Person of day - 3 MARCH 2023
Bachar Kouatly was born on March 3, 1958 in the capital of Syria Damascus. Soon after the Six-Day War between the Arab countries and Israel, when he was 9 years old, he went over to France (his mother is French) and then to Lebanon. He started chess in schools team competition in Lebanon in 1973.
Bachar shared fourth at the U18 World Cup in 1974, and only a defeat from the Soviet champion Evgeny Vladimirov deprived Bachar of a medal. Kouatly got the title of the international master at the zonal tournament in Tehran (Iran) at the age of 17; that time he was the youngest IM in the world. He participated in the U20 world championships three times; however, despite invariably being one of the favorites, the young man never shined. He delivered an excellent performance for Lebanon at the 1980 Olympiad.
A young chess player was noticed in France, which was then in desperate need of strong players. Kouatly immediately took the 1979 national championship and made a draw with Garry Kasparov at the World Student Championship in Graz (1981)! His triumph in the West Asian (including India) championship qualified him for the Interzonal tournament in 1982. He has university diplomas in Political Science (1980) and Energy Economics (1981).
Bachar Kouatly performed for the French national team at the 1982, 1984, 1986, 1988 and 1992 Olympiads. Shortly after the French Chess Federation was joined by Boris Spassky, under the leadership of which the French masters took 7th place at the 1984 Nations Tournament and qualified for the World Championship (1985). On winning tournaments in Kolhapur (1987) and Ausburg (1989), Kouatly became the first French and Arab grandmaster and was awarded this title in 1989.
Bachar has been part of the organizational chess work in France since mid-1980s. His efforts resulted in a number of high-level competitions carried out in his country; besides, Kouatly should be credited with his country’s hosting the second half of the 1990 Kasparov-Karpov match, which led to a real chess boom in the country. In many ways it is through Bachar Kouatly‘s efforts that several well-known grandmasters from the former USSR moved to France at a later stage. In 1989, he founded the Lyon-Oyonnax club, which took the French championship and the European Cup six and two times respectively. In 1990, he became vice-presidents of GMA - International Grandmaster Association.
Being one of the most prominent organizers in Europe by 1994, Bachar Kouatly was nominated for the post of FIDE president. By that time the current President Florencio Campomanes announced his not taking part in the upcoming elections, which meant that Kouatly’s main rival was Georgios Makropoulos, president of the Greek Chess Federation, who had carried out two chess Olympiads in a brilliant fashion. The 1994 Nations Tournament was also planned in Greece, but its government stepped down in an unexpected turn of events. A newly-formed government abandoned the project and failed Makropoulos, who was forced to back out of the presidential race. The Olympiad venue was shifted to Moscow thanks to the prompt reaction of Andrey Makarov, president of the Russian Chess Federation.
Backed up by Western countries and Anatoly Karpov, Kouatly’s victory seemed predetermined. Meanwhile, apprehensive of his rival’s ally coming to power in FIDE, Garry Kasparov lashed out by siding with his worst enemy, Campomanes. Hotel Cosmos turned into a real battlefield, where Florencio ended up scraping a very narrow victory.
However, Filipino’s credit of trust had been exhausted since long ago. FIDE administration lacked money to run its own championship cycle, so that the Karpov-Kamsky match was hanging by a single thread; therefore, the 1995 Congress saw Campomanes subjected to annihilating criticism from the Karpov-Kouatly tandem. A decisive clash occurred at the 1995 Congress in Paris.
“No sooner had the Central Committee meetings begun than the opposition cracked down on Campomanes. Sharp criticism was voiced by the Norwegian Morten Sand, the continental president of FIDE in Europe, the Austrian Kurt Jungwirth, and president of the German Chess Union Egon Ditt. They were universally supported by Karpov and Kouatly.
What were the claims thrown at Campomanes in the first place? Firstly, he failed the world championship matches Karpov-Kamsky. Secondly, he was elected in Moscow to successfully resolve the issue with the pending agreement between FIDE and the PCA, which he never did.
The following morning the General Assembly was due to start, and the FIDE administration was split into two camps over survival issues until late into the night. The opposition demanded that Campomanes resign voluntarily, which he resisted. According to the participants, a telephone rang in the room where negotiations were underway. On the other end of the line was Kirsan Ilyumzhinov who had just flown in Paris. He was going to put the FIDE Assembly into the picture about the preparations for the 1998 Olympiad to be carried out in the capital of Kalmykia, Elista. It was allegedly at this moment that Campomanes delivered a phrase that went down into chess history:
- This is the man for the sake of whom I am ready to resign even tomorrow!" (Yu. Averbakh).
Bachar Kouatly followed in the footsteps of Bozhidar Kazic in that he was one step away from becoming FIDE President, but falling victim to political intrigues. Future saw Kouatly in the role of a well-known organizer and journalist. In 1997, he became owner and editor of the reputable French magazine "Europe Échecs".
He was among responsible persons carrying out Children's European and World championships in the French Disneyland in 1993-1998. In 1997, in cooperation with Anatoly Karpov, he published a chess textbook for children with pictures selected from popular Disney cartoons; the book was published in large numbers and translated into as many as 22 languages; two million copies in total!
In 1998-2014, he worked largely in the field of investments. In 2016, he was elected President of the French Chess Federation. In 2018, he entered the Arkady Dvorkovich team at the FIDE Presidential elections and became the Deputy President of the International Chess Federation after the victory at the FIDE Congress in Batumi.
Bachar Kouatly is fluent in French, Arabic and English, and speaks Italian and Spanish.