We lost Florencio Campomanes, or “Campo”, 2 years ago, after a long illness, but why didn’t he leave us any memoirs?
Whatever you thought about him, you have to admit that the 25 years of his leadership left a real mark on chess. Vice President, President, Honorary President, a man claiming to work 8 days a week for 25 hours a day, he gave an impetus to a game which, with the exception of the “Fischer” years from 1970 to 1972, had lain in almost complete obscurity, if you don’t count the socialist countries, of course!
Campo could tell us a lot about those 25 years in power; for some a master of diplomacy, for others a master of intrigue, he forced us to laugh, be embarrassed, sputter and rage. So why didn’t he publish a book which, even if it didn’t win a Pulitzer Prize, would no doubt have become a bestseller? Ilyumzhinov on more than one occasion was ready to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for the publishing rights, but it never saw the light of day. Not a page, not a line, not a letter… nothing. Once, lounging around on the couch and holding in my hands a book titled “The KGB Plays Chess”, written by former agents Vladimir Popov and Yury Felshtinsky (published by Russel Enterprises), I noticed a few lines on page 48: “in 1978 agent Pishchenko from the third Division of the Fifth Directorate, who was attached to the Karpov delegation during his match against Korchnoi for the world title, following order of the KGB leadership, made contact with Campo”. The Russians were able to find his weaknesses: power and money. Campo was at the time dreaming of taking the place of the new FIDE President, Olafsson from Iceland. In his time that guy had also surprised an awful lot of people by being selected for the top post, while the clear favourite, Gligoric, hadn’t even managed to get past the first round. Was Campo a KGB agent? Perhaps. But then what was his mission? Let’s look at this under the microscope.
In 1976 Korchnoi asked for political asylum in Holland. The Russians wouldn’t be able to forgive him that insult for many years.
At the end of 1978 the World Championship match in the Philippines ended in a surreal atmosphere. Karpov beat Korchnoi with a score of 6-5. Campomanes was the main organiser of that contest.
In 1981 in Italy Korchnoi, under psychological pressure (the Soviet authorities had sent his son to rot in prison), didn’t manage to put up resistance in the next final match and was swept aside by his eternal rival Karpov with a score of 6-2. Campo was the FIDE Vice President, but had nothing to do with the organisation of the match. The chapter of the book which talks about what happened in Merano inspires fear – according to the authors, the Soviets on this occasion were prepared for everything, even to the extent of having a syringe with lethal poison in case Korchnoi got the best of Brezhnev’s favourite!
In 1982 Campo was, as promised, elected FIDE President, in part due to the support of the countries which were under Soviet influence. He beat the preceding president almost without a struggle.
In 1983 the Soviet authorities forced their young prodigy from Baku, Garry Kasparov, to refuse to take part in the semi-final match of the Candidates against the terrible Korchnoi. The city of Pasadena (USA) was responsible for the organisation and it wasn’t, of course, subject to external control. A mistake, or did the Russians really think that Kasparov was a great danger for the Kremlin’s protégé; and removing him in that manner wouldn’t be so evident? The Kremlin couldn’t decide itself; and Campo convinced the FIDE leadership to give Kasparov one more chance… in London. Korchnoi agreed to the deal on the condition that the Russians removed the boycott they’d declared on him seven years ago. The agreement turned out to be fatal, as he lost the match.
1984, Karpov plays the final match of the World Championship against Kasparov in Moscow. He was winning confidently 4-0 at the start, then 5-0 (they were playing up to 6 wins), when suddenly the machine broke down and the young challenger narrowed the score to 5-3… Karpov had become a real concern. There was panic in the Kremlin and it was hard to imagine the party and Karpov losing face. They called Campo and demanded he averted the worst. Campo convened the FIDE leadership and after a few days’ tug of war he announced a halt to the match. The new contest was supposed to start the followed year with a score of 0-0 – something unprecedented in the history of sporting events.
1985, FIDE chooses Moscow to hold the new match, although Kasparov had a preference for Leningrad. The match started from zero and was limited to 24 games. It’s hard to say if those new rules were imposed by the Soviets. It’s clear that Karpov was the favourite in a short match, but it didn’t all go to plan; and Kasparov won the first game. After many twists and turns the 24 games turned into a question of life or death for Karpov. To win or to die.
A few hours later the beginning of the end arrived, and on the 42nd move Karpov resigned the game and his World Championship title. The Soviet Chess Federation also suffered a serious blow, as the arrival of perestroika meant the secret funds allocated by the government were going to become more and more of a rarity, while the internal struggle between the supporters of Karpov and Kasparov reduced them to a minimum. Of course, it’s difficult now, after the departure of Campo, to understand his motivation. Power? Perhaps, until 1982 he dreamt about it, but then? Money? Another of the president’s weaknesses. After all, you need to know that until the end of the 80s that post in FIDE wasn’t even paid… Campo had a big family, a few women and children; the Presidential Council and his political enemies criticised him for mixing up FIDE’s bank account with his own. In short, the Russians’ demands and money were still very relevant.
It’s possible, at the end of the day, that Campomanes’ choices proved to be the best. As he always said “there’s no such thing as bad publicity, the main thing is that they talk about you”; Kasparov became a hero in the West, Korchnoi extended his career for another 20 years, FIDE increased the number of its federation members from 100 to 160, and Karpov and Kasparov became great friends. Of course, there’s not enough money in chess, but then you’ll always find a couple of suckers to throw a few million dollars into chess before it disappears. In general, is there really so much to complain about?
Was Campomanes a KGB agent?