Double standards in world chess
FIDÉ, the governing body of world chess, is now riven with contradictions. As I predicted, its Russian President, Arkady Dvorkovich, has been overwhelmingly re-elected at the vote in Chennai, which coincided with the relocated Chess Olympiad, or international team tournament. Originally scheduled for Moscow, everything was switched to Chennai at virtually the last minute, and by all accounts, it was an organisational triumph.
Although governments around the world, as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, have called for all sporting and competitive connections with Russia to be severed, including a ban on Russian officials taking high office in global institutions, the world chess body blithely ignored any such pleas where the top job was concerned.
This has led to an amazing outbreak of double standards. The world’s top chess authorities had already voted to rebuke Russia for its egregious invasion of Ukraine. As we have seen, Moscow was instantly deprived of the Olympiad. Then there came a unanimous decision by FIDÉ to ban Russians from competing under their own flag, which meant that there was no Russian team in Chennai.
This was extraordinary, not just because it sidelined Russia from the game it had previously dominated, but because of who led the chess world in repudiating Russia. It was none other than the former Russian Deputy Prime Minister, since 2018 President of FIDÉ, Arkady Dvorkovich.
At first Dvorkovich appeared to oppose the Ukraine war, then in an apparent volte face, after threats and criticism from pro-Putin officials, whom he had previously been honourable enough to defy, Dvorkovich changed his tune. The Times subsequently quoted him (speaking to the Skolkova Foundation, a Moscow tech centre) suggesting, “…that the war against Ukraine was a campaign against Fascism”, echoing the claim Moscow made as a pretext for invasion. He continued, “…I, like all post-war children, was brought up on patriotism…and hatred of Nazism. I am sincerely proud of the courage of our soldiers, who at all times defended their homeland and freedom.”
Universal revulsion against Dvorkovich’s support for the war resulted in a surge of demands for his removal as FIDÉ President, since such comments, as we have seen, are evidently incompatible with the precepts of his position as global leader for international chess.
Sergey Karjakin, alarmingly a former Ukrainian, and now one of Russia’s top Grandmasters, has, for example, been suspended from playing in FIDÉ’s top international tournaments for making pro war statements. It should be said that not all top Russian chess players feel the same, with over 40 signing an open letter to Putin to end the war.
Dvorkovich, clearly unwilling to surrender the presidency, struck back by enlisting the hugely popular Indian former world champion, Vishy Anand, as his Deputy President and running mate. With the election being held in Chennai, this cunning move guaranteed victory.
Thus we now witness an unedifying situation where Russia has been deprived of the Olympiad, the Russian team and at least one individual has been banned, while the President himself, a pro-Putin Russian, has been enthusiastically re-elected to the post of ultimate power. Meanwhile, FIDÉ’s conscience, England’s Nigel Short, has been systematically consigned to oblivion.
As regular readers of this column will know, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, I had hoped that Nigel might successfully stand himself as President. It was not to be.
Nigel Short progressed from being a talented pre-teenager, with meteoric brilliance, to rank as the greatest British chess player in the modern history of the game. He has reached a world ranking of number three and has been the inspirational leader of the grandmaster-packed English team, spearheading them to three Olympic silver medals, behind only the hitherto dominant Russians.
The highlight of Nigel Short’s career was his victorious challenge in April 1992, to the living chess legend, Anatoly Karpov, in the semi-final of the World Chess Championship Qualifying Competition. Having taken advantage of Bobby Fischer’s refusal to defend his title, Karpov had, of course, wielded the world sceptre for a decade (1975-1985), until he was deposed by Garry Kasparov.
Defeating Karpov elevated Short to the pinnacle of world chess, a position he reinforced in January 1993 by his victory over the formidably talented Dutch Grandmaster, Jan Timman, in the final of the World Championship Qualifying Competition; a result which enabled Nigel to challenge Garry Kasparov himself in a match for the World Championship Title. Sponsored by The Times newspaper, this challenge took place in 1993 and resulted in honourable defeat for Short. It should, though, be remembered that no native-born British player had ever come that close to world domination, since the Victorian polymath, Shakespeare scholar and educationalist, Howard Staunton had demolished all the leading players of Paris and Berlin in three glorious years between 1843 and 1846.
Leveraging his reputation as a super Grandmaster to enter chess politics, in 2018 Short made adroit use of his status to seek election as President of FIDÉ. Disgracefully, the English Chess Federation failed to support him and, sadly, even obstructed his campaign. Nevertheless, Nigel emerged from the electoral process with the glittering prize of FIDÉ Vice President as his reward. At that time, Short and Dvorkovich were close allies, both seemingly united in their determination to cleanse the Augean Stables of corrupt previous administrations, which had run FIDÉ for their own benefit for an astonishing thirty six years.
Sadly, just before the election in Chennai, Nigel was suspended by FIDÉ from his role as Vice President as a result of his campaign of criticism against the incumbent chess authorities in the US Virgin Islands. One might say De minimis non curat lex, and in chess terms one does not become much more minimis than the USVI. Nigel, however, has always been motivated by a strong sense of principle; but by doggedly pursuing his case he appears to have offended vested, indeed recidivist, FIDÉ interests, who duly exacted their pound of flesh. In spite of subsequent vindication by the IOC, Nigel has neither been reinstated as Vice President, nor offered a new sphere of activity. One cannot help suspect that the current regime is now cosying up to what Short has alleged to be its kleptocratic predecessor and that the reborn pro-Putin Dvorkovich was only too happy to be rid of his turbulent crusader for probity in chess governance.
Last Saturday, on behalf of the Brain Trust Charity, I gave a simultaneous chess display against twenty opponents in the Shrewsbury House Community Centre, Bushmoor Crescent, Shooters Hill, London, to raise funds for Ukrainian refugees, fleeing from Russian aggression. I was ably assisted in this worthy task by an unusually active David Sedgwick, multi-disciplinary Mind Sports Arbiter and Chief Umpire for the World Chess Tour series of elite tournaments, whose role as arbiter was much in demand that afternoon. There is a substantial Ukrainian community already well established in Lewisham and most of my opponents were of Ukrainian origin. I urge readers to donate generously to the cause, which they can do by directly contacting the organisers Carmel and Sujan at any of the following email addresses:
This week’s game link is to a personal encounter against Leonid Stein, whom I consider to be the greatest ever Ukrainian Grandmaster. Stein notched up wins against five world champions: Bovinnik, Tal, Smyslov, Spassky and Petrosian: Raymond Keene vs Leonid Stein (1968)
Raymond Keene ’ s latest book “ Fifty Shades of Ray: Chess in the year of the Coronavirus ” , containing some of his best pieces from TheArticle, is now available from Blackwell ’ s .
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