"I don’t see Nigel as a great leadership candidate"

by Macauley Peterson
6/25/2018 – IM Malcolm Pein, now a candidate for FIDE Deputy President, took time out from a full schedule for a chat with Macauley Peteron in Leuven at the end of the "Your Next Move Rapid and Blitz" tournament. Malcolm discussed the Grand Chess Tour, the FIDE / Agon proposed "broadcast policy," the upcoming World Championship in London, and his thoughts on the election including having his old friend Nigel Short as a political sparring partner. | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024 ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024

It is the program of choice for anyone who loves the game and wants to know more about it. Start your personal success story with ChessBase and enjoy the game even more.


"...my objectives for the improvement of FIDE are very similar to his"

The campaign for President of Georgios Makropoulos got a huge boost of credibility, as a break from the tenure of Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, when Malcolm Pein joined his ticket as a candidate for Deputy President. Makropoulos, a FIDE old hand if there ever was one, now embraces limits and so, combined with Pein's avowed interest in running for the top spot on the ticket in 2022, a vote for "FIDE Forward" may indeed lead to a more pronounced "changing of the guard" after two decades of Ilyumzhinov's reign. But, although that idiom figuratively means any individual or group in an organisation being replaced, its origin is of soldiers on duty giving way to an equivalent, if not indistinguishable cadre  — precisely what Nigel Short argues the Makropoulos campaign (with the exception of Pein) represents.

In collaboration with Ben Johnson's Perpetual Chess podcast, I spoke with Malcolm in the Leuven City Hall on the last day of the blitz tournament. We discussed the Grand Chess Tour before turning to FIDE governance and the election campaign which is going to be a significant focus for Pein over the coming months. In some ways, it is a logical outgrowth of his work within the English Chess Federation as a delegate, his impressive track record in both scholastic and professional organisation, combined with entrepreneurial success, and journalism credentials. But can he bring his record of bona fides to FIDE?

What happens now that Ilyumzhinov seems poised to drop out after losing the support of the Russian Chess Federation? While it looks like Short and Pein are very much at odds over who should be the new FIDE boss, they do seem to agree on a lot — so anything is possible. As Pein summed things up at the close of our interview:

"I have someone who advises me — a veteran of many political campaigns — who gives me lots of advice — good advice — and he’s been proved right every time, and he said, ‘there will be surprises, there will be twists and turns that you haven’t anticipated’. And if one of those twists and turns is that Nigel and I end up on the same side, I’d be very happy about that."

Short and Pein

Nigel Short provided live commentary in Leuven | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Summary and selected excerpts

Listen to the full interview audio below or subscribe to the podcast. Here is a brief summary of the main topics along with some of the key quotes.

The Grand Chess Tour 2018

The Grand Chess Tour changed its format a bit in 2018 hoping to appeal to Magnus Carlsen in spite of his World Championship match commitment.

"We really went out of our way to try and help Magnus participate, and we initially got the hint that he would. But it’s obvious that in a World Championship year it’s going to be hard to add four or five tournaments to his schedule. That’s just obvious. However, we thought that it was possible and we tried to arrange the tournaments in such a way that they’d facilitate his participation in the whole thing. That even meant potentially moving the Classic a little bit later if required — all sorts of things like that — and also by limiting the amount of classical chess in the Classic. We thought that would make it a lot easier for Magnus if there were only four classical games. That wouldn’t be too much of a strain, even two weeks after the match."

Magnus was, however, offered and accepted a wildcard spot in the Sinquefield Cup in August.

This December, the London Chess Classic will be just six days and feature a semi-final for the GCT played at the Google DeepMind (of AlphaZero fame) headquarters, followed by a final at Olympia Congress Center.

The semi-final will feature two classical games, and then a day of rapid and blitz. After a rest day, the final match will consist of two more classical games plus rapid and blitz, played alongside a parallel match for third and fourth places.

Pein and Maurice Ashley

Pein with regular GCT commentator GM Maurice Ashley outside the venue in Leuven | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

On the match expected to be held in London

Pein says he has been briefed about possible venues but didn't want to offer any details, and sounded as though there is still some doubt about whether it will take place in London at all.

"We hope that the World Chess Championship in London will give chess in Britain a great boost. That’s what we’re really, really hoping to see. It is, of course, a great opportunity. Of course I have to give out what I regard as the statutory health warning which is that it’s Agon that are organising it, and I haven’t really noticed a very high standard of organisation from them at any of their events really — or certainly not a level of organisation I’m happy with — and so I’m very keen that the match takes place in London, but I want it to be organised well, in a way that makes it conducive for a lot of spectators to come. I want it conducive to getting very high media coverage. We obviously want to get politicians involved, because we need to raise the status of chess in the UK — that’s our longer-term ambition — and having a World Championship match in London is really a great opportunity to do that."

"What the hell is the governing body of chess doing trying to pick a fight with [chess web sites]?"

FIDE's draft broadcast policy "is not a policy"

FIDE requested that they receive comments by the end of May on their "draft FIDE live moves broadcast policy" (PDF). The GCT did not submit an official comment, but Pein is firmly opposed to the draft plan.

Pein PCA t-shirt"First of all, it’s not a policy. It was just rather stupidly put out on the website with the word ‘policy’. I’m totally against it, passionately against it — have been, actually, forever. In fact in 1993 I actually broke the broadcast policy of the Kasparov [vs] Short match by sneaking the moves out and I got thrown out of the Savoy [Hotel]. So I’ve got form in this regard [laughs]. I think that until such time as the courts rule that games of chess can be copyrighted, or that tournament organisers can control the flow of moves — until the courts rule that that is the case, we must carry on, on the previously accepted basis that a chess move is little more than a football score. It cannot be copyrighted or its distribution controlled. And so I’m totally against what Agon have been trying to do.

I thought that even the publication of the FIDE document was a serious mistake, and there’s absolutely no way that that policy can A) be implemented and B) enforced, actually — because if you lose in every court, how are you going to enforce it? I mean Agon even lost in Russia. That surprised me actually. I know they’ve lost in a few jurisdictions, and I think that now is the time just to give up and just say, ‘if you own the World Chess Championship, produce a really fantastic video stream with really good commentary — like Agon did in New York for example — I thought that was great, I thought that was really worth paying for actually, I’ve got to say, I thought it was superb. 'Make arrangements with all the other broadcasters in the world to make sure your sponsors get prominence in any other broadcasts, do some deals and let’s just stop fighting' — because as far as I’m concerned the argument is over until such time as the courts rule in a different way, and I really think that far too much energy and effort and time and money has been wasted on this.

And the other thing is that the online chess providers, for example, ChessBase, PlayChess, chess.com, ICC, Lichess, chess24 — all these providers form an integral part of the chess world. Every single serious chess player and very many millions of casual players use these websites and they help propagate chess, they help develop chess, they’re probably the biggest driving force for the expansion of chess. So what the hell is the governing body of chess doing trying to pick a fight with them? They should be working with them.

If the GCT was even going to be bothered to reply to that policy, I think possibly some kind of Federal Express parcel to the FIDE offices, containing a box of matches…not everyone in FIDE agrees with me, but I’m not changing my view on that."

The GCT could provide qualification to the Candidates

Pein would be interested to see one or two qualifiers to the Candidates come from the Grand Chess Tour and doesn't see a future for a separate Grand Prix series of tournaments.

"When I agreed that the London Chess Classic should get involved in the Grand Chess Tour, the way I saw the Grand Chess Tour was, if you like, the same way as if you see the Premier League in English football —soccer for the Americans…what’s important about the Premier League is that it set new standards in how to organise and how to broadcast and how to package tournaments and because it was so successful in that all the best players wanted to take part of it. It became the competition that actually pretty much dominates the host football association in the UK. You know if the Premier League wants something, the Football Association of England can’t really argue with them — I mean of course they can try, but in general the wishes of the Premier League predominate because it’s become the Premier soccer/football tournament in England. And I’ve always thought that perhaps what the Grand Chess Tour should do is try to become the premier chess tournament in the world and show people how it should be done. And I’d say to an extent we’ve managed that. I think we still need to make another quantum leap but I think that the Grand Chess Tour certainly has acquired sufficient status, not necessarily to 'merit' but to be able to justify its inclusion in part of the World Championship cycle. I mean, certainly, our tournaments are a heck of a lot more interesting, exciting, better packaged, better broadcast and more sought after than those Grand Prix tournaments."

On the subject of a recent op-ed by GM Jon Ludwig Hammer, advocating for more knockout tournaments, Malcolm thinks that the World Cup is enough, but he agrees that the format is exciting, and simple for fans to follow.

"If we didn’t manage to organise an agreement between the Grand Chess Tour and FIDE over the Grand Chess Tour maybe providing a candidate or even two, I’d be very happy for the World Cup to have four, because the World Cup is very democratic, and I think that has a lot to be said for it. I think that Magnus is also quite a fan of knockouts as well by the way."

Pein and arbiter in Paris

Pein and the GCT arbiter, Stéphane Escafre in Paris | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

On joining the Makropoulos ticket

"One of the more unpleasant aspects of Kirsan’s tenure was what I’d regard as a Russian domination of FIDE. Now I’m not anti-Russian — Russia is a great chess nation with great chess players, great chess tournaments, great chess tradition, and it ought to play a full and prominent part in world chess, but I don’t want it to dominate the governing body. And my fear is that if Arkady Dvorkovich is elected President, Russia will continue to dominate the World Chess Federation, and we’ve seen what’s happened in practice with Ilyumzhinov being in charge: the organisation’s managed to lose its bank account.

This was just like some kind of slow-motion train crash, wasn’t it? Ilyumzhinov was sanctioned, and the bank said, ‘look your President’s been sanctioned’, and then they said it again, and then they said it again, and then they said, well ‘you’re going to lose your account’, and then they said, ‘you’re going to lose your account on this date,’ and then we did."

Pein assumes that Kirsan Ilyumzhinov will drop out of the race, but that it doesn't change the overall dynamic all that much, nor his own purpose in running with Makropoulos.

"My concern would be that if there was Russian domination of FIDE, we might end up cooperating with more sanctioned figures. One thing that slightly troubled me in this regard is that the U.S. Congress has actually issued a pre-warning to other figures in Russian politics and business saying this is the list of people who are next for sanctioning. And I had a brief look at it yesterday and I think that Arkady Dvorkovich was on there at number 88 [incidentally at number 49, not 88. -Ed.]. So that’s a little bit of a worry too. And I’m making no comment about whether it’s right or wrong or anything, I’m just saying this is the reality."

Dvorkovich is on a January 29, 2018, Congressionally-mandated report (PDF), compiled by the Trump administration, of "senior political figures and oligarchs", although the list has been derided as having “simply copied the Kremlin’s phonebook.”

Dvorkovich was quoted implying his place on the list is a badge of honour of sorts.

As a member of the government, I simply had to be on this list. It's just a list of people who are clearly leaders in Russian politics, and the second list is all leaders in Russian business. So far, there are no grounds for any actions here. The list looks like a book of 'who's who in Russian politics'.

Pein agrees with Short that there ought to be changes to the FIDE statutes that would prohibit someone from being President who is under international sanction, and thinks that Ilyumzhinov's ouster was a long time in coming.

"One nation doesn’t have to dominate the organisation. It is a global organisation after all. And so I think that chess players — and particularly delegates — need to consider that. So I won’t be pulling out of the race. I won’t be leaving the ticket just because Ilyumzhinov is out, although of course I celebrate that heartily. We’ll look back on it as a historic mistake and all the people in FIDE who facilitated it, and that includes some of the people I’m running with — I don’t hide from that — will have to realise that they facilitated his tenure for far too long."

On June 22nd, the "FIDE Forward" electoral ticket announced via an email, signed by Makropoulos, that Dr. Aguinaldo Jaime is no longer a candidate for Vice-President:

Dr. Aguinaldo Jaime has informed me that personal issues made him realise that he will be unable to contribute as much as he had hoped over the next four years. Therefore, he can no longer be part of our ticket. Nevertheless, Dr. Aguinaldo Jaime said that he remains fully committed to the cause of "FIDE FORWARD" and will continue to support our ticket, despite the time constraints he faces due to his current responsibilities.

Clearly worded to allow Mr. Jaime to make a graceful exit, his departure was in fact motivated by corruption allegations dating back to a 2010 United States Senate investigation (PDF). Some would argue this is ancient history and there was no admission of wrong-doing, but regardless of the merits of the inquiry, it was evidently not something that Makropoulos was willing to stake his campaign defending, particularly when Pein decided to turn the matter into a litmus test.

Chitalu Chilufya

Jaime was replaced, according to the email, by Dr. Chitalu Chilufya of Zambia (pictured), Member of the National Assembly and Minister of Health.

"There has been a lot of hypocritical rubbish from Nigel Short about the Angolan chap who left our ticket. And I just want to set the record straight on that. I certainly admit that for some reason I didn’t find the historical allegations against him from 2010, when I looked into all my fellow members of the ticket. I don’t know why — I’ve got to say when I tried three or four times I found it. But as soon as I read them, understood them, and established that they hadn’t been answered, at least publicly, I told my fellow members of the ticket. 'I know you know Mr. Jaime very well, I know he’s worked very hard for the organisation and served on the Presidential Board, but I’m not standing with him. So, please speak to him and tell him that it’s, unfortunately, a very difficult position but Malcolm Pein certainly won’t stand with us if we do, and would you mind standing aside.' And that was done real fast."

As an aside, Short has also been busy recruiting new members of his team, although to date only two, Ruth Haring and Paul Spiller, have been announced as members of his electoral ticket. The latest addition is Bessel Kok, who is certainly no stranger to FIDE politics. He ran for President with Ali Nihat Yazici (now a strong supporter of Makropoulos) in 2006.

FIDE reforms

None of the World Chess Federation's budget or reserves, nor professional staff, should be involved in the election campaign. That seems obviously a matter of common sense, but I wondered how it is monitored in practice. Pein says that the Makropoulos campaign is currently funded "very poorly" as witnessed by its continued lack of a dedicated website. He notes that FIDE's Verification Commission would be responsible for ensuring that any funding gap is not made up by FIDE monies currently in the custody of holding companies in Hong Kong and Switzerland and under the control of Treasurer Adrian Siegel and Executive Director Nigel Freeman.

"One of the things I’d like to institute would be more real-time access by the Verification Commission. I don’t think it’s really good to just have one or two meetings a year. It just seems to me if you’re going to have proper oversight, that oversight ought to be in real-time. That’s one area that could really be improved actually."

Pein calls the custodian "a perfectly reputable institution" where funds will be kept safe.

An example of another reform Pein would like to see is that proxy votes should be limited to one per delegate, and he points out that there are legitimate uses for proxy votes, but suggests they should be named in advance and be difficult to change so as to avoid abuse of the proxy voting process.

Malcolm vs Nigel

Pein does not think that Short has a chance to win, and is more likely to tip the balance in favour of Dvorkovich.

"When Arkady Dvorkovich threw his fur hat into the ring, one of the things that occurred to me was that, of course Nigel Short is using Twitter quite a lot and he is in a sense attempting to be a disrupter, and that in many ways he’s almost taking a few leaves out of Donald Trump’s book. And it just occurred to me that he has another thing in common with Trump which is that he’s going to be helping Russia, because essentially all Nigel is doing is taking votes away from the front-runner, which is Makropoulos and my ticket, and actually just giving Arkady Dvorkovich — or anyone from Russia — whoever is selected by the RCF on June 26th — a better chance of winning. I think Nigel is getting a little too Trumpian for my liking…I just see him as giving Dvorkovich a better chance, particularly because once Nigel has been eliminated in the first ballot — as Nigel himself said — 'the second ballot can be unpredictable'. It’s just that the second ballot isn’t going to include him, and it’s the unpredictability of it that obviously is a slight concern. From my point of view it’s just clear that if Nigel’s supporters and my supporters are combined, we ought to win easily in the first ballot."

"Unfortunately, for the reasons I’ve made very clear, I don’t see Nigel as a great leadership candidate. He’s deficient in many respects. It’s just that he and I agree on an awful lot so it’s a shame that we can’t work together, but I just don’t think it’s going to happen. I think one of the points that I’d make to Nigel...was that, given that my objectives for the improvement of FIDE are very similar to his in many ways, he really ought to be publicly stating that in the event he’s eliminated, he wants his supporters to vote for our ticket, because I intend to try and improve things very much along the lines that Nigel wants to do things, in all kinds of ways, as I’ve expressed in interviews."

Full interview audio


Macauley served as the Editor in Chief of ChessBase News from July 2017 to March 2020. He is the producer of The Full English Breakfast chess podcast, and was an Associate Producer of the 2016 feature documentary, Magnus.


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register