Edward Winter's Chess Explorations (65)

by ChessBase
7/10/2011 – The Editor of Chess Notes looks at a topic often neglected by chess historians: the origins of FIDE, the world governing body. As is well known, the Fédération Internationale des Echecs was founded in Paris in 1924. What is less widely realized is that at first it was not called FIDE at all, but FIE. Moreover, the Federation was created in great haste, and almost without preparation.

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Chess Explorations (65)

By Edward Winter

‘FIDE was founded in 1924’ say the history books, yet, technically speaking, that could be disputed. Certainly the Fédération Internationale des Echecs was formed that year, but, as C.N. 4363 pointed out, its Statutes systematically referred to it as ‘FIE’:

The original (1924) version of the Federation’s Statutes. They were amended the following year.

Throughout the initial period ‘FIE’ was the name also used in other official documents and in press reports; see, for instance, page 149 of the September 1924 Schweizerische Schachzeitung (a report by Marc Nicolet, the Federation’s Treasurer). In spring 1925 the President, Alexander Rueb, wrote to federations to communicate the programme for the second Congress (Zurich, July 1925), and in that document too ‘FIE’ was used. But later in the year, for reasons as yet unclarified, ‘FIDE’ became the official acronym. If ‘FIDE’ appeared in print in 1924, we have yet to find it.

Page 24 of the 1973 book Primera Olimpíada de Ajedrez by M.A. Lachaga quoted the October 1949 issue of L’Italia Scacchistica as stating that ‘FIDE’ was proposed by the Italian chess official Alberto Fidi and that Pierre Vincent had remarked, ‘FIDE was christened by Italy’.

In Paris in 1924 Rueb took the post of President only until the Zurich Congress, which also amended the Statutes of the re-christened FIDE. This instability suggests that the Federation’s foundation in 1924 had been rushed, and such was the case. It was not until its April 1924 issue (page 93) that La Stratégie had a brief news item inviting national federations to participate in, and to put forward views about, the planned Paris meeting, at which the creation of an international chess federation would be proposed by France:

‘Le Comité organisateur du Tournoi international damateurs qui doit se jouer à Paris du 13 au 20 juillet prochain invite les Fédérations étrangères à venir assister à un Congrès le dimanche 20 juillet et les prie de lui faire parvenir à ce sujet leur avis sur l’opportunité de ce congrès et les différents sujets qui pourraient y être traités.

En premier lieu, la Fédération Française des Echecs proposerait la constitution d’une Fédération internationale des Echecs.

Adresser toute la correspondance à M. Fernand Gavarry, ministre plénipotentiaire, président du Comité, 14 rue Alfred-de-Vigny, à Paris (VIIIe).’

Fernand Gavarry

Page 201 of the August 1924 issue of La Stratégie (see above) stated that the success of creating the international federation and having 14 countries sign its draft constitution was entirely due to the work of Pierre Vincent, the Secrétaire général of the French Chess Federation. Vincent is regarded as the founder of the International Chess Federation (see, for instance, page 9 of the 1977 publication Livre d’or de la FIDE), yet few chess reference books say anything about him.

The above photograph of Pierre Vincent (1878-1956) comes from the January 1926 issue of L’Echiquier.

Paris, 1924. A. Rueb is seated fifth from the right, with A. Alekhine on his right

The lack of proper planning for the Paris meeting was mentioned by Léon Weltjens of the Belgian Chess Federation in a detailed article about the 1925 Congress in Zurich (L’Echiquier, July 1925, pages 129-132). Weltjens, who had signed the draft constitution for his country, stated that the creation of the international body the previous year had been ‘le résultat d’un moment d’enthousiasme’. In Paris, he wrote, a temporary administration had been set up within just a few minutes, the entire project had been a step into the unknown, the key decisions had been left for the 1925 Congress, and it was now unclear what would remain of the initial excitement. (‘En quelques minutes un bureau provisoire fut formé, et l’on se donna rendez-vous à l’année suivante. L’année suivante, c’était la grande inconnue. Que serait-il resté de l’engouement du premier moment?’)

Zurich, 1925 Seated (left to right): V.L. Wahltuch, M. Nicolet, Mrs S.J. Holloway, A. Rueb,
E. Müller, W. Robinow, P. Vincent. Standing: A. Fidi, C. de Roche, L. Weltjens, E. St John
Mildmay, L. Miliani, I. Gudju, H. Römmig, S. Abonyi, K. de Watteville, S.J. Holloway

Weltjens also reported in his article in L’Echiquier that the results of the Zurich Congress surpassed expectations and had placed FIDE on a sound footing. Nine Member Federations (or ‘units’ as they were termed) were present. It was agreed that supreme power in FIDE would be vested in the General Committee, which comprised the representatives of the ‘affiliated units’. Management of the Federation was entrusted to a three-member Central Committee: a President, Vice-President and Treasurer of different nationalities. The outgoing post-holders who had taken office provisionally in 1924 (Alexander Rueb of the Netherlands, Leonard Rees of Great Britain and Marc Nicolet of Switzerland) were re-elected by the 1925 General Assembly for three years, by acclamation. Future terms of office, it was decided, would be two years.

At FIDE’s Congress in Hamburg in 1930, however, the Statutes were amended so that elections for the posts of President, Vice-President and Treasurer would take place every four years. Rueb was re-elected in Paris, 1932 and Lucerne, 1936. Because of the War, the next FIDE Congress at which the issue of the Presidency arose was in 1946, in Winterthur. (See pages 91-92 of Chess Facts and Fables and, for a group photograph, C.N. 3821.) Rueb was re-elected yet again, but at the 1948 Congress in Saltsjöbaden he announced his intention of stepping down.

Mikhail Botvinnik and Alexander Rueb in 1948

At the proposal of Folke Rogard, a Vice-President from Sweden, it was agreed at the 1948 Congress that Rueb would continue in office until the following year, and at the 1949 General Assembly in Paris Rogard was elected President almost unanimously. Rueb, who had headed the Federation for a quarter of a century, became Honorary President. He died in 1959 at the age of 76.

Two particularly difficult periods for Rueb came in the late 1930s (FIDE’s attempts to take over control of organizing the world championship) and in the aftermath of Alekhine’s death in March 1946. See World Championship Disorder and Interregnum.

The next Chess Explorations article will discuss pre-1924 initiatives to create an international chess body.

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All ChessBase articles by Edward Winter

Edward Winter is the editor of Chess Notes, which was founded in January 1982 as "a forum for aficionados to discuss all matters relating to the Royal Pastime". Since then, over 7,100 items have been published, and the series has resulted in four books by Winter: Chess Explorations (1996), Kings, Commoners and Knaves (1999), A Chess Omnibus (2003) and Chess Facts and Fables (2006). He is also the author of a monograph on Capablanca (1989). In 2011 a paperback edition was issued.

Chess Notes is well known for its historical research, and anyone browsing in its archives will find a wealth of unknown games, accounts of historical mysteries, quotes and quips, and other material of every kind imaginable. Correspondents from around the world contribute items, and they include not only "ordinary readers" but also some eminent historians – and, indeed, some eminent masters. Chess Notes is located at the Chess History Center. Signed copies of Edward Winter's publications are currently available.

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