Leave it to Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the wacky head of the international chess federation (who claims he was once spirited away in a yellow space ship and believes that chess came from outer space), is now advancing a novel argument for why chess should be an Olympic sport. “Isn’t it absurd that chess on ice is an Olympic sport,” Ilyumzhinov said, and ‘mere’ chess is not?” In fact, he said, he is thinking of suing the International Olympic Commission to get iceless chess into the Olympics.
Huh? Come again, please. It turns out that curling—a sport, played on ice with granite stones and brooms, of which most Americans have only the dimmest awareness—has long been known as “chess on ice,” just as chess itself has long been called “the royal game.” Here, for example, from The New York Times: “‘Curling is often called chess on ice,’ said Chris Moore, 50, a banker in Cleveland who has been curling for more than 35 years. ‘It’s intellectually challenging because all the strategy involved requires you to think four or five moves ahead. And it demands accuracy and finesse. Many times a game comes down to hitting a square inch from over 120 feet away.”
Aside from the linguistic argument, Ilyumzhinov makes an unspoken point: if something as weird and esoteric (in terms of lack of mass appeal) as grown men playing with brooms on ice qualifies as a sport, chess surely should too.
Naturally, the curling blogs are amused by Ilyumzhinov’s position: “Chess on ice. Bah.”
I, for one, think curling is cool, and I’m trying to find a place in New York where my Canadian friends and I can try out the sport.