Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, President of the Russian internally self-governing Republic of Kalmykia, and President of the World Chess Federation FIDE, has announced his intention to establish an international chess city in Dubai, with total investment expected to reach AED 9.6 billion (2.6 bn US$). This was reported last weekend by a number of news services.
It a truly colossal project, a $2.6 billion gamble on the game of chess. The sprawling desert emirate, which has already vowed to build the world's largest mall, theme park, archipelago of man-made islands and tallest building on earth, now says it aims to conquer the age-old world of chess. By creating the 64,000 square meter International Chess City, which will feature 32 buildings designed to mirror the image of a traditional black and white game board, Dubai hopes to corner yet another niche industry by winning over millions of chess enthusiasts worldwide.
"It is Dubai's destiny to become the center of such a magnificent game," said Ilyumzhinov, President of Russia's Kalmykia region, who is backing the project. "Dubai will play host to over 60 million amateur and professional chess followers from around the globe annually. They will have a permanent venue where they can congregate and play 24 hour championships throughout the year, while some other 500 million lovers of the game will have the chance to follow the excitement via interactive electronic screens," he added in a joint statement with the chief executive of Dubai Projects, Sulaiman al-Fahim.
President Ilyumzhinov also revealed intentions to reallocate the headquarters of the International Chess Association from Lausanne in Switzerland to the new International Chess City in Dubai.
The building of an entire city devoted to chess – didn't we see that happen before? Indeed we did, as an ancient multimedia report in ChessBase Magazine 56 from February 1997 reveals. We bring you the section that deals with the Super-GM tournament in Las Palmas and Kirsan Ilyumzhinov's plans to build a chess city in Elista, the capital of Kalmykia – a plan, we may add, that he subsequently turned into reality.
The FIDE president arrived in Las Palmas to host a Presidential Board meeting – at the invitation of the tournament organizers. Ilyumzhinov was in Palmas to formally announce that the five-million-dollar, 99-player world championship he proposed in 1995 now has a sponsor, date and venue. The second part of the press conference was dedicated to an even more spectacular plan, which is closely connected to the championship and the 1998 Olympiad in Elista.
Kirsan Ilyumzhinov in 1996 announcing his plans to
build a chess city in Elista (in CBM 56)
IIlyumzhinov wants to create a "city-capital of FIDE" in Elista, a mini-state with its own king, queen, prime minister and parliament, who will all be elected before the opening of the Olympiad in 1998. But listen to the announcement yourself. Once again there is a short video sequence and a longer pure audio version to choose from.
I was given full site maps and building schematics, which I am glad to share with you. All this has got to be seen to be believed.
The site of the proposed "Third Century City Chess construction", as Ilyumzhinov calls it in his brochures (he probably means third millennium) takes up a substantial part of Elista.
A detailled view of the chess city area
There is also a Chess Palace, presumably the residence quarters of the Chess King and his Parliament...
The total cost of the chess city project will be many billions of rubles – well in excess of 200 million US dollars. Ilyumzhinov is campaigning for funds.
After the conference I got a chance to chat with "Ilyu", as his close friends like to call him. He is a very bright and positive person, extremely well-mannered, very quick with his contagious smile. I obtained full information on his activities in FIDE since his election (including how he came to be elected). He even gave me a full-colour, six-page Kirsan Ilyumzhinov flyer, the cover of which contains a life-size portrait of the president.
Did we mention that Ilyumzhinov actually realised his plan and built the chess city. Less than eight years later, in the Summer of 2004, the Women's World Championship was staged in the chess city. Thomas Pähtz, GM and father of participant Elisabeth Pähtz, send us impressions of the Chess City in Elista.
A stroll through the chess city in Elista
Beautiful new facility houses
The houses in which chess players can live
An Orthodox chapel on the Chess City outskirts
A poster from the Chess Olympiad
Participants of the Women's World Championship 2004 marching into the Chess City
The President with the ladies in front of the central building
The central building where the events are staged (compare it to the plans above)
The central building at night