The Chess City the Kalmykian steppe

6/14/2007 – The Candidates Finals have ended, most of the players are alreay on their journey home. We are spending a last day in this chess capital of the world, where an entire chess city has been stamped out of the steppes of the lower Volga region. It is unusually quiet and there are no games scheduled for the afternoon. A good opportunity to present you part two of our narrative: a journey to Elista.

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A Journey to Elista – Part two

Report by Frederic Friedel

Our trip from Moscow to Elista starts with a car ride to the national airport, about an hour's drive from the Mezhdunarodnaya hotel in the heart of the city. If you read our first travelogue carefully you will be able to read the sign: Vnukovo airport. Russians will tell you it is pronounced Vnu-ko-vo, but when they say it conversationally themselves it turns into Vnukova.


A Soviet-style airport which is, however, in a process of frenzied rennovation


My God, it's full of Yaks – the airfield at Vnukovo

The Russian aircraft designer and manufacturer, named after its founder Alexander Sergeevich Yakovlev has been building planes since 1934, including some famed fighter aircraft during World War II. "Yakovlev" is usually shortened to Yak, and a numeral added denotes the model of the aircraft.


One of the larger Yaks on the tarmac – I swear that's a machine gun bay in the front


This was our Yak, a 24-seater first introduced in 1966

The Yakovlev Yak-40 is a three-engined regional aircraft which is famous for its ease of operation from small airstrips. Note that it comes with its own staircase in the rear. The Yak-40 is also famous for it high-pitched whine, which gave it its nickname "flying whistle", and for its low fuel efficiency: It is an amazing aircraft you have to travel in, at least once in a lifetime.


Forget your wide bodies and A380 – this is pioneer times in commercial air travel


With the above two pictures you have seen the enitre passenger area – believe me


The... well, emergency exit door with ample space for carry-on luggage


I must mention that the service on board was extremely friendly and that the meal came with genuine red beluga caviar – show me that on a $99 Ryan Air flight.

Breaking news: Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the head of the Republic we are visiting, has told me that in a couple of months the airline service to Elista will be dramatically upgraded. Apparently there will be flights from Moscow and Franfurt in modern planes.


The reception committee, with chief organiser Valery Bovaev and two local beauties who draped the customary white shawls over our shoulders


The road into the city in the background runs straight through the steppe


Approaching the capital.

The name on the logo is Elista, with the E in red and in orange. The original Kalmyk name is Elst, which means sandy. This was Russified to Elista, with the stress usually on the second syllable.


We are greeted by a monumental golden flying rider on a pillar at the entrance to the city


A spanking new Volga GAZ car parked on the outskirts of City Chess

GAZ stands for Gorkovsky Avtomobilny Zavod, and is a company that was originally founded in 1929 as a cooperation between Ford and the Soviet Union. The first production unit was a Ford Model A, of which over 100,000 were built in the thirties. Today the Volga is part of the luxury car series.


Entering Kirsan's "City Chess", which lies somewhat on the outskirts of Elista


A mini temple (huru) at the entrance, for a quick prayer before an important game. Achtually City Chess is used a lot for marriages, and you see couples tying the knot every second day.


The layout of the chess city, with the roads and apartment complexes


The center of Chess City has modern administrative and communal buildings


One of the more interesting buildings in Chess City pink


The house in which Topalov, Danailov and the Bulgarian team stayed during the world championship last year


Hub of the chess world: the FIDE office in City Chess, Elista, Kalmykia


Inside the FIDE office, the main reception room


This is Kermen (Kema) Goryaeva, who practically runs the outfit – and does HTML pages and pictures for the FIDE web site in her spare time


Take a deep breath: the FIDE rating files for decades


The central building of City Chess, where players go to the restaurant three times a day


Sergei Rublevsky (left) and Evgeny Bareev (right) share a table with their seconds


Quick, before they kill you – a dining room shot of Alexander Grischuk and his team


Material for a month of adversarial dinner-time debates: FIDE deputy president Georgios Makropoulos


Blessed with a wry sense of humour: Berik Balgabaev. personal assistant to FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, and our chief host in Kalmykia


Our absolutely favourite dinner companion in Elista: former world champion Boris Spassky


There is a lot more to tell about the chance week-long encounter with this chess legend, including a story about a trip to the Kalmykian steppe. But that will have to wait for a later report.

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