SANDS: Politics can make for some dicey chess pairings
By David R. Sands
The Washington Times
Tuesday, March 18, 2014

With more than 170 member nations, the Paris-based chess federation FIDE is one of the largest sporting organizations in the world.

Which isn’t always a good thing.

The diverse membership can make for some tense political pairings. During the Cold War, a number of Soviet bloc stars who defected to the West were not exactly welcome when they tried to play in events back home. Arab and Iranian players have refused to participate in some events where Israelis are competing. And let’s not even get started on Bobby Fischer’s unorthodox political ideas and the problems they posed for organizers, sponsors and fans.

Most players manage to deal with the awkwardness, but that’s not to say it is a thing of the past. At the FIDE world championship candidates tournament that got underway last week in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia, one key early game pitted top-seeded Armenian star Levon Aronian against Azerbaijani No. 1 Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. (The two countries remain technically at war because of a bitter territorial dispute.) One of the highlight games of the just-concluded European Individual Championship pitted Russian GM Alexander Motylevagainst Ukrainian GM Pavel Eljanov, even as their home countries were locked in a nasty clash over Crimea.

Whether the political backstories played roles or not, both games produced some spirited chess.

Aronian, picked by many to win the candidates tournament as the world’s second highest ranked player, stumbled out of the game with a loss to former world champion Viswanathan Anand of India in Round 1. But he rebounded in the very next round in the best way possible by finding a cute trick that cost the Azerbaijani star his queen and sent him on the road to defeat.

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