One Bridge Too Far

[The following article was published in New in Chess Magazine, 1986, No. 8. It became an issue in the 1996 election campaign for United States Chess Federation President, as Donald D. Schultz, a candidate, had voted to have International Master Ricardo Calvo declared "persona non-grata" by the World Chess Federation for writing this article.]

One Bridge Too Far

by Ricardo Calvo

To summarize the fight between Lucena and Campomanes for the presidency of Fide I cannot avoid remembering a well known film: In the second World War allied troops tried to conquer three consecutive bridges. Exactly the same as in this episode, the Kasparov forces were sufficient to conquer brilliantly the first bridge, which was the World Chess Championship. They did it however out of schedule, and the delay proved to be a decisive factor in the next two objectives. The second bridge was the Soviet Chess Federation. Here, the enemy forces have seen Kasparov approach, and even if they lost the Bridge (Sebastianov and some of his aids were substituted), they managed to build up some resistance, and several minor fortresses of this system could not be taken and kept the invaders under continuous fire. Krogius and the people in the Sports Committee have not yet (and possibly never will) surrender to Kasparov's offensive.

The third bridge (in the film the one at Arnhem) was Fide and its captain Campomanes. Here the defenders have had a lot of time to prepare, hold a superior strategic position, their troops were well trained and equipped, with no logistical difficulties for fresh supplies. The result of this third battle is known: The bridge remained in tact in the hands of the enemy, due to the decisive support at the critical moment of the battle by a division of tanks coming from the second bridge. Lucena capitulated, to avoid a massacre.

Since I have participated actively in the third battle, as a direct adviser of Lucena, I can give a personal view of what happened. I have no pretensions of objectivity. Historical reports have always been a puzzle of thousands and thousands of irregular pieces, somehow interrelated but to obtain the whole picture you need time, distance and above all luck.

The story began in London, in August, during the first part of the third Karpov-Kasparov clash. Under the (questionable) assumption that Kasparov represented the Truth, and the (even more questionable) that Truth always triumphs, a worldwide campaign was quickly designed. The funds were provided by private means, and Lincoln Lucena started vaccinating himself against all tropical diseases and applying for visas to many countries in Africa, the Caribbean, Central America, Asia, Australia, and Oceana, carefully selected before his landing in Dubai the 14th of November. Ray Keene was to visit the Caribbean part of the British Empire, the flying Dutchman Timman several obscure federations in Africa, and I was sent to Latin America. My only weapon was a letter by Gary Kasparov giving me full powers to arrange a tour of simuls, exhibitions and lectures to most Latin American countries. It opened me, as expected, even the iron doors of the most reluctant pro-Campomanes federations, and so I had at least the opportunity to talk.

I started at the 21st of September (that is, before the first bridge was taken) in an overbooked flight Madrid-Rio de Janeiro and the total picture of surprises, incidents, accidents and experiences is impossible to summarize. A few sentences for each country: In Brazil I had to perform a painful surgical correction. The Fide delegate was intending to apply for the post of Deputy President, and I had to talk him out of linking his aspirations with our support, because two members of the same federation would be too much, even under Campomanes rules. Paraguay's chess federation has been for many, many years, in the conservative hands of a group of Strossner supporters, with the brilliant results the world knows. The best player, Zanon Franco, has been practically expelled from the country. Several times chess events have been arranged by a rival chess group, but even if its leader was married with the daughter of President Strossner, he was unable to obtain the approval of his father in law in order to represent Paraguayan chess in Dubai. The officials in charge, needless to say, had tickets paid by the Arabs and were enthusiastic supporters of Campomanes.

Uruguay was a pleasant surprise, with a democratic federation in which chess players actively participate. Obviously, they were natural supporters of the Kasparov-Lucena flag. They were a helping hand even in Dubai. Argentina did not cry for us, but if so, she would have plenty of reasons. The chess federation is run by a small group of persons in the best 'Mafia' style, and even the calming chorus of voices from Najdorf, Quinteros, Larsen and a large etc. is helpless. An official, Giannotti, was already appointed arbiter at the Olympiad (and he is not an international arbiter of course), and Noguues has been nominated after the elections in Dubai for the Executive Council of Fide.

Before entering Pinochet's Chile I put Kasparov's letter well hidden in the bottom of my case, but it didn't help in my talks with the president of the chess federation. After a long and disgusting discussion, it became clear to me that when nature put an ocean and a big chain of mountains between us two it was a wise decision to which I am extremely grateful.

The legitimate Bolivian chess federation was in the city of Cochabamba for the period 1985-1987, according to an official statement by the Ministry of Sports. But a pro-Campo group engineered a coup, and obtained at the end the tickets and a 'de facto' representation. The president in Cochabamba foresaw this, and gave me a proxy with full powers. It caused an open conflict in the General Assembly in Dubai, irrelevant to the result.

Peru, Ecuador and Colombia suffer from the same evils. There is a lot of possibilities of chess events, talented players, active circles. But internal fighting and official ineptitude paralyze everything. Sometimes it seemed to me that in the whole country there was only one single person favoring Campomanes, but in each case, this person was in charge of the delegation and with the tickets in his hands. Prestigious Fide delegates were helpless for various reasons: In Peru, Aaron Goldenberg declined to come to Dubai, needless to say why. In Ecuador Paul Klein was very ill, and it took me a trip to the other end of the hemisphere to learn with horror that the man in charge had spent in Guayaquil three days and three nights with Campomanes, the year before, a chess directive in Ecuador still keeps in his safe a written confession of his sins signed by the man, the one who was going to vote for Campomanes. Sometimes, in Dubai, I was tempted to use this, but in general I intended in this campaign to behave properly, though it was extremely difficult at certain moments. About Colombia, I prefer not to talk.

Venezuela had a new chess president, a delightful old woman called Adalgisa de Briceno. She was physically beaten during her campaign by her rival, a pro Campomanes man. In Dubai, she wore an orthopedic collar around her neck, because of vertebral injuries. Chess is not a pacific game any more.

Panama has no official chess federation, but there is a man accepted as representative by Fide. He runs a club for Chess and Back-Gammon and intends with a certain touch of desperation, to make it profitable. He was a Campo man. On the contrary, Costa Rica, where Lincoln Lucena and I met, fell completely into our arms. We jumped then to Guatemala, where the Juarez clan (four brothers in the Olympic team and a Juarez as president of the chess federation) was so interested in a simul with Kasparov that they agreed to vote for Lucena in principle. This was extremely important at this point, because six Central American countries had decided to vote together, and we therefore had two out of three. We got also a very positive impression after our visit to Republica Dominicana and Haiti, so that when we arrived at Havana to meet Jiminez, a well known pro Campomanes man, we were able to make him clear that he could not underestimate our chances, and we enjoyed asking him the tricky question whether he was or was not in favor of Kasparov. In Mexico, a simul by Kasparov would give us the vote. Lucena and I separated here, and I went alone to Honduras where the talks were inconclusive. El Salvador supported us because I promised that in case of victory Kasparov would give a simul, free of charge, to the victims of the recent earthquake. For the man in charge of the federation of Nicaragua, (his name is Hamlet Danilo) the question was to be or not to be in good terms with his neighbors, also in chess, so he would accept the majority opinion of the Central American group, at this point already tilted to us in spite of Campomanes previous efforts. This quick campaign (I was only two days in each country) convinced us that in the Latin American board we had at least a draw, so our chances of fighting the elections successfully became more and more real.


When Keene, Levy, Lucena and I met for the first time, we had first of all to overcome shock. The Arabs had sent free tickets to almost seventy carefully selected countries. The excuse of helping poor people was untenable. For instance, Spain received free tickets, but Portugal did not.

We went on with the campaign, talking with the delegates, arranging meetings, writing statements or translating documents. By far, the most effective weapon was Kasparov himself. Her met every day with a group of selected delegates, in an open discussion lasting till 2 or 3 a.m. He was terrific, brilliant, extremely convincing. I firmly believed that he alone could have won the election, regardless of the Soviet vote if he had time to talk continuously to the delegates.

But unfortunately he had to play chess as well, and prepare carefully the game with the Soviet team, which was very insecure from the beginning. The talks exhausted him, and meanwhile, the Soviet chess federation, (the second bridge) had not yet supported his position openly. So his attempt to make an arrangement with Campomanes was understandable, even if it interrupted the campaign for several days.

The loss of a game against Seirawan aggravated the situation. At this moment the battle was still uncertain. Some twenty votes were undefined, including the Soviet one. Each side had more or less fifty votes, with a small number fluctuating from day to day, because the intention to vote is a fluid state of mind in most of the cases. So, it was clear that the Soviet vote would decide. This was day -3. The Soviet delegation announced officially its support to Campomanes only hours before the new president, Alexander Chikvaitze, landed in Dubai. From this moment on, a snowball of heroic voters who wanted to help the winner grew and grew, so that the day before the election no one dared, during a big dinner, to sit at the table where Lucena and I were seated. It was an elegant gesture from Mr. Littorin, president of the European Chess Union, to cross the big Saal and to invite us to join the European delegates.

The rest is known. I have tried to understand why. I have seen that many countries have so many problems that to speak about purity in elections of a chess federation seems almost a joke. There is an atrocious civil war in many of these countries, and most Europeans simply do not realize how cruel this can be. There are also open veins in the economy of these regions, where a girl must become a prostitute from fourteen years on, or a boy must become a policeman or a soldier of the dictator if they want to survive. In these situations, chess delegates are delighted with a small piece of the big cake of money, or power, or traveling away from their unhappy surroundings. They are grateful for a free ticket, or a good meal, or oh my God, the possibility of a post in Fide, with a beautiful flag over an international table. I believe that this is the kind of people who have supported Campomanes.

But I have seen, in remote towns, chess players meeting for a lecture, with shining eyes when they discover the second idea of a study by Liburkin. In many chess circles, the daily work of the enthusiastic teachers has impressed me, and one is touched when the parents come with a seven year old boy with an Indian face, dressed with his best shirt, to ask to play a game against the boy, because he is talented, and not many masters have visited the town. As an emanation of these people, appear to me many Latin American delegates, clever, resourceful, trying to help Lucena and his campaign even if they must do it in a hidden manner. Because of these people, I believe that the battle is not over, and that the third bridge can be taken one day.

Ricardo Calvo
Madrid, Spain

[In 1996, I ran for President of the United States Chess Federation. I was defeated by a vote of 309 delegates to 30, with 34 protest votes. For my campaign literature, see: Sam Sloan for President of the United States Chess Federation!! For comments about hit mail, see: Hit Mailings in USCF Election Campaigns . For comments about election fraud, see: Election Fraud and Donald D. Schultz .]

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