Who will be king? Three-way battle for control rocks international chess – The Guardian


Candidates are feuding bitterly before a vote marred by accusations of vote-buying, “fake news” and Russian meddling. It may sound like Brexit or a US election, but this is an arguably thornier issue: a three-way battle for control over international chess.

The Greek acting president of the World Chess Federation (Fide), Georgios Makropoulos, has been accused of currying favour from cash-strapped federations. He in turn has accused Russian newcomer Arkady Dvorkovich, a former Kremlin aide, of using Moscow’s influence across the globe to mount an upset campaign.

The third candidate in Fide’s October presidential vote is Nigel Short, a punchy British grandmaster running on an anti-corruption ticket, who has nevertheless riled many in the sport.

The Russian bid sees one of the Kremlin’s most capable and modern lieutenants unleashed on a sport that, frankly, seems small fry for him. Dvorkovich was Russian deputy prime minister for six years and chaired Russia’s World Cup organising committee, which spent an estimated £10bn on the tournament. By contrast, the Fide’s annual budget is just £2.3m.





Arkady Dvorkovich, Nigel Short and Georgios Makropoulos.



Dark knights, left to right: Arkady Dvorkovich, Nigel Short, Georgios Makropoulos. Composite: Alamy, Getty

But the bid makes sense considering the importance of chess in the country and Russia’s traditional dominance of the federation, one of just a few where Moscow has recently held control.

The Russian operation, as described in leaked letters, media reports, and conversations with chess officials, is astounding for such a small sport.

Among the accusations: in a private meeting, Vladimir Putin urged Benjamin Netanyahu to sway the Israeli chess federation’s vote, according to a letter from the Israeli foreign ministry leaked to journalists and seen by the Guardian.

African and other chess officials appeared at Russia’s World Cup with complimentary tickets (Dvorkovich has said they were not in exchange for votes) and South American chess federations have received letters from Russian diplomats, urging them to back Dvorkovich in the coming elections.

European chess officials in three countries also described to the Guardian invitations to meet with Russian diplomats to discuss the elections.

“It could definitely be enough” to turn the election, said Adrian Siegel, Fide’s treasurer and a member of Makropoulos’s ticket, estimating at least 30 chess federations have been contacted by Russian officials. With a complex vote system allowing a three-way run-off, the race remains too close to call.

Four years ago, it was Makropoulos, known for his iron grip over the organisation, who was facing claims that his ticket was benefitting from Russian support against chess master and political dissident Garry Kasparov.

Observers of the game say the October vote is a chance for change after a generation of the sport being dominated by the eccentric Russian businessman Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. He was forced out earlier this year after being sanctioned by the US for his ties to Bashar al-Assad, leading to Fide’s Swiss bank accounts being frozen.

There remain deep reservations over how chess is run today. As one popular joke goes: it’s like Fifa, just lop off a few zeros.

“The sport has been deeply lacking in transparency and professionalism,” said Peter Doggers, a reporter and director of content for Chess.com, who has covered Fide’s internal politics and the elections campaign closely. “It is a question: why hasn’t chess gotten bigger? We’ve had so many missed opportunities.”

Ilya Merenzon, the Russian public relations veteran who runs World Chess and holds an exclusive contract to organise Fide competitions, imagines the sport as arty and intellectual, but also seems keen to add a dash of sex. A logo for the 2018 championships, which resembled two bodies entangled over a chess board in a pose reminiscent of the kama sutra, went viral after it was described as “pawnographic”.

From a Stalin-era skyscraper in Moscow, his young team of planners are working on chess’s premier event: a championship match in London on Southampton Row between superstar Magnus Carlsen and American challenger Fabiano Caruana.

He imagines championship chess as a “billion-dollar business, based on digital”, and says that World Chess, which held the 2016 championships in New York, has “made the sport cool again.”

Critics have faulted World Chess’s planning of other tournaments and say that Merenzon is inflating the sport’s reach and financial potential.

His contract to organise competitions, which also includes media and marketing rights, is one of the controversies in a sport that, when it comes to international level, punches below its weight. Prize money for championship chess matches has decreased in the last decade. Carlsen and Caruana are expected to split €1 million, the minimum allowed by Fide.

“We’ve sold the crown jewels,” said Short, who has promised to rip up World Chess’s contract if he is voted in.

Short has positioned himself as an anti-corruption candidate, saying the sport has scared off international sponsors because of its lack of transparency.

“Many of the sponsors are tied to Russian businessmen and that’s been true since Agon took over really,” said Ian Rogers, an Australian grandmaster and chess journalist, referring to Merenzon’s company. Partners for the 2018 championship match include PhosAgro, a Russian fertilizer company and Kaspersky Lab, the Russian cybersecurity company.

Merenzon says he’s made the business of chess more transparent since he bought Agon, including by moving the company from Jersey to London.

While reform is the buzzword of this year’s elections, Short remains a dark horse. “He’s pissed too many people off, some might not vote for him for personal reasons,” said Rogers.

A commonly cited example was his Sunday Telegraph obituary for rival Tony Miles, where he wrote that he had “obtained a measure of revenge not only by eclipsing Tony in terms of chess performance but also by sleeping with his girlfriend”.

Short believes his opponents are slinging mud.

“These guys don’t have a skeleton in their cupboards, they’ve got entire graveyards of skeletons,” Short said. “They try to hit me with whatever they can find.”

Chess observers say that, putting the Russian connection aside, Dvorkovich has a reputation as a capable bureaucrat with a cleaner reputation than Makropoulos, who was closely tied to Ilyumzhinov.

Perhaps sensing it is losing ground, Makropoulos’s campaign has sought to use Russian interference as a wedge issue against Short.

“Will you condemn Russian Govt interference in the election? Are you working with @advorkovich? would you rather he wins because as we all know and on your own admission you have no chance,” Malcolm Pein, a member of Makropoulos’s ticket, asked Short on Twitter recently.

The vote will take place in October in Batumi, Georgia.



Russian Chess Championship Superfinal In 6-Way Tie – Chess.com


After six rounds, the Russian Superfinal open championship is a six-way tie.

In the women’s championship, two leaders on a plus-two score are followed by five more on plus-one.

The outcome of both competitions remains unpredictable. The total prize fund is nine million rubles (~$133,000) and two Renault Capture automobiles, one each for the winners of the open and the women’s superfinal.

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The panorama of Satka. | Photo: сатка.рф.

This year the superfinal tournaments take place at Satka, a small town in Ural region, close to the geographical center of Russia.

It is hard to explain the decision of the Russian Chess Federation to schedule the event for the same days as Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis, denying the chance to compete for the Grand Chess Tour participants Alexander Grischuk, Sergey Karjakin, and Peter Svidler, the eight-time and reigning Russian champion.

Despite their absence, the open tournament is very strong, including six players rated above 2700. 

As in St. Petersburg 2017, Daniil Dubov, the recent winner of Abu-Dhabi Masters, started with a sparkle. In rounds three and four he won twice with Black in under 30 moves. Dubov claims that he is usually well-prepared theoretically and for him the starting 90 minutes of the game is a good time to relax on cozy sofas in the restroom, while his opponents deal with opening problems. In his very complicated game vs Ernesto Inarkiev, both players spent almost all their time on first 20 moves, but then it took Dubov just 15 seconds to make the decision to sacrifice both rooks for a kingside attack. 

In the next round, he started the attack after the white rook mysteriously stepped on a2.

However, in round six, Dubov was overconfident: he sacrificed the exchange to Evgeny Tomashevsky without any real compensation and lost. 

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Vladimir Fedoseev, who did not get in the spotlight after his big success at the World Rapid Chess Championship, won a sharp tactical duel against Ian Nepomniachtchi, the favorite who seems to feel out off the mark at this tournament.

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Vladimir Fedoseev. | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili/Russian Chess Federation.

Grigory Oparin‘s attack on the kingside, especially the decisive maneuver, is a pleasure to watch.

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Mikhail Kobalia, the head coach of the Russian youth national team, defeated Dmitry Yakovenko, the recent Poikovsky winner, with a kingside attack, although he missed the shortest path to victory on move 25.

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A problem-like checkmate in the rook endgame allowed Inarkiev to defeat Denis Khismatullin, Karjakin’s regular assistant.
















#

Title

Name

Rtg.

FED

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

Pts.

TB1

TB2

1

GM

Dubov Daniil

2691



1

0

½

½

½

1

3.5

4

9.75

2

GM

Inarkiev Ernesto

2690


0


½

½

1

½

1

3.5

4

9.25

3

GM

Tomashevsky Evgeny

2702


1

½


½

½

½

½

3.5

3

11.25

4

GM

Sarana Alexey

2613


½

½


½

½

1

½

3.5

3

11

5

GM

Oparin Grigoriy

2609


½

½

½


½

½

1

3.5

3

11

6

GM

Andreikin Dmitry

2710


½

½


½

½

½

1

3.5

2

9

7

GM

Fedoseev Vladimir

2707


0

½

½


½

½

1

3

3

8.5

8

GM

Kobalia Mikhail

2619


0

½

½


1

½

½

3

2

8

9

GM

Jakovenko Dmitry

2748


½

½

½

0


1

½

3

2

7.75

10

GM

Vitiugov Nikita

2730


½

½

½

0


½

½

2.5

4

7

11

GM

Nepomniachtchi Ian

2768


½

½

0

½

0

½


2

3

6.25

12

GM

Khismatullin Denis

2634


0

0

0

½

½

½


1.5

3

4.25

Download Open Superfinal PGN

Games via TWIC.

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Hopefully during the day off, the players can enjoy some nature. | Photo: сатка.рф.

The women’s superfinal, unlike the open, enjoys the participation of all Russia’s stars, including the entire Olympic team and eight contestants of the women’s world championship, which starts in Khanty-Mansiysk on November 1.

GM Aleksandra Goryachkina, the reigning champion, is eager to double the number of Renault vehicles in her garage. The 18-year-old hope of Russian chess plays very aggressively with White. No wonder that her opponents seem to crumble.

However, in round six, Goryachkina was demolished by GM Alexandra Kosteniuk, who showed that she is a force to be reckoned with despite some setbacks at the start.

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The epic battle between Kosteniuk and GM Valentina Gunina also cannot be missed. Gunina sacrifices material and goes for heavily imbalanced positions in every game. The fact that all games but one were drawn cannot be explained other than by some chess magic.

The leaders at the halfway mark are IM Alina Kashlinskaya (GM Radoslaw Wojtaszek’s spouse), and WGM Olga Girya, who checkmated WGM Natalija Pogonina in a heavy-piece middlegame. Can you find the tactics?

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Olga Girya. | Photo by Eteri Kublashvili/Russian Chess Federation.
















#

Title

Name

Rtg.

FED

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

Pts.

TB1

TB2

1

WGM

Girya Olga

2462



1

1

½

½

½

½

4

3

14

2

IM

Kashlinskaya Alina

2440


0


1

1

½

1

½

4

3

11

3

GM

Goryachkina Aleksandra

2535


0


1

0

½

1

1

3.5

4

7.75

4

WGM

Pogonina Natalija

2469


0

0


1

1

½

1

3.5

4

7.5

5

GM

Gunina Valentina

2528


½


½

½

½

½

1

3.5

3

9

6

WFM

Gritsayeva Oksana

2391


½

0

½


1

½

1

3.5

2

10.25

7

IM

Galliamova Alisa

2424


½

½

0


1

1

½

3.5

2

9.75

8

GM

Kosteniuk Alexandra

2559


½

1

0

½

0


1

3

3

9.75

9

WIM

Tomilova Elena

2332


½

½

0

0


1

½

2.5

3

6.25

10

WIM

Shuvalova Polina

2413


0

½

½

0


0

1

2

3

4.5

11

IM

Bodnaruk Anastasia

2449


0

½

0

½

0

1


2

2

5.5

12

WFM

Protopopova Anastasiya

2332


½

0

0

0

½

0


1

4

3.25

 

Download Women’s Superfinal PGN

Games via TWIC.