In an extraordinary slap in the face to the highest rated female player in the world, Hou Yifan, the world body FIDE has announced that the upcoming Women’s World Championship match will be held in Ukraine and delayed until 2016.
FIDE President Kirsan Iljumzhinov admitted that a fully funded bid for the match had been received from Beijing but that he had decided on Lviv, home city of Hou’s opponent Mariya Muzychuk, because… just because.
Iljumzhinov, writing on his personal web site and in the newspaper Isvestia Kalmykia, explained that Lviv had not guaranteed a prize fund like China but he had visited the city and found it “peaceful and friendly”.
Iljumzhinov pointed out (falsely) that Lviv had not hosted a major tournament since the USSR Championship of 1984 and “in my opinion, [31 years] is too unfair for a city the inhabitants of which love and appreciate chess so much.” (The Stein Memorial in 2000, – celebrating Leonid Stein, a local Lviv star and one of the strongest players in the modern era never to become a Candidate – was 7 categories stronger than the 1984 USSR Championship, though inflation has made tournaments of different eras hard to compare.)
Supporting the theory that Iljumzhinov has morphed from Kalmyk President to a freelance envoy for Russian President Vladimir Putin, Iljumhzhinov made a point of stressing that he had personally discovered that Lviv was not a hot-bed of Western Ukrainian nationalism “and other abominations.”
Following the Putin line, Iljumzhinov insisted that the shared history of Russia and the Ukraine mean that they are one nation – perhaps a surprise to the citizens of Lviv, which was a majority Polish city until given to Ukraine/USSR after the second world war.
“To return to peace in the Ukraine we must return to reason and compromise. A better way than through chess I do not know,” said Iljumzhinov, perhaps forgetting that he had already declared Lviv as peaceful.
The FIDE President has held a number of meetings with Ukrainain President Petro Poroshenko – something that would be more difficult for a current Russian politician given the tension between Russia and Ukraine.
After the most recent meeting Iljumzhinov, as well as confirming the match venue and appointing Poroshenko as head of the organising committee, announced that FIDE would partly fund the restoration of the Lviv Chess Club building; rather unexpected given that FIDE had just declared a loss of $A1.35m last year.
Iljumzhinov seemed unaware that one of the world’s wealthiest Grandmasters, Iceland’s Margeir Petursson, resides in Lviv and has already worked to revive chess in Lviv. However, despite having Muzychuk as a fellow club member, Petursson has shown no indication that he wishes to fund a world title match.
It is hard to know if Hou Yifan, who was forced to miss the last knock-out version of the Women’s World Championship after a six month delay by FIDE, will bother to play the title match or even if she is available when the dates for the match in 2016 are finally confirmed.
Hou had previously criticised FIDE for not allowing a bidding process for the match when FIDE pre-emptively announced Ukraine as the venue in June. Then, when Beijing was allowed a bid, it is ignored for an unfunded alternative.
The Chinese 21-year-old is by far the strongest female player in the world and has often been criticised for wasting her time in female-only tournaments.
FIDE’s actions may turn out to be the push she needs to follow Judit Polgar’s lead and maximise her potential by competing only in open events (Olympiads possibly excepted).
Meanwhile, Iljumzhinov, for whom chess has been a route to political power for the past two decades, explained “chess is outside politics… but all rules have exceptions”.