Gens una sumus. The history and future of the world’s most famous chess organization.
The World Chess Federation, or FIDE (Fédération Internationale des Échecs) as it is more commonly and concisely known, is the highest and most widely recognized governing body of international chess competition.
Based out of Lausanne, Switzerland, it holds competitions and forms leagues with players from all over the world. It also acts as the host and arbiter of the world’s most famous chess tournament, The World Chess Championship. The winner of this tournament is recognized almost everywhere as the top chess player in the world during his or her reign. But where did FIDE originate from? And how did it go from a small little startup to the number one worldwide authority on chess? Well, it wasn’t an easy or quick journey, but it all started in 1914.
History of FIDE
In April of 1914, citizens of St. Petersburg, Russia began an initiative to form an international chess organization that would oversee competition and chess education on a global scale. The idea picked up some traction at the Mannheim International Chess Tournament in July of that same year, but it was quickly put on the back burner when World War I broke out.
In the 1920s, discussions about forming an international chess organization started up again due in large part to the need for standardized rules in competitive play. Famous chess master Jose Capablanca developed his own system of competition rules, but only one match (Capablanca vs. Alekhine 1927) was played using them. Things stagnated once again until the 1924 Olympics in Paris, when chess was an event and participants founded FIDE as as a sort of players’ union.
In its early years, FIDE had little power and even less funding, but as time went on, it was allowed to take on the role of managing the world chess championship, and it also started up a tournament of its own devising – The Chess Olympiad. The first of these events suffered a little from poor planning, but it has since grown into one of the largest and most well-loved events on the FIDE calendar.
Things continued smoothly for the organization up until 1946, when the death of reigning champion Alexander Alekhine through the federation into a state of interregnum. Prior to this point, the next champion had always gained his title by defeating the previous champion, but obviously that would be impossible in this case. Because of this, FIDE had to devise an entirely new system of choosing candidates to challenge champions, and all this was happening against the backdrop of WWII, which made international play nearly impossible.
In 1948, the federation came out with a system of rules that laid the foundation for the modern Candidate’s Tournament, switching the selection of championship candidates from a committee decision to a competition. This was a welcome change for players, who had been petitioning the organization for a similar system for years with no effect.
FIDE has continued to grow in influence through the years, at times hitting bumps and running up against controversies, but always landing back on its feet.
Famous Faces of FIDE
Almost every famous modern chess player has competed under the auspices of FIDE at one time or another. Many of these players go on to become high ranking officials or even presidents of the organization. Some of FIDE’s notable presidents include:
He also served as president of the Royal Dutch Chess Federation from 1923 to 1928, and he kept an extensive library of chess books that was placed in the Amsterdam University Library after his death.
Euwe, a Dutch grandmaster and mathematician, was president of the World Chess Federation from 1970 to 1978, which was a particularly tricky time in the organization’s history. He saw FIDE through several conflicts and confrontations with the Soviet Chess Federation during those years, as several chess masters defected from the USSR at that time and wished to still participate in chess competition, though the Soviet Union protested their right to do so. Euwe handled these sticky situations with grace and fairness, and he is widely regarded as an outstanding leader in the organization’s history.
On the other side of the spectrum was Florencio Campomanes. FIDE President from 1982 to 1995. He was not so well-loved. It was under Campomanes that the world championship title was split, with champion Garry Kasparov leaving the organization and starting his own in order to secure more favorable conditions for players. This period from 1993 to 2006 when the championship was divided is perhaps the darkest spot in FIDE’s history, and it is due in large part to the incompetent leadership of Campomanes. He has been accused of corruption, fraud, and even of acting as a KGB asset during his time as president.
The most famous of the tournaments that FIDE hosts is of course, the World Chess Championship, however there are many more that take place during the year. The Candidate’s Tournament, for example, is one of the final steps players go through in order to determine who will earn the right to challenge the reigning champion in the final, highly publicized match. Players that make it into the Candidates Tournament are largely seeded from Interzonal tournaments, though there have been some players over the years that gain access directly due to stellar performance or other unusual circumstances.
The Chess Olympiad is another one of FIDE’s events that takes place every two years. Every member federation can send a team to compete in the Chess Olympiad for a chance to win the Hamilton-Russell Cup. This trophy, originally donated as a prize for the first Olympiad in 1927 by English magnate Frederick Hamilton-Russell, is kept by the winning team until the next event begins.
The FIDE Grand Prix is a newer competition, first instituted in 2008. It takes place roughly on a two-year schedule, and the results of the competition do have an impact on qualification for the World Chess Championship and the Women’s World Chess Championship. Each event consists of either 4 or 6 chess tournaments, depending on participation and funding. This event has hit a few bumps already in its short run, and it seems like the details still need to be ironed out a bit!
The World Amateur Chess Championship is a great event hosted by FIDE in which every average Joe and Jane can participate to test their skills. Entry into this competition was originally restricted to chess players who do not have a FIDE ranking but has since been changed to allow players with a FIDE ranking below 2000. First place in this tournament earns you the title of FIDE master, while second and third place are dubbed Candidate Masters.
The Future of FIDE
The future of FIDE seems to be relatively uncertain right now. With a current president that is not allowed to lead but refuses to step down, it’s unclear who is even in charge. The organization seems to be going through one of those tumultuous patches that have dotted its long history. As they add more new events and try out new ideas, things will certainly change and some things may even be left by the wayside. But in the end, things will always even out.
The World Chess Federation has weathered some difficult times in the past, and no doubt it will face its fair share of them in the future as well. The important thing is that is always seems to come back stronger than before. This resilience is not due to the strength of leadership of FIDE’s presidents, though some have been excellent. It’s because of the strength of commitment every chess player has to the game, and their willingness to unite in order to make something greater than themselves as individuals. The World Chess Federation will always exist, in some form, as long as love for chess exists. You can count on that.