Person of day - 22 FEBRUARY 2024
Florencio Basa Campomanes began as a practical player. After graduating from the politics faculty of the University of the Philippines, he finished his education in America. From 1948 to 1951, he studied at Brown University in Rhode Island and then he enrolled at the doctorate program of Georgetown University in Washington. FIDE’s future president devoted all his spare time to his favourite game and he returned home as a formidable player. The Philippine player even split 2dn place in New York’s state championship with the venerable Edmar Mendis.
Florencio Campomanes became the first Philippine master and won the national championship twice. He represented his country at five Olympiads. With Campomanes, the Philippines team first advanced from “C” Final to “A” Final. After finishing his playing career, he was elected as the Philippines’ delegate to the Asian Chess Federation and he gradually made a name for himself by organizing large competitions.
He worked in journalism for a while, before shooting chess scenes for broadcasting. After his election as the President of the Asian Chess Federation, he concentrated all his attention on politics.
Campomanes’ friendship with dictator Ferdinand Marcos played a huge role in his career. Having usurped power, Marcos announced a program to create a “New Society- A Society of Equality” and a “New Social Orientation” to improve the lives of low-income citizens through land reform, employment and increased income. Chess fit into this conception beautifully.
Soon, Marcos released supporters of the Philippine communist party, which was previously banned, from jail and established diplomatic relations with the USSR. This enabled Campomanes to make a serious move in his fight for power- he organized a match for the world championship between Anatoly Karpov and Viktor Korchnoi in 1978. Before the start of the contest, Korchnoi naively believed that the competitors would do battle on equal terms in faraway Philippines, but Campomanes supported Karpov during the match. The chess government of the USSR recognised this step.
In 1982, another Presidential election took place in FIDE. The Soviet chess federation was unhappy with the incumbent President, Friðrik Ólafsson, who openly supported the “defector” Korchnoi. The Yugoslav administrator Kazic-Bozgidar was a very popular figure, but, behind the scenes, the nations in the Soviet bloc agreed to support Campomanes unanimously and their support, in addition to the support of Asian countries, was enough to elect him President. In The KGB Plays Chess it is claimed that Florencio was recruited by Soviet intelligence at that moment.
During Florencio Campomanes’ presidency between 1982 and 1985, chess’ popularity rose and FIDE was joined by over 50 new nations. But, alongside that, one of his most controversial decisions as FIDE President was the cancellation of the match for the world championship between Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov in 1985. The split of the chess world in 1993 and bitter conflicts with the two “Ks”- first with Kasparov, then with Karpov- undermined Campomanes’ authority. In 1995, he was forced to hand over the presidency to Kirsan Ilyumzhinov but he remained FIDE Honorary President.
The last big competition to be organized by Campomanes was the 1992 Olympiad in the Philippines- the first one after the collapse of the USSR. Marcos’ regime had already fallen, but thanks to Florencio’s efforts, chess remained popular in the Philippines and a plead of strong players emerged from that country. Alas, that tournament would come to haunt the President- 10 years later, the committee for economic crimes almost found him guilty of embezzling 13 million pesos. Florencio was arrested for some time, but he managed to prove his innocence.
Nonetheless, the process had an adverse effect on Campomanes’ health- from 2007, he was in intense therapy and in 2010 he passed away at the age of 83.