Dubai projects, UAE, International Chess City

What happened to plans for Dubai's International Chess City?

As part of Arabian Business's ongoing summer series, which looks back at some of the most extraordinary proposals pitched in Dubai and the wider region, this week's focus explored International Chess City.

The project was the brainchild of Kirsan Ilumjinov, former president of the Russian republic of Kalmykia, who announced the project while on a visit to Dubai in August 2004.

According to a report by The Khaleej Times, the project was to include 32 buildings in the shape of pieces from a chessboard. The largest towers - in the shape of the king piece - would stand 64 storeys tall and the city's buildings would be marked out in the traditional black and white design of the board.

The entire city was to cover an estimated 64,000m2 and Ilumjinov claimed the project could generate investment of up to AED9.6 billion ($2.6 billion).

Ilumjinov, who was also president of the World Chess Federation at the time, said he had picked Dubai as the location for the project because of the city’s “international reputation as a place where imaginative projects such as the International Chess City can come to life”.

“Dubai will play host to over 60 million amateur and professional chess followers from around the globe annually. They will have a permanent venue where they can congregate and play 24-hour championships throughout the year, while some other 500 million lovers of the game will have the chance to follow the excitement via interactive electronic screens,” he added.

While Ilumjinov claimed that work on the project was underway, nothing happened until the project was raised again in 2006, according to a 2015 article on the project by Esquire Middle East magazine.

Ilumjinov was president of the World Chess Federation from 1995 until he departed in 2018.

“I am afraid I have no first-hand information about the chess city in Dubai,” a spokesperson for the World Chess Federation said when contacted by Arabian Business.

Early reports claimed that Dubai’s Armada Group had been involved in the project, but attempts to contact them have also proved fruitless.

Ilumjinov himself has not responded to attempts to contact him through his official website.

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