Today the FIDE Candidates Tournament plays its first round, situated in Yekaterinburg, Russia. It has already been a… tumultuous event.
Teimour Radjabov has pulled out, allowing Maxime Vachier-Lagrave to join the tournament after his much-discussed previous failure to qualify or gain the wildcard. Vladimir Kramnik - one of the greatest players of all time - has withdrawn from commentary duty and publically criticised FIDE for allowing the tournament to continue in the current climate. FIDE waved away Radjabov’s concerns while showing him little to no respect, but it is unclear what they will say in response to Kramnik - this terrible tweet currently sums up FIDE’s attitude and also removed any and all positive sentiment that I may have held towards him. Russia has ordered a blanket ban on all sporting events for the foreseeable future, but FIDE have decided that they aren’t bound by that due to not being a sport in the technical sense. Wang is playing with no seconds, as they would all be coming from China and have to undergo mandatory 14 day quarantine (although this hasn’t stopped him beating Ding with black in round 1). A video of Nepomniatchi refusing to shake hands with both Karpov and Giri is already going round the internet - which also seemed to be a wise move, given that he went on to beat the latter, again with black.
Most egregious of all, the opening ceremony to the event went ahead, with more than 1000 people present - with FIDE’s justification being that the players themselves were not present, and only gatherings with greater than 5000 people had been banned nation-wide, despite that number being just 50 in Moscow. While players are free to withdraw, as Radjabov has done, this is the pinnacle of all their chess careers - the penultimate step to becoming world champion - how can any of them reasonably turn it down? Nepo is clearly unhappy and I suspect many of the other players are too, but they will not speak out against FIDE lest it jeopardise their own career. Being made to play under such circumstances is deplorable, and I suspect further criticism will only be levied at FIDE as the tournament continues to unfold. Their attitude, with Arkady Dvorkovich now at the helm, suggests that world chess is just as entwined with Russian political interests as it always has been, but this time the powers that be at FIDE seem to have even less shame in displaying that.