Turkish Chess Federation election battle

11/4/2008 – Turbulent times for Turkish chess. Next Saturday the biggest chess federations in the world will hold an election. The incumbent President Ali Nihat Yazici is facing fierce opposition coalition, which includes the country’s first and strongest GM Suat Atalik. In Turkish chess circles this election is as hot as Obama vs McCain in the US. Who will win?

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The elections will be held in the Crown Plaza Hotel. There will be around 180 delegates present, five representatives from each club participating in the Turkish İş Bank Chess League, three representatives from the first ten clubs in the Turkish Clubs Championship (second division) and two representatives from other clubs. Around 34 votes are from the General Youth and Sports Directorate, the highest bureaucratic sports body in Turkey, and from ex-presidents of the Federation.

The Incumbent: Ali Nihat Yazici and the Turkish chess revolution

Ali Nihat Yazici, whose name in Turkish (Yazıcı) is pronounced something like “Yer-zer-che”, is well known to the readers of our new pages. He has been President of the TCF since 2000, and in 2004 he was reelected for a second term. Victory on Saturday should be easy (but see below), and in his campaign Yazici points to a number of important milestones of Turkish chess which were recorded in his second period.

  1. In Turkey, sports federations were all officially bound to the Youth and Sports Directorate and the Sports Ministry. However, after the Autonomy in Sports Law was passed in 2004, the sports federations had more financial space and they were able to seek sponsors themselves without relying solely on the state budget for their funding. Chess was the second sports federation to become autonomous, after football, which is of course enormously popular in Turkey.

  2. Chess became part of the national education curriculum after a deal was signed between the National Education Minister Hüseyin Çelik and the TCF President Ali Nihat Yazici in June 2005, with the result that millions of children, literally, could be introduced to the game of chess in Turkish schools. In the 2008-2009 education year nearly two million children chose chess as a subject in their schools. The Turkish Chess Federation now claims two hundred forty thousand members, making it the largest chess federation in the world.

  3. An important institutional step was the sponsorship deal with Türkiye İş Bank, a prestigious bank in Turkey, founded in 1924 by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, to promote private entrepreneurship and farming in the infant Turkish Republic.

  4. Under Yazici's stewardship around 100 international chess tournaments have been staged in Turkey, including important youth and junior events like World Junior Championships, World Youth Championships, World U16 Olympiads, as well as elite events like the European Individual Championships, the European Club Cup and this year the İş Bank Atatürk International Women Masters.

  5. Until 2006 the TCF had not won a single medal in world and European chess championships. After the sponsorship deal with the Türkiye İş Bankası, the medals started to rain. In the past two years Turkish players won 68 medals in different tournaments, including six golds, three silvers, and seven bronzes in world championships, and five golds, two silvers and three bronzes in European championships.

  6. Another significant step was moving the headquarter of the Federation into the Atatürk Chess Center in Ankara. The new Federation quarters, on the 6th floor of a business centre, is 1,000 m² in size and was renewed and decorated by the TCF at a cost of around €1.1 million.

However, this rapid growth of Turkish chess has created its own problems – Yazici himself describes the situation as a “4½-year-old baby which is 1.95 meters tall and weighs 100 kg”. As a result the incumbent President faces strong opposition in Saturday’s election.

Atalik: “What happened so far is fake and unhealthy”

One of the masterminds of the rival candidacy is Suat Atalik, the first native Grandmaster in Turkey. In fact for over ten years he was the only GM in the country – from 1994 to 2005, when Mikhail Gurevich took up residence in Turkey. Currently there are some strong junior players, like Mert Erdoğdu or Umut Atakişi, who are expected to complete their norms and join the two.

Atalik was born in 1964 and represented Turkey in the World Junior Championship in 1983. He was also top board for his country in several Chess Olympiads. However, due to long-standing disputes with chess organizers in his country, predating the Yazici era, he declared himself to be a resident of Bosnia and Herzegovina, his ancestral home. During the 2000 World Chess Olympiad in Istanbul, Atalik insisted on playing for Bosnia rather than Turkey. As a result, the organizers of the Olympiad banned him from the competition.

After the election of the new national chess federation, Atalik returned to play under the Turkish national team again. On November 11, 2005, he married 22-year-old WGM Ekaterina Polovnikova from Russia. Former world championship challenger Nigel Short, who also played in the World Junior Championship in 1983 and has remained a close friend of Suat, was his best man. Nigel reported on the wedding in a special ChessBase report.


The wedding of Suat Atalik and Ekaterina Polovnikova in November 2005, with Bekir Okan, Chairman of the Okan University Foundation, Nigel Short, Ali Nihat Yazici, the groom and bride, and Selami Öztürk, the Major of Kadikoy, who conducted the ceremony.

The TCF and Yazici were instrumental to returning Atalik to his homeland after the latter had played for Bosnia and Herzegovina for five years. However, first problems with the federation appeared and soon the two stopped talking to each other. Atalik called the achievements of the TCF in the past years “fake and unhealthy” and announced in his chess column in the newspaper Cumhuriyet that he would be running against Yazici for the Federation presidency in the next election.

Other candidates challenging Yazici were going to be Cengiz Keleş, an International Arbiter and the second man behind Yazici during his first term, and the 28-year-old sports bureaucrat Veli Ozan Çakır, who works in the Football Federation and Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality. In due course these candidates united themselves under the leadership of Çakır and added two important defectors from the team that Yazici had built up: International Organiser Abdurrahman Koral and Hakan Aktaç, the ex-General Secretary of the Turkish Chess Federation. Their campaign was called “Tam Zamanı” (“just the time”) and claimed for itself to consist of people who were already members of the chess community, unlike Yazici’s different approach with specialized people in different areas, but not with strong organic ties to the chess world.

Why we are running for the presidency

The major headlines of the opposition’s agenda is as follows (translated from their campaign website):

  • No second grandmaster was trained all these years
  • The federation resources were spent thriftily
  • There is a big debt, and a bank loan is used to pay this debt
  • Chess players have become the main source of income for the federation
  • Board members and members of other committees benefited from the financial power of the federation more than the players
  • Disciplinary and Auditory Committees were not independent from the board
  • The Federation is ruled by one person (Yazici himself)
  • The Federation is not institutionalized
  • In many projects much money was spent without results (chess school, the company of the federation, etc.)
  • International events took priority over national events
  • Chess clubs were not sufficiently supported – only 300,000 New Turkish Lira of the budget of seven million were actually used for the clubs
  • Clubs and players were only remembered in the election times
  • Repressive and punitive policies were implemented by the board

Therefore, the group is aiming to

  • Give chess and chess players their former dignity
  • Train new grandmasters
  • Save chess players from the financial burden of chess
  • Establish an institutional federation
  • Use the resources of the federation for chess
  • Empower the clubs financially

“We are candidates for the Turkish Chess Federation board,” the opposition ticket says. “With our projects and sponsors we are ready to lift up chess. Now is 'just the time' for change!”

A perfectionist looking for improvement

Ali Nihat Yazici, the incumbent president who is also now the Vice President of FIDE had built up a team and started his election campaign under the slogan “Gens Una Magna Sumus” (“We are one big family” – reminiscent of the FIDE motto Gens Una Sumus). If you speak Turkish you can read all about it on the campaign web site (with a cool introductory blue-box animation).

Although a number of members of the Yazici team have defected to the opposition, the President’s ticket has some old names, such as the Vice President of the Turkish Chess Federation:

  • Tahsin Aktar, who is an international chess arbiter and teacher of arbiters for more then two decades, and one of the most active board members in chess organizations

  • Murat Kul, the Deputy President of Turkish Chess Federation, an ex-anchorman of the news of a major TV channel in Turkey, and a renowned journalist in Turkey, who also worked as the press consultant of the former Sports Minister Mehmet Ali Şahin

  • Gülkız Tülay, the founder of the biggest chess club in Turkey.

There are other names among the candidates of Yazici’s new board – people who are connected to sports clubs, universities and administration, including the military. The campaign emphasizes the achievements of the past eight years and proposes the following enhancements (translated from their website):

  1. Players, trainers, arbiters – A grandmaster fund will be created and awarded to the first player to complete his or her grandmaster norms. The target is to have GMs under 15, improve the quality of chess players, and also supporting young and successful ones with scholarships.

  2. New national trainers will be appointed and there will be permanent trainers appointed by TCF for different cities and provinces.

  3. Hardware, training equipment, chess facilities – The Yazici ticket pledges to build chess clubs and houses around the country, increase the production of chess boards, publish more chess education books and improve chess training facilities in Turkey via books and the Internet, in cooperation with the Ministry of National Education. A chess centre owned by the TCF will be set up in all major cities.

  4. Organizations, chess in clubs – Increase the organizational quality of national events. More national events and closed tournaments should be held. The World Internet Children Chess Championship is planned, starting from April 23, 2009, the National Children’s Day, the only children’s day celebrated around the world. This event will be recognized by FIDE. The Atatürk Women’s Masters will be part of the Women's Grand Prix, with 14 players. The Turkish Grand Prix as a national event will be staged.

  5. Budget and Sponsors – €1.5 million is the current sponsorship income of the TCF. The aim is to increase this amount through private sector companies. Local sponsorships will be sought and the Federation will not be placed under a financial burden.

  6. Technology – For every city there will be computers together with the local clubs that are going to be built. An accurate game database will be formed.

  7. Others such as social projects, chess television on the Internet, which has already been launched, a chess institute, a central camp location owned by the federation, etc. will be put into place.

  8. There will be a bid to stage the World Chess Olympiad in Istanbul in 2012.

Who will win this election. Ali Nihat Yazici is confident of doing so with a huge majority, but we are told that the opposition led by Veli Ozan Çakır and Suat Atalik have a similar expectation: to route the incumbent. So tonight we can all sit up watching the results of Obama-McCain come in; and on Saturday we will do the same for Yazici-Çakır.


Some recent international events in Turkey

New super women's tournament – in Turkey!
06.12.2007 – Women's chess has always been sadly neglected. Now a bank in Turkey, together with the Turkish Chess Federation, has taken the initiative and announced a super women's event in Istanbul in March 2008. Eligible are all female players over 2460 Elo, or over 2400 and having a GM title. The prize fund is US $16,000 (plus appearance fees). All reports.

World Youth Chess Championship in Antalya
18.11.2007 – It is one of the biggest events of its kind in the world, the starting point for new chess talent, a gathering of young chess players, 1450 of them from 103 countries around the globe. The tournament in twelve separate categories is being held in twelve age groups for boys and girls. A warm welcome awaited us on our arrival in the Turkish Mediterranean town of Kemer-Antalya. All reports.

Meet Abhijeet Gupta – meet the Junior World Champion
21.08.2008 – Four years ago Nigel Short, while winning the Commonwealth Championship, ran into some problems: "In the second round I drew with some 15-year-old boy from some very obscure place, some village somewhere. I think his name was Abhijeet Gupta." Last week nineteen-year-old Abhijeet won the prestigious World Junior Championship in Gaziantep, Turkey. Interview.

Arik Braun, Harika lead in Junior World Championship
14.08.2008 – This event in Gaziantep, Turkey, has become very exciting, with two clear leaders two rounds before the end. German IM Arik Braun is being chased by GMs Howell, Safarli, Rodshtein, Negi and others. In the girls' section India's Harika Dronavalli is half a point ahead of Ukrainian Mariya Muzychuk. Anything can happen in the final rounds. Giant pictorial report by Özgür Akman.

World Junior Championship starts in Gaziantep
06.08.2008 – The World Junior Championship is being held in Gaziantep, the Economic Centre of Turkey, from 2 to 16 August. The event has 22 GMs, five WGMs, 23 IMs, 14 WIMs, 15 FMs and 27 WFMs among the 195 players from 60 countries playing in the championship. Guess who is equal second, after four rounds, in the boy's section. A 14-year-old Chinese girl! Illustrated report.

World Youth Championship – and the winners are...
28.11.2007 – Tonight this giant chess festival in Kemer-Antalya, Turkey, ended, and the organisers have already posted the final results in the twelve different sections. While the chess volunteers are still busy entering the games of the final round (we have collected those of rounds 1-10) and the closing ceremony with prize-giving is still to be held, we bring you top results and a pictorial portrait of the US team.

World Youth Championship – top scorers after nine rounds
27.11.2007 – This chess festival that is taking place in Kemer-Antalya, Turkey, has over 1500 players from all over the world. After nine of a total of 11 rounds the candidates for the medals are at the top of the tables. One has scored an incredible 9/9 points. We bring you top standings and a special photo report of the very strong Indian contingent. These are the stars of tomorrow.

World Youth Championship: players and personalities
21.11.2007 – This gigantic event is under way in the Mediterranean town of Kemer-Antalya, Turkey. There are two grandmasters in the top (under 18) group, and many talented young players with and without titles in all sections. The top Turkish players are being trained by Slovenian grandmaster Adrian Mikhalchishin, who celebrated his birthday with his students during round one. Big pictorial report.

Everybody's there – at the European Club Cup in Turkey
04.10.2007 – The 23rd European Club Cup for Men and the 12th European Club Cup for Women are taking place from October 2nd to 10th in Kemer, Antalya, Turkey. There are 56 teams participating in the men's section and 18 teams in the women's. You won't believe how many world class stars are participating. We bring you a first report with a video of the opening ceremony.

Private Pähtz on the attack at the NATO Championship
05.09.2007 – The 18th NATO Chess Championship is taking place in Beytepe-Ankara, Turkey. Combat dress uniforms are discouraged, the soldiers play in civilian clothing. The top seed is IM and former Junior World Champion Elisabeth Pähtz, who is leading with 13 other players after three rounds. But is this wisp of a girl a real soldier in the NATO forces? You better believe it.

Antalya – an Invitation to Chess
08.02.2007 – Turkey is fast becoming a hotbed of chess. From January 28 to February 3rd the Turkish Youth Championship with 1300 participants was held in Antalya, the same time and place the FIDE Presidential Board met. It all took place in a beautiful hotel resort on the Mediterranean coast. We bring you part one of our illustrated report.


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