The 7th World School Individual Chess Championship was opened on Saturday by FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. Although the tournament has no household names (unless your household contains one of the 400 children!) it certainly makes for a photogenic event. As a Krakow resident, I couldn’t miss it.
I nearly did, however. Rushing towards and across the main square it was clear that something else was afoot:
The long May weekend (May 1st and 3rd are public holidays) is usually the signal for a mass exodus, but this Sunday sees the beatification of Pope John Paul II. While 70,000 Poles are estimated to have travelled to Rome, 200,000 have made the “pilgrimage” to Krakow, the city he lived in for 40 years until his election as Pope.
A photo showed the square as it looked during a papal mass in 1981:
Still, it was another event I was rushing to get to before the 11 am starting time. From a distance, it wasn’t clear what was happening on Szczepański Square:
But up close you could recognise at least one familiar face…
Some of the participants, and other Cracovians, were taking it easy:
Tomasz Sielicki, President of the Polish Chess Federation and Deputy President of the ECU, was one of the dignitaries to make a welcoming speech.
Others mentioned the royal city of Krakow being appropriate for the royal game of chess, and the immortal game of the Polish-born Akiba Rubinstein. Then it was the turn of FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who resisted the temptation to sit on the throne.
After a short speech including the claim that chess in schools helps to produce more intelligent pupils, he declared the event officially open:
With the speeches over it was time for chess, or more precisely, Cracovia Danza’s performance of a ballet based on the poem Chess by Jan Kochanowski. The author was Poland’s first great poet (see Seamus Heaney and Stanisław Barańczak’s translation of his Laments), and the poem is elaborately constructed around a game of chess that will decide who wins the hand of a princess. For full details, including a reconstruction of the game that was even analysed by Yury Averbakh, see the comprehensive Wikipedia entry.
True, you’d have been hard pressed to follow the chess from the performance, but it was by turns gracious…
The spectators made great efforts to get as close as possible:
And even being FIDE President didn’t guarantee an unimpeded view:
It didn’t take long for a chessboard to appear. As we all know, a chess player has to be able to concentrate regardless of what’s going on around him:
Even if people appear to be levitating…
The king takes an interest:
When the game proper starts there are dramatic entrances:
And brutal moments:
For some of the chess playing audience the urge to touch the pieces was just too great :)
The paparazzi were out in force:
The game seemed to come down to bare kings…
And then everyone lived happily ever after:
When it was over there was just time for a group photo, with representatives from around 30 countries:
Some took the chance to be photographed with the performers:
Or to use their props:
Or the local landscape features:
The players had to catch a bus back to the venue to start the first round in only a few hours time (despite the morning blue skies they played to the accompaniment of thunder and torrential rain!). Live games can be viewed on the official website.
Meanwhile, back on the main square, cafe life was in full swing (with St. Mary’s Church in the background).
And the Polish bard Adam Mickiewicz and John Paul II were competing for the attention of the inevitable (or should that be inedible!?) pigeons.
You can find far more photographs from the opening ceremony at the tournament website. For instance, you can see the march that I contrived to miss!
The FIDE website also has some photos from Ilyumzhinov’s visit. Here he is, to end this report, taking an interest in Pope John Paul II: