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Arkady Dvorkovich: Russian politician crowned world chess head

A chessboard with black and white players. Image copyright Getty Images

The World Chess Federation (Fide) has a new king - Arkady Dvorkovich, the former deputy prime minister of Russia.

Mr Dvorkovich outmanoeuvred his opponents in the three-way vote on Wednesday after a fiercely contested election.

He is taking over from fellow Russian Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, ousted in July.

Mr Dvorkovich was crowned after British chess grandmaster Nigel Short broke a lengthy stalemate by withdrawing his candidacy.

The Russian candidate then defeated the only remaining candidate, current deputy president Georgios Makropoulos, by 103 votes to 78.

He becomes the first new president since 1995.

His predecessor, Mr Ilyumzhinov, was forced out over the summer amid allegations of facilitating transactions with the Syrian government - something which landed him with US sanctions, and briefly froze the federations's bank accounts.

He denies any wrongdoing - but the affair cast a long shadow over the election, which was marred by accusations of corruption and political meddling.

The players

Arkady Dvorkovich has both political and chess credentials.

Until May 2018, he served as Russian deputy prime minister and is also a member of the Supervisory Board of the Russian Chess Federation. More recently, he was one of the chief organisers of the Fifa World Cup.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Arkady Dvorkovich was one of the masterminds behind this summer's World Cup in Russia

His main opponent was widely seen as Georgios Makropoulos, the Greek deputy president of Fide. Mr Makropoulos struggled to distance himself from former president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who he served under.

England's Nigel Short is best known for an unsuccessful challenge against Russia's world chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1993.

He has vowed to stamp out corruption and is a long-time critic of Fide leadership - but in 2015, he angered women chess players when he suggested women were not suited to the game.

Addressing the delegates, he complained of mismanagement and "an open culture of bullying", chess news site Chess.com reports.

Mid-speech, he stopped the clock, dramatically announcing his resignation from the race and his support for Mr Dvorkovich.

A Russian pawn?

Mr Dvorkovich's candidacy was not without controversy - particularly given his high standing in Russian political circles.

The Times newspaper reports that Russia has been manoeuvring behind the scenes to win votes for Mr Dvorkovich. Russia dismissed the claims as "lies and inconsistencies", and accused Mr Makropolous of being behind them.

In a BBC interview in September, Mr Dvorkovich said the Kremlin had "not been provided with any evidence" that two Russian agents had carried out the poisonings of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in southern England.

The English Chess Federation felt that was the wrong play, and released a statement backing Mr Makropoulos, saying Mr Short's campaign had "little traction".

Mr Short, however, was unmoved. He said the process had been "rigged", but expressed support for Mr Dvorkovich before the vote, arguing his views on the Skripals had nothing to do with his ability to root out corruption in chess.

Mr Short, says the Financial Times, might be playing a long game. He was not likely to secure enough votes this time round, but could have run to boost his profile before the next election in 2022.

The next move

The new president of Fide will get to decide who stages tournaments and how money is spent. But whoever wins, they're unlikely to be as colourful as Mr Ilyumzhinov, who once claimed on television to have met aliens on board a spaceship.

In addition to his alleged dealings with the Syrian government, he was president of the Republic of Kalmykia, a small Buddhist region of Russia which lies on the shores of the Caspian Sea, for 17 years.

A chequered past, you might say.

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