May 23, 2010
Chess is compulsory at schools in Kalmykia, the Russian Federation's only Buddhist republic. The republic's millionaire chess fanatic president, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov (pictured here in 2006 with World Juniors Champion Zaven Andriasian), is also president of the the World Chess Federation, the most prestigious organization of its kind.
But maybe not for much longer: chess great Anatoly Karpov wants Ilyumzhinov's position when the latter's mandate expires in September. According to Stuart Williams writing for AFP, both are now engaged in "a struggle which has become a bitter test of guile and stamina reminiscent of famous battles on the board."
But the charismatic Ilyumzhinov may be able to call on extraterrestrial support:
As well as his obsession with chess -- which has extended to building a self-styled Chess City in the regional Kalmyk capital of Elista -- Ilyumzhinov is known for eccentric behavior that is not even confined to planet earth.
He famously claimed to have been given a tour of a UFO by aliens in the late 1990s and last month solemnly revealed on a TV chat show that he had met extra-terrestrials in his Moscow apartment.