A Journey to Elista (1)

by Frederic Friedel
11/5/2020 – Back in 2007 Frederic Friedel was invited by FIDE to attend the Candidates Matches in Elista. You can google "Candidates Elista 2007" for full details of the event, or use Mega Database to find all the games. We do not intend to retrace the course of the event, but instead tell you about the adventure of travelling to Kalmykia and attending it personally. We start with the first leg of the journey.

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The event was scheduled to take place from May 26 to June 14, 2007, with a total of 16 candidates playing two rounds of six-game matches to fill four places in the forthcoming World Championship in Mexico City. The players were, in the order of their initial parings,  Levon Aronian, Magnus Carlsen, Alexei Shirov, Michael Adams, Ruslan Ponomariov, Sergei Rublevsky, Alexander Grischuk, Vladimir Malakhov, Peter Leko, Mikhail Gurevich, Judith Polgar, Evgeny Bareev, Boris Gelfand, Rustam Kasimjanov, Etienne Bacrot, and Gata Kamsky. 80% were my good friends, 20% not. Here are pictures and bios of the player at the time.

In the end the winners (spoiler alert!) were Aronian, Leko, Gelfand and Grischuk. You can google "Candidates Elista 2007" for full details of the event. And if you have Mega Database or the ChessBase Account you can find all the games by searching for the same string. I do not intend to retrace the course of the event here. Instead, I want to tell you about the adventure of travelling to Kalmykia and attending it personally. And an adventure it was.

It began at the Russian Embassy in Hamburg, where I applied for a visa. I was told that I could only pick my stamped passport on the day of my departure, a couple of hours before the plane was scheduled to leave. "Don't be nervous," the officer said, "we'll have it ready for you. It is the kind of thing that makes life interesting."

Before accepting the invitation to Elista I had conducted stern negotiations with FIDE. I insisted that I should be picked up at the airport in Moscow, brought to my hotel, and taken to the connecting flight to Elista the next day. This was important, since a colleague of mine had undertaken the same trip earlier, on his own. He had had problems finding his hotel in Moscow, and on the next day had taken a cab to the airport for his connecting flight. But he couldn't check in: it was the wrong airport! He had to spend two more days in Moscow rearranging his onward flight. I am not as brave as him, which is why I insisted on full chaperone service. FIDE agreed.


The trip from Hamburg to Moscow, in an Aeroflot Airbus A400, was comfortable and quick. I arrived at Sheremetyevo Airport after just two and a half hours' flying time, twenty minutes early. Piece o' cake so far.

Déjà vu! This was my first trip ever to Russia. I have been to Moscow a number of times, but that was when it was the capital of the Soviet Union. I remember the daunting immigration procedure. Except this time I didn't have a surly, uniformed guard staring me down, but a nice young lady with a friendly smile.


My FIDE hosts had arranged everything very nicely for me. I hardly broke my stride when I emerged from the arrival area – a driver was waiting, holding up a sign with my name in big letters on it. In no time at all we were on the road to Moscow.

Ah, yes, they have funny letters there, Cyrillic. "Mockba" – the C is an S, the B is like our V, so it translates to "Mos-kva",  which is what they call it. Like to try the airport? W is SH, P is an R, M is M, the b is a softening vowel. So it translates to Sheremetyevo, the famous international airport. You figure out yourself how Cahkt-Netepbypr works.


On the way from Sheremetyevo I got into an hour-long traffic jam, with a Takcn, i.e. Taxi, crawling along the highway next to us.

Let's do one more while we are stuck in traffic: the fourth arch-shaped letter is derived from the Greek Pi and, logically, stands for a P. The big A-like letter is from the Greek lambda and is an L, the H is an N. All this just to confuse us foreigners. Fortunately there are often useful little hints given, as on the signs above.

After an hour and a half the traffic suddenly cleared and it was the opposite direction that had to suffer.

Moscow has changed dramatically from the Soviet times, but some of the roads haven't.

The hotel I was put up in was called Mezhdunarodnaya, which translates to "International". It was of the latest standard in luxury hotel, and charged per night – well, huge amounts. The cupboards had motion detectors that turned on the lights when you approached. They had many nice restaurants ("pectopahs").

The spectacular view from my hotel balcony, which looked out on the Moskva River.

The grand Soviet-style former government building, of which there are a number strewn across Moscow. This one, I believe, has been turned into a high-class hotel.

This is a restaurant and entertainment boat that was anchored just below my eighth-storey window

At night the river outside produces dazzling reflections of the city lights. The next day I would proceed to Vnukova airport for the second leg of my journey, which took me all the way to Elista and the Candidates Tournament. 

So I will sign off now and promise to tune back in with the story of my visit to the capital of the Republic of Kalmykia.

Editor-in-Chief emeritus of the ChessBase News page. Studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford, graduating with a thesis on speech act theory and moral language. He started a university career but switched to science journalism, producing documentaries for German TV. In 1986 he co-founded ChessBase.


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