Women’s World Chess Championship ongoing in Iran despite boycott

The FIDE 2017 Women’s World Chess Champion-ship is underway in Tehran, Iran, amid the boycott of a handful of notable players. Non-participants of the calibre of China’s world champion Hou Yifan, the US champion Nazi Paikidze, former Women’s World Champion Mariya Muzychuk and India’s World Championship finalist Koneru Humpy protested to FIDE about the choice of  location.

The Kasparov Chess Foundation is marking its 15th anniversary and has endorsed its commitment towards improving scholastic chess in the US. Last weekend, the Greater New York, Greater Chicago and Greater Baltimore chess tournaments were held for school-aged kids. The New York event alone attracted 1,478 players. Legendary world champion Garry Kasparov attended the event and was invited to make the first move on a number of chess boards. In the photo, a beginner chess player has the attention of the former world champion. The US boasts three players in the world’s top ten, more than any other nation. (Photo: Vanessa Sun/Chess Base)
Ni Shiquin, one of China’s rising women chess players, is participating in the Women’s World Championship in Tehran, Iran, for the first time. In an extraordinary upset in the second round of the Championship, Ni defeated Russian woman grandmaster and former European chess champion Valentina Gunina, in a mere 27 moves. The reigning world chess champion, China’s Hou Yifan, is not participating in the World Championship. But China still boasts the top seed in the competition in Ju Wenjun, FIDE grandmaster, and the second highest-rated woman chess player in the world at 2583. (Photo: David Llada/Chessbase)

The championship is a knockout event featuring 63 players from 28 countries. Why 63 participants and not an even number to facilitate equal pairings? Because International Master and five-time Romanian champion Cristina Foisor regrettably passed away three weeks ago, and the organizers allowed her name to remain on the championship list as a fitting tribute to her. Foisor was a frequent participant at previous world championships.

The US chess champion Nazi Paikidze did not participate in the championship owing to her refusal to wear a hijab in Tehran at the competition as reported by the world press and the Washington Post of October 6, 2016. Headscarves are required to be worn in public in Iran. Paikidze had been quoted as saying she would do everything to help more girls get into chess. The US champion was vocal for the reason for her non-attendance to the Championship, and launched an online campaign suggesting that the World Chess Federation reconsider Iran as the host nation for the women’s championship. But not everyone agrees with the Paikidze intervention. Woman grandmaster and the 2015 Asian Continental champion Mitra Hejazipour commented: “It’s not right to call for a boycott. These games are important for women in Iran; it’s an opportunity for us to show our strength.”

CNN reported that Iran was the only country that submitted a proposal to host the championship. And further, according to a FIDE official, there were no objections from any of the 150 national federations, including the US Chess Federation. Chess is deeply embedded in Iranian culture. The word checkmate comes from the Persian word shah mat, meaning, the king is left helpless.

A new woman world champion is on the horizon. China and India are well represented although Yifan and Humpy are no-shows. Switzerland is also a strong contender for the title, in the experienced woman grandmaster Pia Cramling. Ju Wenjun of China is the highest ranked player of the championship.

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