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UAE plays kingmaker as chess politicians wage battle for the top job

The region's chess scene could be set to get a $320,000 boost after the UAE backed the Russian chess grandmaster Anatoly Karpov in his campaign to become president of the World Chess Federation.

DUBAI // The region's chess scene could be set to get a $320,000 boost after the UAE backed the Russian chess grandmaster Anatoly Karpov in his campaign to become president of the World Chess Federation (FIDE). The current president, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, also from Russia, and the presidential hopeful, Mr Karpov, arrived in the UAE last week, hoping to win backing here for their campaigns.

The presidency is decided by a one- vote-per-country system. The arrival of the two underscores the country's growing prominence on the chess scene, according to a chess official. "They wanted to win support in the UAE," said Sulaiman al Fahim, the head of the UAE Chess Federation and a keen chess player. "It shows we are becoming a hub for chess." After the UAE Chess Federation chose to support his bid for the presidency, Mr Karpov pledged $320,000 (Dh1.2 million) to develop chess in the region if he wins the election at the end of September.

Mr Karpov's proposed funds would be distributed over four years to support tournaments, academies and new talent. The funds also would be used to market the sport and increase prize money. However, 16 of 18 countries in the Arab Chess Federation (ACF) support Mr Ilyumzhinov, according to Ibrahim al Bannai, the head of that federation. "We in the Arab Chess Federation support Kirsan for re-election for many reasons," said Mr al Bannai.

He said the ACF had confidence in Ilyumzhinov as a person and that the incumbent president had done much to support the sport of chess in the region. The UAE holds 25 tournaments a year, drawing competitors from around the world, and has a pool of 600 local players who compete in tournaments. The largest clubs - in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah - have about 100 players each. The newest club will officially open later this year in Ras al Khaimah, though its members are already competing. Most players range in age from eight to 24, and some play on average one tournament a week.

The UAE Chess Federation spends about Dh2.5 million a year. That is not including individual club budgets, which can run as high as half a million. Funds are mostly used to host tournaments at home or send members abroad to compete. One promising player, Salem Abdulrahman Saleh, has won several prestigious international medals, including the under-14 Asian Championship in 2006. His training has taken him from Moscow to the Philippines, and the 16-year-old is in training to win the World Youth Championship in Greece in October.

@Email:chuang@thenational.ae

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