2015 Arnold Classic: Chess and the Terminator

by Albert Silver
6/5/2015 – The 2015 Arnold Classic Brasil came and went and was a great success by any measure. The event that was once essentially a bodybuilding competition with a few sideshows has grown into an international franchise with sports of all kinds, including chess. More than an afterthought, Arnold Schwarzenegger shared how and why he constantly played chess on the Terminator set.

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When I received the emails announcing the forthcoming 2015 edition of the grand event, I was quite intrigued, having covered it the previous year. If you have never been to one, or anything like it, it is easy to get lost in the sheer size of it all. When I covered the 2014 edition in Brazil, I had no idea what to expect, and wondered why there was chess at all in what was essentially a bodybuilding bonanza.

The Arnold Classic is now decades old, and whatever its origins, it has grown into a massive sports event, home to the bodybuilding competition it started with, but with dozens upon dozens of other sports competitions of all kinds. These will range from the traditional fitness related competitions, amateur and pro, but include martial arts, skateboarding, pole dancing…. and chess. How did chess get on that eclectic list? It is at Arnold Schwarzenegger’s personal insistence, being a well-documented fan of the game.

The Arnold Classic has also grown in such popularity that there are also editions held in Europe and even in Brazil. I immediately registered for press credentials, duly as a representative of ChessBase, and decided this year I would be better prepared.

The press conference

Dozens of journalists and TV presenters came to the press conference

The press conference was held in the exact same location as last year, and in the exact same conditions. This was both good and bad. It was good because it meant a nice close view of Arnold, and the best chance to get good shots of him. The bad is that the room is yellow, with bright yellow lights, and bright blue TV LEDs in the back, which as any photographer will tell you, is a nightmare as there is no way to neutralize the color cast.

The combination of yellow and blue lights meant that if you canceled out one, you would double the other

The second issue is the actual ‘press’ aspect. If you imagine one of those pow-wows with press members raising their hands to feed the governator a question, guess again. Representatives of the media  are asked to submit their questions in writing, to then be chosen by the organizer and fed via the translator. This might seem to be a good idea on plenty of theoretical levels, but in practice, last year went like this: exactly two questions were asked, he spoke for 10 minutes, promoting his agenda (sports, film, say no to drugs, etc.), and time was up.

Terribly disappointed last year, this time my expectations were in check and I was not overly concerned. I would listen, get my shots, and chat with some of the other press members. In fact, whilst in line to confirm our names on the list, I began explaining to a TV reporter from a major network what to expect. “Don’t get your hopes up, just focus on getting your photos and footage.”

The organizer was there and listening and looked a bit defensive as I said all this, but I turned to him, and reassured him I did not blame him one bit. This was Arnold’s show and he would do as he pleased. I still submitted my question related to chess. They looked at it a bit baffled, and I was forced to explain Arnold’s link to chess, and the presence of chess at the event at his request. “Really??” “Yes, really.”

The press conference started, and I was seated in the front row next to a knockout TV presenter from an MMA program, and had given her my little speech on expectations management.

Luiz Felipe Bonilha and Ana Paula Leal Graziano are the Brazilian partners who helped make
the event a reality in Brazil

After ample introductions and speeches by all, the first question of the media came up, and turned out to be on women in martial arts. It was by none other than my next-seat neighbor, whom I congratulated. Then came the second question, “the next question is by ChessBase and is on chess”. I was floored. My question had been chosen!

There was an immediate murmur by dozens of flabbergasted reporters and TV presenters. “Chess? Chess?? Did he just say chess?” I had left my question as wide open and flexible as possible. ‘Do you feel that chess has helped you in life or in business?’

Arnold Schwarzenegger was a true pro, and whenever he noticed photographers trying to
get a decent shot, he would collaborate and become more expressive

Schwarzenegger himself seemed quite surprised by it all, and began replying, “Well, I can’t really say that chess has helped me in life… or in business.” There was general  laughter at this, and I was almost cringing. “But…” I began to pray at this word. “… there is nothing like chess to keep the brain smart, and give it a workout.” He then began to explain that while filming the latest Terminator film, due for release in a month, chess was played all the time. The scenes were shot from 6PM to 6AM with significant gaps between them, and one could easily be lulled to sleepiness at such hours. Chess became a means to stay awake and sharp so that when his time came, he was 100% there, ready with his dialogue. “…and finally”, he concluded. “Chess is just fun.

When it was done, I was over the moon, and glanced at the press organizer who gave me a nod. I smiled back, made a small fist pump before remembering I was in the front row, and then noticed a couple of the people at the table holding back smiles of their own as they caught my gesture.  

My next-seat neighbor Fabiana Mello, represents an MMA program on RedeTV, a Brazilian
broadcaster. Her question on women in sports was the first to be chosen.

The Arnold Classic

One of the things I had vowed to do was try to get a better grip on the many competitions being held. In 2014 this had been singularly difficult as they were spread out all over the place, mixed with the shops. You would be walking down a row of sports equipment representatives and suddenly be faced with a ring where the Muay Thai competition was running. This year the organizers learned from this, and centralized all the sports competitions held there in one giant pavilion. Not all events were held there of course, and the pro bodybuilding competition was held in a separate arena.

The first pavillion was still a huge showroom of sports equipment and supplements

The brands all brought their respective sponsored athletes to help showcase their products

You might think with so many free samples being offered, there would be lines with the upwards
of 80 thousand visitors that came over the weekend, but while there were lines, they were all to
pose for pictures with famous athletes. Here I offered to buy some, but was told it was for sampling
only and there was nothing to buy here. In a display of singular generosity and goodwill I was invited...

...inside the office to try a new product not yet released: a coffee drink that tasted exactly
like the Nescafé cappucinos, but based on whey protein. It was delicious, and I told Hevana
Kosiak from G-Action that a coffee machine with this would be a hit in gyms.

Chess with Arnold

The chess activities started with a simul with GM Darcy Lima, played over 40 boards. There
were more boards behind me. When a player had finished, he would vacate the seat for a
new player to try their chance.

It was a grand opportunity for families to bring their children and give them a taste for the game

Some parents would help their children by giving them some tips on what to look for

Other parents got help from their kids instead

The kids all had a great time as was clear to see on the faces of concentration and smiles

Still, the moment everyone was waiting for was the arrival of the superstar.
In time he did come and could be seen visiting the various sporting events.

Security was tight, tight, tight, as he arrived with a giant ring surrounding him. This also led to
some unexpected and unfortunate issues.

For reasons unknown, the organizer decided to change the rules with no further ado, so that when Arnold Schwarzenegger arrived at the chess space, where I had been waiting for no less than three hours, I was almost immediately removed and told no one was to be there. I explained I was press, had press credentials by the organizer and made it clear my area was specifically on chess.  “Sorry, only one photographer is allowed in: the organizer’s.”

I can tell you I was more than a little indignant. What was the purpose of credentials, stating I was a photographer for ChessBase, if not to be able to cover this? Good sense took a leave at this point I regret to say, righteous fury burning within, and I decided I was not leaving without my shot. I wormed my way in three times to get shots, refusing to let my time and effort be in vain, and was I removed three times by a very irate giant in sunglasses who yelled and threatened. One can only hope that in the future this sort of unnecessary incident can be avoided.

On the upside, I did get a very entertaining story (heavily downplayed here) to tell over a beer.

Schwarzenegger was in good form and good spirits, speaking with GM Darcy Lima here

This photo with Arnold, Darcy Lima, and Alberto Mascarenhas (center)
was taken by my friend Alexandre Albuquerque

The star's schedule was incredibly tight as he flew from event to event. Still, this reporter
can only thank him for the kind things he said at the press conference. He made my day.

After the star had left, the much-awated doubles tournament was organized. This fun event
allows players to team up in quick timed games, though no consulting is allowed. Each player
alternates their turn to make a move, and hopes his partner will understand their plan.

This made it possible for teams of father and son...

... brother and brother....

... and just plain friends.

The sports competitions

In 2014, knowing little to nothing about the mesmerizing spectacle, I missed out on almost all the myriad competitions held there. This year, I vowed to make up for this and try to visit a few to see what they were like. Though the organizers tout it as being larger than the Olympics in terms of athletes, the comparison is a bit misleading. The events  here are more X-sports than Greek Olympians,  but the competitions are certainly no less hard fought or intense.

In a sense, this was the biggest eye-opener for me. Whatever the origins
of pole dancing, the level of the displays, in both difficulty, synchronicity and
artistic expression, especially in pairs, showed how far it has come. This is
an event I could easily see becoming a bonafide Olympic inclusion, reminiscent
of synchronized swimming. Mesmerizing and fantastic.

I had never seen a full-fledged competition of arm wrestling, and this was quite fun to watch.
I was invited on stage by the organizers to get the best shots possible, and worried I might
disturb them, but it was a non-issue.

It wasn't just men either. Women came to test their skill and strength. In this image the referee
is tying the hands and wrists of the athletes together to avoid one escaping a loss by slipping away.

It was intense as can be seen. The referee is watching closely to see if the hand touches
the yellow pad indicating a loss (or win).

The Taekwondo competition was equally exciting, with teams from states all over the country
coming to meet on the mats. The athletes were of all genders and ages.

The medals awaiting the winners

Still, the competition that garnered the greatest audience by far was....

...the Arnold Classic Fitness competition for women. There is a men's event of course, but oddly
enough I found this one more appealing...

In a supreme effort to achieve a vision of physical perfection, balancing strength and form,
these beautiful women set the standard in dedication and persistence.

Angela Borges is the reigning Brazilian Fitness champion in the overall category

Even in three days, the Arnold Classic is so multi-layered and diverse that it is quite impossible to see it all. I look forward to next year's edition.



Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications.