The beautiful game – no it’s not football
Has chess lost its prestige since its Cold War heyday?
Russia decided after the revolution that throwing a lot of money at chess was going to be the cheapest and fastest way of promoting and promulgating Soviet superiority round the world. I think you find now many countries have adopted the same philosophy.
China is pushing hard to transfer the passion for Chinese chess into international chess, and indeed the women’s gold champion is a 19-year-old Chinese girl. The political interest that Russia showed in chess in the early days, we now see [replicated] as new countries try to demonstrate [and] enrich their identity as nations.
And you want to bring chess to the Middle East?
Chess has a very, very deep history here. You see lots of chess in Cairo, Beirut, Jerusalem and obviously the Emirates. It’s a part of the world that for me, personally, is very important and I think it goes without saying it would kind of be a homecoming for chess.
So who will you work with here?
The hospitality events we hold around the actual chess tournament are very important platforms for business-to-business and business-to-government [relations], so we need to choose very carefully which city we work with in the Gulf.
We consider each meeting is like a mini-Davos. At the grand prix we just held in London, there were 12 players from 12 different countries. In the past, players would have been predominantly Soviet.
This is an event we expect to generate an enormous amount of excitement and obviously the point is not just achieving this in years one, two, three and four but to keep coming back and build on the business-to-business and business-to-government links. We want to make sure this is an event that penetrates deeply into the Emirati population.
What about the younger generation?
We will be working with children every day during our events. In the mornings we will invite children from local groups to either come and compete or get instruction. There is a very big social element as well as a business and political element.
Can chess really be interesting to watch?
It’s actually the core of what we are trying to do. We are working with the top data visualisers in England to come up with dramatic ways of expressing what’s going on the chessboard so the audience will be able to see what’s happening with the eyes of a grandmaster, and feel the emotional drive of those players sitting there themselves.
One of the most dramatic moments in a game of chess is that which usually comes around move 17 or 18 when all of a sudden players are playing a game that’s never been played before. By diagramming that and showing that visually, it’s both beautiful and interesting.
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– GM Susan Polgar