The Governor and the World Chess Championship

8/16/2005 – He is the man who brought information technology, film and music industry to his corner of Argentina, reducing unemployment there from 14.7% to a national low of 1.2%. Now flamboyant Governor Alberto Rodríguez Saá, who is an avid and accomplished chess player, is bringing the World Championship to the town of San Luis. GM Miguel Quinteros sent us a portrait and interview.

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Good News for the Chess World

By GM Miguel Quinteros

As soon as you walk into his office, it is surprising not to find a picture of him with the typical governor’s sash and stick. Dr. Rodríguez Saá explains this by affirming “It was one of the first decrees I signed; I believe that to abolish this, which is purely protocol, places me in the same position as my people so as to discuss and project the best for the Province. I considered it was more important to have the Social Inclusion’s flag in my office representing those who were excluded and today are being reintegrated into society”.


Governor of San Luis, Alberto Rodríguez Saá

The Governor’s daily activity is a continuous coming and going of people. Nevertheless, it is common to see him working with incredible energy, always focused and following every issue he delegates to his closest ministers and staff members. His private secretary, Miguel Angel Caram confirms: “Those who share Dr. Rodríguez Saá’s day-to-day activities, like me, can see an affectionate human being, admirably sensitive, with innovative thoughts and marked ideals, such as achieving his objectives benefiting his people, especially the poorest ones. He creates a friendly work environment, with demands, but with the simplicity of an absolutely accessible person; he has also been able to easily form a team that works in a framework of respect and companionship. His superior status does not make him different from us, his collaborators; far from bureaucracy, he teaches us to solve problems in conscientious way, with a simple and in-depth didactics and with the agility required by the different situations.”

The cultural development of the Province under his term of office is evident. His concern to install one of the most important Informatics Highways of the country, gave his Province an important tool – towns of less than 1,000 inhabitants can have the latest internet technology. He thinks that education and knowledge will give San Luis people the possibility of having better instruments to fight in the globalized world. The project he designed and developed for the film industry is a success shown in the most important movie set in South America; eight films are being shot at this moment in San Luis, as well as TV series that take advantage of the wonderful landscapes and low production costs.

However, his greatest achievement is perhaps the reduction of the unemployment rate to 1.2%.

Today, Dr. Alberto Rodríguez Saá has yet another goal: to foster the teaching of chess in all the school in the province, and he will present the Province to the World.


Luis Lusquiños, Vice President Daniel Scioli, Dr. Rodríguez Saá, Jorge Guelman, and Maria Angelica Torrontegui

In order to carry out this ambitious World Chess Project, Dr. Rodríguez Saá designated Mr. Luis Lusquiños, the Vice-chancellor of La Punta University, and a loyal friend who defined the Governor in a few words: “He is a modern leader, using chess terms, he can see the best moves ahead. He knows perfectly well what he wants, so it is easier to build a project to carry out his idea. His ideas are all concerned with benefiting his people, and the city, and this will be seen by visitors coming to attend the WCC. In our province there are not indigent people; thanks to the brilliant idea of the Inclusion Work Plan, we are achieving full employment.

How to motivate children who have access to a high-speed Informatics Highway? The Governor gave me some indications to develop, in La Punta University, a chess program that could reach all schools in the province, including all social spheres. This simple idea is already working, and the kids can play weekly tournaments, participate in simultaneous exhibitions with grandmasters, are directly benefiting from it. These kids will soon be able to play matches in our online club that is being developed in order to be launched before the World Championship starts.

Thanks to Dr. Rodríguez Saá, the province grew in all fields. In the cultural area, San Luis is a model; we have set an example, and a lot of cultural and social projects that are going to go beyond our boundaries. Working with Dr. Rodríguez Saá is simply a daily challenge, and all his staff members have to work hard. He inspires us and he is the first “fighter”. Each day. Every day.”


FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov (left) with Governor
Alberto Rodríguez Saá of San Luis [Photo courtesy FIDE.com]

He went himself to Qatar in May to convince FIDE’s members that he could organize one of the best Championships ever. There he met President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, whom he shared various points of views in the world of chess. During the World Chess Championship there will also be a team Fischer Random, the Governor together with three GMs will be part of one of the teams: this will be a dream come true. But there are still two more dreams to be made true: the first one is the return of Kasparov in San Luis next year, and the second is a very well kept secret. Undoubtedly, this chess player who fights for his ideals to achieve a better world, will place San Luis in the history of chess.

Interview with Governor Alberto Rodríguez Saá

Who taught you how to play chess?

Actually, I learnt watching my father; he played chess with a group of friends with the system of whoever loses is out of the game. All others observed and gave their opinions on the players and the games. Then, as an adolescent, I took part in the events in San Luis, championships organized by the city of San Luis or the Province. It was only in my teenage years that I developed my knowledge of the game; since then I just feel very close to the game and I have a genuine interest in and in what is going on in the world of chess.


Governor Alberto Rodríguez Saá playing chess with his son Alberto

Were the beginnings of the game difficult?

No, because when one is young the learning process is easier. To be honest, when you are a kid, everything is fun and there are no complications. There is always a need for the teachings of a master, or someone who knows more about the theory of the game. The most difficult part for me to understand was pawn structures, which I find very complex. On the other hand, I manage the game’s strategy with no problems.

San Luis will be the venue of the World Chess Championship 2005. The most important point that convinced FIDE to choose San Luis for this tournament was the promotion of chess in schools. Why did you give this aspect a priority?

Because we are connected to the Informatics Highway of the Province, a virtual web system that allows the province to be online; we are able to create a virtual space and teach chess by using this web system. This is a very interesting system, considering that it will be possible to play online as if it was a VIP club, where high level players will be encountering each other online.


A promotional picture of the chess promoting governor

Besides, due to the boom created by the World Chess Championship, several local masters and players have been hired in order to teach chess in school and clubs. This has been a great success. It is remarkable to see everyday, in San Luis town squares, crowds of people playing chess; there are always around 100 or 200 kids participating. This fills us with pride, and it is just another reason to host the World Chess Championship. What is more, this event will also be beneficial for the province as far as tourism is concerned and it will give the province a worldwide high status considering the prestige of chess.

This was one of the most important facts that convinced the FIDE. In your opinion, which other aspects influenced the decision?

I think one of the most relevant aspects that influenced the decision was the fact that everything was managed in Greece; on a Friday, our representatives were asked to present some information, the following day, we sent all the information signed by Ministers and the Governor. This surprised FIDE, and people there must have thought it was a good sign that we were willing to work even on the weekend, while others just are not willing to do so.

Another important issue is that we consider this event a huge investment for the province because of its significance as far as tourism and culture are concerned as well as for the recognition of our achievements as an Argentinean Federal Province. We are building a special complex where the WCC is going to be played and which will offer the highest technology and all comforts required by the tradition of chess. This complex is being built next to Potrero de los Funes’ lake and annexed to the hotel, which is being remodeled in order to get to the five-star category.

The building where matches are going to be played has a name...

Yes, it is called the “Chess Box”. It will represent a huge chess box where pieces are kept.


The "Chess Box", where the next World Championship will be played

For San Luis this is a pride, because other countries also wanted to be venues of the WCC.

We competed against huge opponents, cities more important and better known than ours. But I think our energy, our achievements as some important Government works, show that we are working hard and consistently. We have an unemployment rate of 1.2%, compared to the national rate that shows a two-digit number. This helps social peace and allows us to think about progress.

We own a very important informatics web. All this, together with our huge enthusiasm convinced the FIDE.

The Government is also strongly backing culture...

We have a Film Law which has been a success in promoting the film industry. At this moment, eight films are being shot; this is completely unusual and places us in an important position among the movie industry world. All this has also created association dedicated to lighting, sound, actors, stage design, costume design, etc. This association offer job opportunities for local people.


Dr. Rodríguez Saá greeting popular Argentinean actress Andrea Del Boca

We have also developed a grant system for artists in different areas such as music, photography, literature, which gives artists the possibility of expressing themselves. This project was taken and adapted from an American model that was used during the ‘30s in the New Deal period and which was an enormous success.


Oscar winner Eugenio Zanetti, Faye Dunaway, film producer Jorge Rodríguez, and Dr. Rodríguez Saá

There is some news for Music as well

We are going to do something similar to the Film Law. There will be a regulation that will give the possibility of carrying out record productions so that Argentinean artists will be able to record in the Province of San Luis. We will to try to have the best studios, with the newest technology and try to provide services at low prices.

In the city of La Punta a work related to the movie industry will be inaugurated

Yes, La Punta is the first city founded in the 21st century. It is located 20 km away from the capital of San Luis and is a conurbation that will be the city of the future where the Informatics Highway is placed. On the 30th of August, in La Punta, the first Film Set of the province will be inaugurated and it will be one of the most important in South America. This fills us with pride.


San Luis Cine Filming Set

The Province has a “Work Program” that employs people

It is a strong Keynesian shock. But adapted to the modern world and specifically to this serious phenomenon: social segregation. This program gives people who are unemployed and segregated from the work and the economic system the ability to have a job. People have the possibility of carrying out tasks as well as qualifying in order to have the chance of obtaining better jobs. This plan gave us the possibility of decreasing the unemployment rate from 14.7% to 1.2%. There is also a great optimism in the economics sphere, with new investments generating a multiplying effect.

The Government has not stopped Public works

Public works have not stopped. The Province of San Luis, which has been one of the most relegated in Argentina, at this moment, and thanks to the thriving plan of public works, is building highways and roads; in a very short time we will have 33% of all the country’s highways. We have a fully lighted 240 km long highway, which crosses the province and joins Mendoza to Cordoba. It is Argentina’s largest fully lighted highway.

Let’s go back to chess. Besides playing the traditional game you also play the Fischer Random variant.

I think this variant is great because it balances the competitors’ possibilities. With this variant all setup theories are eliminated and just basic tactical and strategic concepts are kept as well as the technique.


Argentinean Classic played by Vice President Scioli and Dr. Rodríguez Saá

Do you have a favorite player in this Championship?

I have to say that they are all favorite, that they all have an interesting personality. If I had to make a choice I would say Judit Polgar who is the only woman who could become World Champion, marking therefore a historic moment in the chess tradition.

The WCC in 1927 between Capablanca and Alekhine strengthened chess tradition in Argentina. After 78 years you make it possible for the World Chess Championship to be played again in your country. What do you think will be the impact of the WCC in your country?

That Tournament was unforgettable in Argentina’s chess history. Buenos Aires was the centre of the worlds’ attention during those days. We still remember the anecdotes, and the cheerful Capablanca’s character. I hope this tournament that San Luis is organizing will produce an enthusiasm similar to the one produced by the match between Capablanca and Alekhine. And San Luis will be known all over the world as the venue of the WCC. The investments will be enjoyed by future generations. This is why we are certain we are doing the right thing,

We will warmly welcome everyone to San Luis.


The above interview was conducted by GM Miguel Quinteros, International Grand Master, ten years First Board on the Argentinian Olympic Team (1974-1984). President of Mercosur Chess Club, FIDE Representative to Argentina.

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