World chess to elect chief after bitter struggle
World chess body FIDE was to elect its chief Wednesday after a power struggle worthy of the bitterest clashes on the board between the controversial Kremlin-backed incumbent and an ex-world champion.
Current FIDE president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov is standing for re-election at the body's congress in the Russian Urals city of Khanty-Mansiysk but faces a strong challenge from Soviet chess legend Anatoly Karpov.
The race has been marked by vicious personal attacks between the two rivals, who have run US-presidential style campaigns and visited dozens of FIDE (World Chess Federation) member states in order to win delegates' votes.
The eccentric Ilyumzhinov is one of the most controversial figures in the history of chess. His opponents say he has exposed the game to ridicule by claiming to have met aliens and even to have been shown round a UFO.
The election will be held on the basis of one member one vote for each of FIDE's member states, which number almost 170, with the results now not expected until 1100 GMT due to delays at the meeting.
Ilyumzhinov earlier this month stepped down from his post as president of the Russian Buddhist region of Kalmykia after 17-year rule that saw him build an ambitious "Chess City" in the dusty regional capital Elista.
He has held the post of FIDE president since 1995 and has been strongly backed by the Kremlin in the shape of Arkady Dvorkovich, the head of the Russian Chess Federation's supervisory board, who is also chief economic advisor of President Dmitry Medvedev.
Ironically, while Russia officially nominated Ilyumzhinov, it was the United States who nominated Karpov, the Soviet-era world champion famous for grinding his opponents into submission with his patient tactics.
In another irony, Karpov's once greatest rival Garry Kasparov, now a vehement Kremlin critic, has flown to Khanty-Mansiysk to back his candidacy.
Their legendary five-month long World Championship clash in Moscow in 1984 was abandoned without a result, with officials fearing for the health of both players.
Kasparov told the Russian news agencies at the meeting that voting was being marred by violations involving proxy votes and pressure on African federation members.
"Anatoly Karpov is used to playing by the rules but what we are being offered is card-sharping," he said.
He also accused Ilyumzhinov of reducing the prestige of chess under his rule.
"At the time of the Kasparov-Karpov duels, the capitals of chess were Paris and New York. And now they are Nalchik, Astrakhan and Elista," he said, referring to provincial southern Russian cities.
Ilyumzhinov's team have predicted they are on course for victory after their candidate visited an extraordinary 40 countries in the run-up to the vote, saying over 90 FIDE members will back him.
However Karpov has insisted his chances are high. "I consider my chances to be very high because my programme is stronger for the development of chess than that of my opponent," he told the RIA Novosti news agency.
© 2010 AFP