WASHINGTON (Sputnik), David Burghardt — In an unusual way to put politics on the back burner, especially with US-Russian relations at extremely low levels, 60 participants from the United States, Russia and Norway faced off in a "Chess for Peace" tournament held at the Russian Embassy in Washington, DC on Saturday evening that resulted in a US federal government employee taking the main prize — two round-trip tickets to Moscow, a Sputnik correspondent reported from the tournament.
"I thought it would never work out and it's an expensive trip, it's a long way, [I]'ll have to take leave [from work], but now I'm going and as a chess player, this is where you want to go. It's a dream come true, it really is," David Sherman said after winning the tournament.
SWAPPING PING PONG FOR CHESS
The inspiration of the idea of holding the event in Washington was that of Eduard Lozansky, the president of the American University, who confessed to "stealing" the idea from former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Lozansky said that relations between Washington and Beijing in the 1970s were going through an incredibly tense period and Kissinger decided to make attempts to normalize relations and set off for China.
When Kissinger arrived in China, a game of ping pong was suggested to start off the process of ironing out the relations between the two countries.
"To say the least, relations between the Russian Federation and the United States are not very good. Perhaps we should start with a game of chess and follow China's example and Henry Kissinger's advice," Lozansky said.
THE WINNER HEADS TO MOSCOW
"I suppose [Russian President Vladimir] Putin won't put me up in the Kremlin, but I'll have a nice hotel," Sherman joked.
Sherman said he is a huge chess fan and that the possible "discovery" of his ties with Russia does not scare him at all.
"No, I don't worry about such things. People are people, politics are politics, but right now I'm a chess player so these things don't bother me at all. I've always wanted to go, out of a whole lot of places, Russia's on the top of my list," Sherman said, adding that it was his dream. "I'm a chess player, where am I supposed to go? To Tuscaloosa, Alabama? No, I go to Russia."
Second place in the chess tournament was taken by Nethrlands' Allard Postma, who received a chessboard signed by the reigning chess master Magnus Carlsen.
GREAT CHESS POWERS
Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergei Kislyak said he fully supported Lozansky's idea of organizing the chess tournament, as did Norwegian Ambassador Kare Aas.
"Norway and Russia are currently two of the greatest chess countries. And if we can do anything in order to make chess popular, then that is pretty good in itself. And secondly, it seems to me, that such an event where normal people with a great attitude and friendly relations with one another gather, then this is rare in the current political conditions and this needs to be rebuilt," Kislyak said.
According to Kislyak, "this is a positive and nice event that among other things brings people from many countries together: here there are Americans, Russians, people from other embassies and governments, here there are people who have become wise with life experience, and youngsters who are burning with desire to try themselves at chess."
"Russia has all the moral rights to be the initiator of such an event here. I would really hope that this will become an annual tradition. This is only the beginning," Kislyak said, adding that he hoped that Karjakin and Carlsen would be able to make the event next time and play.
Aas said the idea of organizing the event greatly differed from other events in Washington that are dominated by politics.
"This is a great idea. When we decided to organize it, my Russian colleague Ambassador Sergei Kislyak told me that this will be a good idea to bring Russians, Norwegians, Americans and others to a chess tournament. So I think this is good to do this in order also to do something else in the city mainly dominated by political issues," Aas said. "It should be an annual event. This year it's here, maybe next year it might be at the Norwegian Embassy. We could rotate."
CHESS IN WORLD POLITICS
Though Russian chess master Karjakin was not physically present at the event, he sent a video in which he stated his support for the "role of chess in world politics."
"I believe that chess unites people very well. You know, people from various nationalities, religious beliefs, and ages play chess. Chess really does unite because these people sit down at the board and decide who's the best. All the bad things, all the conflicts, that's all gone, the people just sit and play," Karjakin said in his video address.
"But during the game I started to notice their feelings towards me were changing, because everything was being decided at the board, the game was completely honest, and by the end of it I felt that an entire army of fans from the United States had appeared, though at the beginning this would be hard to imagine. So let's play chess, live friendly without conflicts, and let chess unite us all!" Karjakin concluded.