FIDE Executive Director Nigel Freeman, the organizer of famous Bermuda parties since 1992, talked to the press-service of the Baku Chess Olympiad about holding of Bermusa parties and the one to be held in Baku.
“I think it’s a part of a human nature to have a party,” Freeman said.
Question: Now could you please tell a few words about the background of Bermuda party. When was it organized for the first time?
Answer: Well, the first one was in Malta in 1980. It was really a staircase party because what really happened is that the government of the country built low cost housing for locals, but before people moved in, those houses were occupied by the players participating in the Olympiad, so the Bermuda team decided to hold the party one night. So that’s how it first started. Then afterwards, I think it has been held in every Olympiad from then till now except for Elista, where Bermuda did not participate. However I’ve only been involved since 1992 in Manila. And roughly speaking I’ve organized all the parties ever since.
Q.: Why was the party called so, Bermuda party?
A.: Well it was Bermuda team who first did it. However until Bled we had to pay a lot of money for it, as it has always cost us something. I’d give you a history overview. In 1992 in Manila there were a lot of parties organized for players. At that time there was a lot of things going on. Now it seems that this event is the only one players get invited to, but at that time there were a few other parties as well. But the problem in Manila is that the organizer promised to get us beer and other things and didn’t. The party was about to start at ten and we got there at nine and there was nearly nothing there. So we had to grab a bit of money and rush away to the shops to buy things but we discovered that water, coca-cola and juice were far more expensive than beer. Well one famous grandmaster was caught taking a bottle of whisky out of the party rather than bringing it in. In Moscow there was another problem as the organizers wanted to charge far more for the drinks and everything else. And also the organizers were the first ones to grab all the free food and drinks and only then let the doors for the teams opened. After that we decided to run the party on different basis. Instead of buying the drinks of your own, men paid 10 euros or 10 dollars and got 2 free drinks while women got free entrance. At that time there were far less ladies at the Chess Olympiads because there were only four ladies in a team while there are 6 men in a team and there were not as many women’s team any way. Now it has got much more equal, which is quite a good thing. Then it was time for Yerevan and there was a problem there due to some political uncertainty. Bulat Asanov was very helpful to me and we managed to persuade the Armenians that this party was a good thing for all the chess players to get altogether in one place rather than to have them wandering around the town. So that was quite successful. Well then in Istanbul-2000, it was the last time where I had to go and find a place. Normally the first half of the Olympiad I tried to find a place somewhere to hold the party. It was hard, because it was in a city that I didn’t know and, secondly nobody expected to host so many people. So we had to put the deposit down which we could not get back. So we ended up paying quite a bit of money because the deposit used to be around USD 10 thousand. They simply told us – we don’t believe you are going to have 500 people or 600 people. Anyway… In Bled the organizers arranged the party by themselves for the first time.
Q.: Seems like this party is popular right now and there’s no problem proving to have five or six hundred people…
A.: In Tromso we had something like 1400 people inside and others were out. I think that altogether there were 1500-1600 people appeared at the party. The majority appeared and don’t forget that we make it for everybody, it’s not just only the players, but also volunteers, all the officials, all those involved at the Olympiad that have an accreditation badge can come in. Normally everybody has to pay, except women, however in Tromso, according to Norwegian law you couldn’t charge men only and not charge women, so they ended up not charging anybody. But normally everyone has to pay, even Kirsan Ilyumzhinov has to pay! Whoever comes from high to low – the man has to pay! And we hope that men will buy one drink and give it to the women. That’s the idea, but we still don’t know whether it works.
Q.: What’s so special about Bermuda party? Why do people like it so much? I heard that some specially flew to the Olympiad to take part in it.
A.: I think now it’s the only thing that is done for the players who can take a drink and enjoy themselves. It was moved to the first rest day and this year it will be before the only rest day. It gives people a chance to meet and relax. Everybody likes it, everybody has a good time. We had a case when certain teams said that their players can’t come, however now, when everybody knows about it it’s more relaxing. I think it’s a part of a human nature to have a party. And as I say, it has grown ridiculously from a stair party of 30-40 people into a monster of 1500-1600 people that we seem to have now. And I think that in Baku that it will be very good. Watching all sorts of people of all sorts of ages and all sorts of background getting together and enjoying themselves is a wonderful thing to see. So as soon as I am around I will make sure that this party is organized at every Olympiad.
Q.: Can you say that Bermuda party has become a real tradition.
A.: At a certain times other people tried to hold some parties. But Bermuda party is still a big one and the fact is that when they had Candidates matches in Elista, Kirsan decided he wanted to have a Bermuda party there as well. I even had to find shorts quickly. I mean every party in chess seems to be called a Bermuda party now. Then, of course, everyone wants to try Larry Ebbin’s famous Bermuda Rum Swizzles!
Q.: Many top players started to attend Bermuda Party. If I’m not mistaken the World Champion Magnus Carlsen also appeared …
A.: Yes, In Khanty-Mansiysk I also saw Karpov and Kirsan came for the first time. I thought he would only come there for a short time but he spent hours there. He wandered around, he chatted to everybody, and he sort of realized that this was a good thing. It is for everybody, players can mix up so you have players from all sorts of background, all sorts of places, all sorts of rating. Magnus is at the same party as you and I. Anyone can go and chat to him while he can go and chat to others. I don’t remember that Vishy Anand was there, but Ponomariov was there, Topalov attended the previous party and top FIDE people now come. They were not used to it beforehand but now they are all there. One thing that we are getting sure from the beginning to the end is that the party doesn’t get involved in politics so that it is opened for everybody. We also try to allow volunteers to have the same good time as chess players.
Q.: Do you allow press to come?
A.: Journalists are welcome as well, but we don’t like cameras, because we think that people should enjoy themselves without worrying that maybe pictures are taken that they might not like other people to see. People should have the right to enjoy themselves in private. We can’t stop chess players taking pictures by themselves but we don’t want professional photographers come. If they want to get in they have to leave their cameras outside. And of course I will wear my shorts!:-)
Q.: What was the best Bermuda party in your opinion?
A.: It’s very difficult to say, as different people have different ideas of what makes a good party. I enjoyed all of them. Of course it seems that I do more and more work to set it up, but ok, I’m quite used to that. But yes, I think each one had its own different flavor, different place, and a different time. We always get complaints about the music because older people say it’s too loud, younger people say it’s too old-fashioned, as far as I see the only music everyone enjoys is ABBA. There are always going to be complaints about something. Chess players are used to complain. We never make any money out of it – that’s for sure.
Q.: Can you please recall some interesting episodes or scandals?
A.: We got ourselves on the front of English newspapers with Danny Gormally in Turin. I suppose it was a bit of a scandal. Each time there’s a little problem or something, but really people are all well behaved and if somebody drinks too much, his friends see it and help them take care of him. I would rather say that there’s always a gossip at each party rather than a scandal. Perhaps it’s a bit weird to see chess players in such conditions because people think that they can’t behave in such way, they imagine them reading chess books and not entertaining themselves. It’s a place where chess players can meet and make friends much more than they would do otherwise. It brings them all together in the same place. I think that it helps the Olympiad. I think that there are some people who met at Bermuda parties and then got married. So there are romantic stories as well.
Q.: Is everything ready for Baku Olympiad Bermuda party on the 6th of September?
A.: I think that the organizers are looking forward to it. The place is chosen and all other details will be known soon.