Florencio Campomanes turns eighty

by ChessBase
2/22/2007 – Three weeks ago Florencio Campomanes suffered a serious car accident and has been hospitalised in Antalya, Turkey, ever since. Today the long-time (1982-1995) president of the world chess organisation celebrates his eightieth birthday. We congratulate him and bring you a comprehensive look back at the Campo years.

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On February 2nd this year the long-time president (1982-1995) and current honorary president of FIDE, Florencio Campomanes, was badly injured in a car accident on his way to the airport after the FIDE Presidential Board meeting in Antalya, Turkey. He underwent a 7½ hour operation and is currently recovering in the Antalya Anadolu Hospital, where he is celebrating his birthday.

Last week Campomanes was visited (again) by the President of the Turkish Chess Federation, Ali Nihat Yazici, who played a game of chess with him. In ended in a draw in 27 moves. "Do not worry, I guarantee you will not die in Turkey," Ali promised Campo.

Campo playing against TCF President Ali Nihat Yazici. Looking on is Campo's son Florencio IV.

Campo walking again, assisted by neurosurgeon Dr. Hakan Ozsuer
(left) and orthopedic surgeon Dr. Burak Germen.

A letter to Campo by former Philippine President Fidel V. Ramos

Campo’s Legacy to World Chess

By Casto Abundo

A look back at the Campo years as he celebrates his 80th birthday on 22 February 2007.

Graduating cum laude from the University of the Philippines in 1948, Florencio Campomanes was among the first Fulbright Scholars from the Philippines and was taking his Masters Degree in Political Science from Brown University and Doctoral Studies in Georgetown University, both in America, when he heard of the World Chess Federation. It was auspicious that his thesis was on the nascent United Nations.

Campo was a habitué at the Manhattan and Marshall Chess Clubs. He was exposed to organized chess and on his return to Manila co-founded the Philippine Chess Federation and affiliated with FIDE in 1956.

Old friends: Florencio Campomanes and Casto Abundo playing in a FIDE Presidential
Blitz Tournament in Antalya in January, just a few days before his accident

It was also in New York that he first met a rising young Congressman named Ferdinand Marcos. They were elbowing each other at a Times Square Filipino restaurant to meet a young lady doctor from Manila. She became Campo’s first wife and years later when Marcos became President, Campo would wonder if he recalled the incident.

Campo was a Political Science lecturer at the University of the Philippines when he decided to lead a team to the 1956 Chess Olympiad in Moscow, USSR. The Philippines had no diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union at the height of the cold war and he was discouraged to go and advised not to forsake his State University position. He chose to go.

Campo at 79 years and eleven months (in January this year)

But Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Raul Manglapus refused to initial the diplomatic passports for the Philippine team to travel to the USSR. Not one to take no for an answer, Campo sought the help of Vice President Carlos Garcia, concurrently Secretary of Foreign Affairs and an avid chess player. In Campo’s trademark style of brinksmanship, on the eve of their scheduled flight, they went to see President Ramon Magsaysay at the Palace. Already in his robe and prepared to go to bed, the President signaled his approval for their passports. The Philippine chess team joined its first Olympiad, and emerged Group C champion.

When Vice President Garcia became the next President of the Philippines, Campo became a Palace regular. He recalled how the First Lady would call them to dinner, to which the President would usually answer ‘one more game.’ In the corridors of power, Campo saw people make millions with one signature of the President for land concessions or other contracts, but Campo was no businessman, and used his political connections only for chess.

After Campo left his job at the State University, he never went back to being a 9-to-5 employee. He was in the political machinery as a Palace aide when he decided to leave and make his mark on his own. And he chose chess as his field.

Campo in Dresden in 2005

It was a rocky road. In 1966, the Philippine team was stranded in Hong Kong and missed the flight to Prague, Czechoslovakia to be in time for the charter flight to Havana. After much fanfare on their departure, return home was not an option and the team agreed to exchange their round trip tickets to one way tickets to Havana and worry about the return later. Fortunately, Campo spoke fluent Spanish. He parlayed a team member’s camera to the Presidential retinue in order to get an audience with Fidel Castro who, after hearing the plight of the Filipinos, ordered his aide to issue the return tickets. Only in his last days did the camera’s owner, GM Rosendo Balinas, and Campo come to terms.

Campo could be very convincing. He was studying flight schedules during the 1960 Leipzig Olympiad in Germany and told the Philippine team they could take a tour of Paris. They wondered how since they had no money. At that time Campo was federation president and delegate, national champion and board one. On their way home, they missed their Paris connection for the once-a-week Air France flight to Manila. Campo argued convincingly to get free hotel accommodation. And they qualified for $200 compensation for one lost luggage. Campo, Renato Naranja, Meliton Borja, Ruben Reyes, Edgar de Castro and Segundino Avecilla were young men in their 30’s enjoying Paris for a week, free at the Georges V hotel.

Playing chess during the world championship in San Luis 2005

In 1967, Campo invited Bobby Fischer for a series of matches in the Philippines. Years later when Fischer opened the first Philippines International Chess Tournament in Manila in 1973, he was asked why he turned down all other official invitations after he became World Champion and accepted only the one from the Philippines. “I was there in ‘67. I was not champion then, but they treated me like a champion,” Fischer explained.

Campo was the first chess columnist in major Philippine dailies, the Manila Times (1954-56) and Manila Chronicle (1956-1961). He also produced and hosted the first daily TV program ‘Chess Today’ from 1973 to 1982. He was Philippine Delegate to FIDE from 1956 to 1982, Asian Zone President 1960-1964, Deputy President 1974-1982 and FIDE President from 1982 to 1995, FIDE Chairman 1995-1996 and Honorary President since 1996.

An avid player, Campo was Philippine champion in 1956 and 1960, and tied for second with Edmar Mednis in the 1954 New York State Championship. He became an International Arbiter in 1957 and was a member or captain of Philippine teams from 1956 to 1980.

He brought to the country the Asian Zonals, FIDE Interzonals and World Championships for which the Philippines became noted as an excellent chess event organizer.

In the 60’s, the FIDE Asian Zone encompassed the Middle East as well and Campo and the late Hasan of Indonesia were lobbying at the 1968 FIDE Congress in Lugano, Switzerland, for another Zone for the Far East and Oceania, with its rights for slots in the World Championship cycle. British Delegate Harry Golombek made a snide remark “We might as well have penguins and polar bears playing chess.” In open assembly, Campo stood up and boomed “I will put up a Philippine team to beat England one day.”

In Khanty Mansisk in 2005

This is exactly what happened at the concurrent Olympiad when in the last round of the preliminaries, the Philippines faced England. We finished second behind the Soviet Union and qualified together for the two slots for Group A while England was relegated to Group B.

Campo organized the first Philippines International in 1973, opening the doors of the Araneta Coliseum for Bobby Fischer and President Marcos to address a crowd of 25,000.

Campo dreamed of bigger things. The next year in 1974, Campo submitted the Philippine bid for the Fischer-Karpov match. When FIDE President Max Euwe opened the envelopes in at the FIDE office in Amsterdam and read the bids, “Italy one million. Philippines …” he turned to Campo and said “Maybe there is a mistake, Campo? 13 million Swiss Francs?” No mistake. The exchange rate at the time was high for five million US Dollars.

The match did not push through. But on the day of the announcement, the International Monetary Fund asked Secretary of Finance Cesar Virata how a debtor country like the Philippines could manage such a bid. Virata relayed this to Marcos who called two other Department Secretaries before finding the one who guaranteed the bid, Guillermo de Vega. “Send me a memo,” was all Marcos asked.

Gimo de Vega also supported the Philippine bid for the 1976 Manila Interzonal. Tragedy struck when Presidential Assistant de Vega was assassinated in 1975. It was a struggle without his patronage, but Campo pushed through with his commitment and did not withdraw from the organization. To compound matters, in 1976 a disastrous typhoon hit the Philippines and all government funds were relegated to relief of typhoon victims. Funding was tight and we all volunteered to help but after the tournament, Campo surprised us all with salaries and even managed to buy a new car. He had succeeded to charge all bills to the Department of Tourism. The crisis situation showed how Campo could face adversity and rise above it.

At the World Championship in Elista 2006

The road ahead would continue to be rocky. The Philippines had won the bid for the 1978 Karpov-Korchnoi World Championship, the first match with an unlimited number of games and therefore unlimited budget. A few weeks before the match, nothing was in place. His wife told me how Campo would pace the floor until 2 am.

The next day, at his request, Campo was invited to attend the Cabinet meeting in the Palace. When President Marcos asked him if the match would push through, Campo replied “It depends on you Mr. President.” “Why on me?” President Marcos asked. Pointing an accusing finger at the Central Bank Governor, Campo complained “Governor Licaros refuses to give the two million you instructed him to.” “Why not Mr. Governor?” Marcos asked. “We have to make a project study and see if it is feasible,” the Governor replied. “See to it that it is feasible and give the money,” Marcos ordered.

“Anything else, Mr. Campomanes?” Marcos asked. Pointing at the Tourism head, Campo accused “Roman Cruz refuses to give the Baguio Convention Center venue”. The Secretary confessed “The First Lady has reserved it.” Marcos smiled “I will take care of the First Lady. Give the venue.” After haranguing Finance Secretary Cesar Virata and other Department Secretaries, Campo returned to the car beaming.

After the match, Campo was being pushed to run for FIDE President but he declined, and told me he did not want to enter anything half cocked. A few years later, when Campo stopped dyeing his hair black, Fridrik Olafsson teased “You want to run for FIDE President!” How true he was, Campo thought.

With international arbiter and trainer Alexander Bach in Elista 2006

At the FIDE Bureau meeting in Tunis, 1982, the late Hasan of Indonesia and Cuban Chess Federation president Jorge Vega finished a case of Scotch overnight with Campo to convince him to run. At the meeting the next day, Vega nominated Campo as candidate for FIDE President. FIDE Bureau member GM Yuri Averbach of Russia asked Vega if he had clearance from Moscow which Soviet allies were supposed to do, to which Vega boldly replied no.

We were 30 Filipinos in our contingent composed of our Olympiad team, journalists, supporters and staff to help Campo’s election bid. FIDE, used to quiet campaigns with mimeographed handouts, woke up to streamers, full-color magazines and brochures, T-shirts emblazoned with Campo’s picture and his slogan “A time for change”. The rest is history.

Swiss newspapers headlined “Filipino millionaire wins FIDE elections.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. Most of us non-playing delegation members paid for our own airfare and we were harassed by the Swiss hotels every week for payment, threatening to stop our meals or call the police. Unfortunately, the multimillionaire Hasan of Indonesia left Luzern early after a row with his delegation, leaving Campo without a patron. The hotels relaxed after Campo won and I saw a gold credit card for the first time when tycoon Dato Tan Chin Nam of Malaysia, who was elected Deputy President in lieu of Hasan, gladly signed the bill.

Campo always dealt from strength. Just before the elections, he was tipped off that former world champion Mikhail Botvinnik had sent a telex with instructions that the Soviet bloc vote of some 20 countries be given to the Yugoslav candidate, Bozidar Kazic. Campo played on Karpov’s ego. Seeing him at midnight he bluntly told him “Anatoly, I will win the elections and I will not owe you any favors.” Karpov fumed “Who is world champion, I or Botvinnik? Why is he issuing orders?” as he summoned Soviet Chess Federation president and Double Hero astronaut Vitaly Sevastianov.

Sevastianov explained that they could not go against Moscow so it was secretly agreed to halve the Soviet bloc vote between Kazic and Campo in the first ballot, a tactic Moscow would not notice, and for all their votes to go to Campo on the second ballot. After the first ballot, incumbent Fridrik Olafsson of Iceland escorted his wife out of the hall and I understood he foresaw the result of the second ballot. In a scene straight out of the Godfather movie, Campo stood in front as delegates queued down the aisle to congratulate him one by one. “The Europeans are shocked,” he said, asking me not to leave his side.

Immediately after the election, International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Juan Antonio Samaranch invited Campo to the IOC headquarters in Lausanne, also in Switzerland. Samaranch tested Campo’s Spanish, French and German and was impressed by Campo’s knowledge of Russian particularly since Samaranch was former Ambassador to the Soviet Union. Being of the same generation, they began a close personal friendship that lasts till this day.

Letter by Kirsan Ilyumzhinov to Campomanes for his 80th birthday

Campo’s first year as FIDE President was explosive as he forfeited Kasparov and Smyslov when the Soviet Chess Federation refused to let them play the 1983 Candidates Matches which Campo had awarded to Pasadena, California. The memory of the U.S. led boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics was still fresh. The Soviet state machinery went into action and rallied worldwide against Campo’s decision, refusing to talk to him. His closest friends advised Campo to give way, cautioning that the Soviets were too powerful in FIDE.

Campo called Karpov who demurred “I don’t want to get involved.” Campo asked “I only want to talk with someone who can decide.” He was impressed when the Soviets sent Sports Vice Minister Viacheslav Gavrilin to Luzern, Switzerland. Campo is a shrewd negotiator and told me “When he leaned towards me and said softly ‘Campo, Russian people not so small’, I knew I had him.” Face saving alternatives were agreed and the match pushed through in other venues, but not after the Soviets compensated FIDE. “The best way to apologize is with money,” Korchnoi told Campo. Zoltan Ribli was from Hungary and the Soviets said they would take care of him.

Much has been written about the stoppage of the match in 1985 and Campo has not revealed the fine details. He told me it was Karpov’s fault that the press conference did not go well. Campo was announcing the agreement they had the night before and Kasparov was smiling in the audience when Karpov, who came late, stormed into the room and yelled “I want the match to continue.” Naturally, Kasparov, not to be left undecided, stood up and screamed against the whole show and asked to continue as well.

People were expecting fireworks at the 1985 FIDE Congress in Graz, Austria, but Campo avoided it as usual by negotiations the night before. Some issues he would solve in patented Campo style – he would drink others to the floor. He would seat himself near a potted plant which would probably wilt from alcohol as he quietly emptied his glass into it. Vodka-loving Soviet delegate Nikolai Krogius bears witness to this trademark tactic.

The other burning issue was the exclusion of Israel from the 1986 Dubai Olympiad. At the FIDE Central Committee meeting, Israel Chess Federation president I. Haddasi and UAE Chess Federation president Mohammed Ghobash engaged in heated debate.

Previously at the FIDE Secretariat in Luzern, I saw that Campo was reading a thick hard bound book “The History of the Jews”. He met privately with Haddasi and used analogies such as “Just as Yahweh asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, the FIDE General Assembly is asking you to make a sacrifice.” Delegates were surprised at the General Assembly the next day when Haddasi pre-empted discussion as he looked over to Ghobash and wished Dubai good luck on their Olympiad. Campo had resolved the issue the night before.

Campo was up against the Thatcher government in the FIDE elections of 1986. Under orders, British ambassadors around the world were inviting national federation presidents to convince them to vote for the Lucena-Keene tandem.

It was at the height of the People’s Power revolution in Manila. After the fall of President Marcos, Campo was asked about their relationship, to which he replied “My dealings with President Marcos were only for chess.” Campo went into his opponent’s territory in England and gave a press conference at the Philippine Embassy in London, never maligning Marcos as his international critics wished him to do.

They had no chance and Lincoln Lucena withdrew on the eve of the elections. Campo was on a first name basis with the vast majority of member delegates, and had visited them in their countries. He tutored me “When you have been to their homes for dinner cooked by their wives, they cannot forget that.” And the free air tickets to Dubai which Campo secured from the Sheikhs showed his care for them.

A woman from a Caribbean team told Campo “There are three types of men whom women don’t like – Santa Claus, Superman and Campomanes.” Campo was intrigued and she explained “Santa Claus comes only once a year. Superman is too fast – slam, bang, thank you ma’am. And Campo – once he’s in, you can’t get him out.” And so it went for the elections in 1986 and again in 1990.

Campo knew the psychology of people. After the Dubai Olympiad, Kasparov was ranting against the Arabs. For the World Championship Match, he publicly announced that he favored Los Angeles. Hearing this, Karpov would never name as his first choice an organizer already announced as his opponent’s choice, and their opposite choices would lead to a stalemate. To solve the dilemma, Campo asked Abu Dhabi to bid and the Karpov camp drummed up support for them. Naturally, Sevilla was the common second choice of both players.

In this period, Kasparov had formed the Grandmasters Association and threw down the gauntlet to FIDE. Campo sparred with millionaire Bessel Kok and guided FIDE through the maze.

Campo had not intended to run again in 1990. His wife and three-year-old son had already packed up and returned to Manila and they closed his flat in Luzern. But he was cajoled by many supporters to run again. During the campaign, Campo had a serious car accident in Uganda, forcing him to wear a neck brace for his fractured cervical spine. Fetched by Swiss nurses back to Switzerland, he refused hospitalization and instead asked that a hospital bed be brought into the FIDE office. Bedridden after escaping death and near paralysis, he was at the phone continuing his campaign which he won easily.

But with his family in Manila, Campo stayed away longer from the FIDE Secretariat in Luzern, delegating more tasks to his team. For the 1993 World Championship Match he delegated much to Executive Board member David Anderton of England including, naturally, coordination with his countryman, Challenger Nigel Short. The breakaway of the World Championship Match was a challenge Campo had to face and he captained FIDE to safe shores, completing the cycle according to FIDE regulations to have a world championship. At the end of his term, Campo did not submit his candidacy for re-election.

We flew relaxed to the 1994 Moscow Olympiad and Congress. We drove to the exclusive dachas there and when Campo returned to the car he remarked “I met a very interesting man, the president of Kalmykia.” Kirsan Ilyumzhinov was bidding for the Chess Olympiad in Elista.

The next day, Campo was surprised when Kasparov was insisting that he run again and continued pressing him everyday for hours in Campo’s hotel suite. He finally agreed and won a tumultuous election.

Campo still had the touch and he managed to convince Ravi Sanghi of Sanghi Industries to sponsor all Candidates Matches, with the largest Candidates prizes ever, in the remote Indian redoubt of Sanghi Nagar, including the finals until the father of Kamsky created a scandal there over a slight delay in the reimbursement of their tickets.

It was not business as usual, however, and the politicking did not end. At the 1995 FIDE Congress in Paris, his political opponents continued the fight. A case filed against Campo in Manila had already been recommended for dismissal in September that year by Special Prosecutor Cicero Jurado and endorsed by Deputy Ombudsman R. Tamayo, but it was used by his opponents in the November FIDE Congress. Prior to the Congress, Campo had not given much attention to the case and had not known it had already been recommended for dismissal. At the FIDE Congress, his wife pleaded with Campo to settle down and go home. On his return he filed a suit against the late Arturo Borjal who slandered Campo in his 22 newspaper columns in a year’s time. Borjal had to make a public apology in his own newspaper column.

It was auspicious that Campo had asked Kirsan to attend to confirm his Olympiad bid. After their private late night meetings in Campo’s hotel room, he decided to propose Kirsan for FIDE President. It was a wise decision as the course of FIDE today has shown.

The case filed against Campo in Manila was rekindled by his chess political opponents. Last December, the Supreme Court unanimously cleared him of all charges, a fitting gift for his 80th birthday on 22nd February. “I took no short cuts and kept my sanity and my sense of humor for ten years. It was only a matter of a fine of around 100 Euros, but I refused to accept the verdict,” Campo said. This year, the Philippine Sportswriters Association, composed of sports journalists who are the most knowledgeable in the field, voted to give Campo their highest honor, the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Campo is not a rich man but during his term he managed to raise millions for the FIDE budget for 13 years and SFr.13 million for six world championships in only nine years with the record SFr.4.1 million prize fund for the 1990 World Championship in New York/Lyon.

He turned FIDE into a truly universal body, reaching out to Asian, African and Latin American countries.

He had a clear goal for his Presidency – spreading chess all over the world, raising FIDE membership from barely a hundred to over 150 national federations, and this is his legacy to FIDE.

Editor’s note: Casto Abundo was FIDE General Secretary and Executive Director under Campomanes from 1987. Greetings and get-well messages to Campo may be sent by email through abundo (at) fide.com.

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