The election campaign has plot elements worthy of a Le Carré novel: double-crosses and allegations of stolen secret documents and self-dealing.

At stake is not the leadership of some country but the presidency of a fairly obscure organization that presides over the World Chess Federation. The body oversees international chess championships and controls tournaments and sponsorship deals worth millions of dollars and championships that are the grail of nationalistic aspirations.

The characters also seem drawn from fiction. There is a former chess champion turned Russian opposition leader; a former president of an obscure Russian republic (Kalmykia) who believes that he was abducted by extraterrestrials in yellow suits who invented the game of chess; and an ex-fashion photographer turned chess official who would like the first two to be disqualified so that he can take over.

The latest intrigue revolves around corruption allegations by the two candidates for the federation’s presidency, Garry Kasparov, the former champion, and Federation President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the self-described space-alien abductee.

The world of organized chess has been rife with rumors of corruption for decades. What has rocked even the jaded chess world this time are signed contracts posted online that each candidate contends proves dirty dealing by the other.

Kasparov and others in the chess world have long accused Ilyumzhinov of corruption. But there was never anything that resembled proof until two weeks ago, when a memo was leaked to the Sunday Times of London and various chess news websites. In the memo, Ilyumzhinov and Andrew Paulson, the ex-fashion photographer, agreed to divvy up any profits of a new company created to stage the world’s premier chess events. And just three weeks ago, a leaked draft of another contract, between Kasparov and Ignatius Leong, the general secretary of the federation, shows what appears to be a vote-buying scheme for the federation’s presidential election this August.

New York Times