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LIBYA: Kadafi chess match a diplomatic draw

June 13, 2011 |  8:37 pm

The chess encounter in Tripoli between Moammar Kadafi and the president of the World Chess Federation has caused a stir in both the Russian and Libyan news media.

Libyan state television on Monday was showing over and over Monday the odd scene of Kadafi squaring off a day earlier against Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the international chess czar from Russia.

The somewhat surreal scene of Kadafi mulling his next move as NATO bombers soared overhead and rebels battled government troops close to Tripoli resonated widely among Libya-watchers.

The Libyan leader appeared contemplative in his signature shades, black cap and black cloak as he moved the pieces in what appeared to be a ceremonial room untouched by recent bombing raids.

"Very calm," is how Ilyumzhinov described his opponent, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported.

Ilyumzhinov, a long-time chess enthusiast, is a multi-millionaire with his own colorful history, including purported encounters with space aliens and a collection of Rolls-Royce sedans. He has come under fire for his authoritarian tendencies, both in the chess world and in his former position as president of the obscure Russian republic of Kalmykia, a poverty-stricken stretch along the Caspian Sea that Ilyumzhinov has tried to turn into a chess mecca.

The meeting was not in a bunker, he said, but in an administrative building. A photo of Kadafi in his military outfit hung on the wall.

Mikhail Margelov, the Russian president’s special envoy for Africa, told Interfax he had advised the chess federation boss to play white and make a move — e2-e4 — that would serve the purpose of “hinting to Kadafi that he is nearing the endgame."

The match with Ilyumzhinov, alas, ended in a draw.

"He is of course a lot weaker than me, but it was still interesting," Ilyumzhinov told Interfax. "It would not have been diplomatic to beat him, so we agreed to a draw."

— Patrick J. McDonnell in Tripoli

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