FIDE Women’s Grand Prix Collapses into "Chaos" as Players Withdraw

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The third leg of the FIDE Women’s Grand Prix was due to begin yesterday, but after a turbulent 24 hours it has only begun today amid chaotic scenes and the withdrawal of multiple players.

(Title image: the players confer – photo credit ChessBase India / Aditya Sur Roy)

The FIDE Women’s Grand Prix is a series of tournaments to determine who will play the Women’s Candidates Tournament 2023 – 2024. The previous two legs of it, in Astana and Munich, went without an issue – with Lichess providing some coverage of the events so far.

The first players to withdraw, just a few days before the tournament, were the Ukrainian players Anna and Mariya Muzychuk. While they have not given any statement for their withdrawal, they were due to play three Russian-flagged players on FIDE’s ranking list: Kateryna Lagno (who was born in Ukraine but switched to the Russian Chess Federation in 2014), Aleksandra Goryachkina (who has previously received financial support from pro-Putin companies), and Polina Shuvalova (who has expressed public opposition to the war).

What appears to be the position of the Muzychuks seems to be aligned with many international sports federations. FIFA and UEFA (football), the IAAF, Formula 1, UCI (cycling), FIS (skiing) and dozens of other sports have outright banned Russian and Belarussian individuals and teams from participating in sporting events.

While (similar to tennis) individual Russian and Belarussian chess players can participate in events, they cannot do so under the Russian/Belarussian flag, nor can their national anthems be played. Unlike tennis, those chess players – even when temporarily playing under a neutral flag at a chess tournament – still appear in the FIDE rating lists as Russian/Belarussian. Further, unlike professional tennis players, professional chess players in Russia and Belarus often receive state funding. 

Shortly before the tournament was due to start yesterday, it was discovered that Zhansaya Abdumalik had also withdrawn. While the circumstances of her withdrawal are not yet fully known, it seems that she had no transport from the airport, limited contact with the organizers, no FIDE personnel were on-site to assist players, and Abdumalik highlighted that conditions in the hotel were not suitable per tournament regulations. 

The German Chess Federation has gone on to highlight that:

  • The players traveled alone and unaccompanied by taxis in New Delhi in the middle of the night, with the players feeling extremely insecure;
  • There were no rooms available for several players in the official hotel despite their arrival date being known and they had to wait several hours from 5am for a room to be available; some players had to move to a different room a day after checking in;
  • There was (and continues to be) no FIDE technical delegate who was on-site; they would ordinarily be the contact person and check the venue and hotel in advance.

ChessBase India had the opportunity to discuss these topics with Bharat Singh Chauhan, President of the All India Chess Federation and Tournament Director. Namely, Singh highlighted Abdumalik’s flight arrived around 30 minutes early, and this is why nobody met her at the airport.

In a post last night, Abdumalik shared she had discussed the issues with FIDE President, Arkady Dvorkovich, who apologized to her, took the blame for the situation, and highlighted his understanding if she had no energy left to play. 

The same post shared that several other players officially complained to FIDE, asking to postpone or cancel the event:

One of the players named on the letter, Bibisara Assaubayeva (2 times Women’s World Champion in Blitz), published a scathing and personal criticism of her compatriot’s decision to withdraw. She also suggested her name had been added to the official complaint without her permission or knowledge (auto-translated screenshot below):

Somewhat understandably, this prompted a strong response from Abdumalik (auto translated screenshot below):

Assaubayeva then replied back (screenshot auto-translated):

One gets the overall impression that the two most promising women players in the Kazakh Chess Federation do not see eye to eye. The Kazakh Chess Federation was not immediately available for comment.

Elisabeth Paehtz was then also drawn in to defend the signing of the open letter to the FIDE President, highlighting no player would add another player’s name without their explicit consent:

From a source close to the tournament, speaking under condition of anonymity, the local organizers proposed a replacement player to take Abdumalik’s vacant spot. This source has told us that this suggestion was strongly refused by the players, as two replacements had already been found when the Muzychuks withdrew. 

Likewise, redoing the pairings of the round-robin with 11 players would also have been trivial and kept the pairings fair – allowing each player to have five games with White and Black each. However we are told that this suggestion was met with Goryachkina walking out of the technical meeting, giving the implication she was threatening to withdraw from the tournament. This matches with Paehtz’s final statement, which states the ultimatum of a single player prevented a fair distribution of the pairings.

Following Abudmalik’s withdrawal, Goryachkina currently has a tournament with six games with White and four with Black, and a rest day (when she was due to play Abdumalik) in the middle of the event. Arguably, this has created a potential precedent where a single player influenced other players’ plans and risked terminating a whole tournament – something an earlier FIDE statement said would be untenable.

An image posted by ChessBase India shows that at the start of the round, Goryachkina refused to shake hands with Bharat Singh Chauhan, the Tournament Director and Indian Chess Federation President.

Photo credit: ChessBase India / Abhyudaya Ram

Consequently, Elisabeth Paehtz decided to withdraw today, giving her statement to the German Chess Federation:

“I cannot accept that not every player starts the tournament with the same qualifications.The intended solution of a new draw with a fair distribution of colors failed due to the ultimatum of a single player.Even if you start with 6 times white and 4 times black, as in my case, an unfair distribution of other players is not a prerequisite for a fair and equal tournament for everyone.”

Meanwhile the tournament continues with players now receiving two rest days in the tournament (in the form of byes), and the pairings becoming even more distorted. Shuvalova, for example, now receives six games with White and three with Black, with another rest day midway through the tournament, in Round 5. 

Finally, adding to the woes of the FIDE Women’s Grand Prix, the organizer for the fourth leg appears to have pulled out. Originally scheduled on FIDE’s website as due to be in Bydgoszcz in Poland, the location no longer appears (although it has not been removed from Wikipedia). While no reasoning has been given as yet, a source close to the tournament has suggested it could be due to the Polish tournament organizers being unwilling to host Russian players. 

FIDE did not respond to a request for comment, asked three hours ago at the time of publishing this article, but yesterday had published an apology to the remaining players of the tournament. If they give a further statement we will update this article.

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