what works?

BM: Well, perhaps. But let me say again – stability vs. uncertainty. When someone says over and over again that doing something is wrong, that it was wrong of Campomanes to collect his proxy votes the way he did and then they do the exact same thing themselves, what does that tell you?

When candidate Kasparov signs an over million dollar agreement with a prominent Asian chess organizer (as mentioned in the New York Times), and that agreement includes language about how many proxies or votes that Asian organizer is supposed to deliver to candidate Kasparov – what does that tell you?

Q: What makes this situation so unique?

BM: The unique factor is the media status or “star power” that Kasparov carries. He is able to get his message out in ways that no other candidate for FIDE President ever has before.

Q: So you are saying that given these two choices – that FIDE should stay the course and stick to what is working?

BM: Absolutely. Kirsan Ilyumzhinov is far from perfect. But he is a much better leader than the alternative.

Q: Former world champion Anatoly Karpov run for the very same office four years ago.

BM: Yes, Karpov ran for FIDE President. But he ran a fairly typical campaign – didn’t do some of the things that candidate Kasparov is doing this time around. And yes, he lost. Today Karpov is saying that Kasparov would be a bad FIDE President because he is always acting like a dictator.

Q: So Ilyumzhinov is still the favorite this time around – against Kasparov. Is that right?

BM: I would say so. Many national federations appreciate the fact that Kirsan Ilyumzhinov has put a lot of money into FIDE, has helped stabilize FIDE.

Q: What do you see as the danger here?

BM: I do not see any real danger for Kirsan Ilyumzhinov apart from some delegates who might be influenced by the celebrity status of Kasparov. Maybe some other small (and not-so-small) federations may be also influenced directly by the money that Kasparov is promising. But overall, I expect a difference of about 40-50 votes in favor of Ilyumzhinov.

Q: Let’s throw another name in here – current world champion Magnus Carlsen. Does he have an opinion on this FIDE Presidential race?

BM: I certainly cannot speak for Magnus. But I would have to believe that he would value stability in FIDE. Any world champion would want FIDE to be able to run the world title smoothly, so that the titleholder could focus on chess and funding for chess.

Q: The USCF seems to be supporting the Kasparov ticket. Yet you say that is against the interests of chess. Why would they do that?

BM: To be frank, USCF is probably one of the federations influenced by the celebrity status of the challenger. That’s been the historic reality between the parties, across many USCF Executive Boards.

In several of the past FIDE elections, USCF has supported the losing side. Historically, USCF has not had the resources to directly influence the FIDE elections. They would simply express their view, give their endorsement, and that would be that.

But this time it is even worse. In 2013 candidate Kasparov directly involved himself in the USCF Executive Board election by issuing a mass mailings that gave his endorsements for that election. He has been courting a major USCF sponsor. And in return, the USCF may feel that they cannot afford to aggravate their sponsor.

The USCF delegate to FIDE is the Executive Director of the Kasparov Chess Foundation.
Considering the recent scandal unfolded by the New York Times, the USCF should consider removing Michael Khodarkovsky as USCF FIDE Delegate. This is the ethical thing to do.

Q: Let me give you a chance to clear the air about something. Do you have a concern that your position as one of the current FIDE administration’s Vice-Presidents may be influencing your pro-Ilyumzhinov views?

BM: I can see why you would ask that question, but the answer is no. In these types of matters, I try to do the right thing. I have an obligation to work for the good of FIDE, not my own re-election.

If the opposing candidate were the better candidate, I would be supporting him or her.

Q: If you could tell our readers one thing about the upcoming FIDE election – what would it be?

BM: Don’t think that because we have been blessed with a few years of peace and calm in the chess world that everything is fine. Don’t sit on the sidelines. Involve yourself. Hold your national federation accountable for their actions and for their vote. This election is between someone who has put his own money into FIDE and who has worked hard for stability in FIDE (Ilyumzhinov) vs. a candidate who has been surrounded by chaos and uncertainty. I have great respect for former World Champion Garry Kasparov for his chess playing accomplishments, but he is not the right person to lead FIDE.

Don’t vote for the hurricane simply because the ocean view has been calm the last few years, the aftermath of a hurricane is rarely pretty and as history has proven, Kasparov doesn’t attend the clean-up efforts. The players will be the ones to feel the after effects.

Q: Thank you for spending so much time with us today, Beatriz.

BM: Thank you for allowing me the chance to speak with your readers about such an important issue.

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