Chess, Politics Clash as Iran Forfeits to Israel
Byline: David R. Sands, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
The most interesting game of the past month may have been one that was never played.
In an incident that has generated considerable controversy in the chess blogosphere, Iranian GM Eshan Ghaem Maghami was disqualified from a tournament in Corsica after he refused to play against his fourth-round opponent, Israeli FM Ehud Shachar.
The refusal of some Arab and Muslim players to compete against Israelis has long been a sore spot for FIDE, the international chess federation. At the global chess Olympiad a year ago, for example, the Yemeni team took a 4-0 forfeit rather than sit down across from the Israeli team.
At open events such as the Corsica tournament, organizers have some leeway on the pairings, and often have quietly avoided politically tricky pairings. But the forfeits also can hurt Israeli players looking for international norms or for tiebreak points when the tournament prizes and paychecks are handed out.
Corsican tournament director Leo Battesti refused to take the easy way out, noting there were five Israeli players in the event and that avoiding all the forbidden pairings was practically impossible.
Regretfully I have to exclude the player who unfortunately has persisted in his choice, in spite of my imprecations, he said in a statement. I regret it. But I could not escape from our responsibilities.
The issue is not clear-cut, as political boycotts are far from unknown in chess, from players refusing to take part in Nazi-sponsored tournaments in the 1930s and 1940s to the global ban on participation by South African teams during the era of apartheid.
A number of his fellow players even expressed sympathy for Ghaem Maghami, noting that players from Iran face intense pressure from authorities back home not to compete against Israelis.
The Iranian grandmaster hinted at those pressures in his own statement after the incident, saying, I want to emphasize that personally I don't have any bad relations with anyone from Israel. I respect people from all over the world and I understand very well that we are all sportsmen.
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Nationalism of a more palatable sort has been on display in the European Team Championship under way in Halkidiki, Greece, where teams from across the continent are battling it out.
The host country has been having a tough time lately, but the Greeks scored a small triumph with a Round 2 upset of higher-seeded England, fueled in large part by GM Dimitrios Mastrovasilis' clever dismantling of English GM Nigel Short. In a Caro-Kann Two Knights variation, Short's 11. Ne2 0-0?! (Qa5!? 12. Kb1 Bd6 13. Nc1 Qb6 looks tougher) reveals a bit too early where the Black king will seek shelter, giving the Greek grandmaster the chance to build up strong kingside pressure.
While Black's queenside counterplay never develops, Mastrovasilis obtains a bind along the open d-file and finds a clever way to cash in: 23. Bxc5 Ng8 24. Rhd1! Qc7 (see diagram; 24. .. Rc7 [White's threatened 25 Rd7 must be addressed] 25. Qxb4 Nxh6 26. Rd8+ Rxd8 27. Rxd8+ Ng8 28. e5! fxe5 29. Bd6; and 24. .. Nxh6 25 Rd7 Qe8 26. Qd4 e5 27. Qd5 both leave White in command) 25. …