Chess Scandal at Mazatlan, by Jonathan Berry

In 1988 I was the Chief Arbiter at the World Active Chess Championships in Mazatlan, Mexico. Although it was an official FIDE event, it was not organized by FIDE itself, but by a group headed by Ron Brown, a California entrepreneur.

At the end of the event, only a limited amount of cash was available, the rest of the payments would be made by check. I was due to receive $1,000 as the second half of my payment (this is way less than the arbiters received at Las Vegas, and in addition, I was the Chief and also had organizational duties. But it was the amount I had worked out with Ron Brown, and I was satisfied). Living in Canada, I would have no problem with a check, but several players in then-communist Eastern Europe would have difficulties: cash would be much much easier for them.

So I proposed that I be paid by cheque so that one of the Eastern European players could be paid in cash.

However, on the last day of the event, Ron Brown's assistant Simone took me aside and showed me $1,000 in crisp $100 bills, saying that (then FIDE president Florencio) Campomanes had told her to give it to me. I (unwisely, oh how unwisely) asked her to give it back to Campo and that, again, an Eastern European such as Gabor Kallai could get cash.

I don't know what happened to the cash I gave back, but Kallai got a check. He declared his winnings to the Hungarian government, which took, oh, 50% of it in taxes. However, the check bounced, and the Hungarian government didn't just say "OK, pay us when you get it", but dunned him for the money that he didn't have. He was in deep trouble and only after an impassioned letter from Kallai was published in "New in Chess" did FIDE make good his prize.

My check also bounced, but FIDE refused to make it good. The matter eventually went to the FIDE Congress (thanks to Canada's then FIDE representative Nathan Divinsky for bringing it forward), and I guess they thought I was too altruistic to be paid. They said I shouldn't have returned the money.

The connection between FIDE and Kirsan's "World Chess Foundation" may be closer than the one between FIDE and Ron Brown's organization, but there is a precedent to officials not being paid.

My own taxes didn't come due for a few months and by that time I could see the writing on the wall, so I wrote off the $1,000 as a "bad debt". However, if FIDE would like pay me the money, with eleven years' accrued interest, I'm sure I could work out the paper difficulties with our beloved Government of Canada, Department of National Revenue, Taxation.

> [snip]

> This statement was dated September 9 and the problem still has not been solved.

"Still has not been solved" ?
Sam, it's only a week and this is FIDE !

> [snip]

> Players and officials who have received the possibly bouncing
> checks were reluctant to discuss their problems on the record,
> hoping that this matter would be resolved without further
> public scandal.

"The squeaky wheel gets oiled". I tried to resolve the matter privately with Ron Brown and also with FIDE for months after the event, and only went public myself when the Kallai letter was published and the matter could not be hidden.

I didn't get any money.

In addition, although I was Chief Arbiter at two world championship events in 1988 (the World Blitz Championship in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, won by Tal ahead of, amongst others, Kasparov and Karpov, then the World Active), in the following eleven years the only offers I've received from FIDE were minor posts where, for example, I would have to pay my own transportation and receive no fee.

My advice is: if you don't shout, they won't respect you!

The final irony was that after the Mazatlan event, in my official report to the FIDE President, I recommended a change in the event's format. The event had been held as a Swiss, qualifying 8 players to knockout finals. Seeing as many players had figured from the start that +4 would qualify them, as soon as they reached that score, they started agreeing to 15-move draws amongst themselves. In games with a 30-minute time limit! What a public relations disaster! I recommended that the event be held as knockout matches, exactly what FIDE has now adopted for the world championship. Knockout isn't exactly a novelty, but it was a bold suggestion at a time when people were more worried about what the players who were knocked out in the first round would do during the rest of their stay.

Jonathan Berry

FIDE "Arbitre International" 1975
FIDE Master 1984
ICCF Grandmaster 1985

and father of the FIDE World Championship format!

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