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FIDE Bans Ukraine-born 2016 World Chess Championship Challenger From Candidates After He Supports Putin

Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.
Published: March 23, 2022
FIDE banned Ukraine-born Sergery Karjakin, preventing the super grandmaster from participating in the 2022 Candidates Tournament to determine Magnus Carlsen's 2023 World Championship challenger.
Ukraine-born Russian super grandmaster Sergey Karjakin during the 79th edition of the Tata Steel Chess Tournament in Wijk aan Zee, on Jan. 15, 2017. Karjakin has received a 6 month suspension from FIDE-rated events, including the upcoming World Championship Candidates Tournament, because of statements on social media supporting the Russian Federation’s war in Ukraine and President Vladimir Putin. (Image: KOEN SUYK/AFP via Getty Images)

The World Chess Federation (FIDE) has suspended a leading Ukraine-born Russian super grandmaster and a former challenger to World Champion Magnus Carlsen for six months, preventing him from participating in the 2022 Candidates Tournament, which determines Carlsen’s next opponent. 

Sergey Karjakin, 32, was suspended by FIDE not because of any allegations of cheating or professional misconduct, but simply because he has supported Russia, the country he has lived in since 2009, and its President Vladimir Putin’s special military operation in Ukraine. 

In a March 21 announcement on the Federation’s website, Karjakin was levied with a six month ban against participating in any FIDE-rated tournament, which includes the upcoming 2022 Candidates Tournament set to take place in Madrid from June 16 to July 7.

A three-person panel of the Federation’s Ethics and Disciplinary Commission (EDC) ruled that Karjakin was in contravention of a very openly-worded clause of the FIDE Code of Ethics, which states discipline can be levied in any situation “which cause the game of chess, FIDE or its federations to appear in an unjustifiable unfavorable light and in this way damage its reputation.”

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Notably, the EDC stated that their primary concern was negative feedback created by “the statements by Sergey Karjakin on the ongoing military conflict in Ukraine,” which FIDE was primarily concerned with as a result of “a considerable number of reactions on social media and elsewhere.”

The Commission also said Karjakin’s statements “by his own choice and presentation, can be connected to the game of chess, damage the reputation of the game of chess and/or FIDE.”

Losing a big chance

The Candidates Tournament is arguably the most major tournament for chess professionals, composed of eight super grandmasters who qualify by way of prowess exhibited in 2021’s FIDE-organized super tournaments.

Karjakin, currently rated 18th in the world, made the cut after finishing second in the 2021 FIDE World Cup behind 16th-rated Jan-Krzysztof Duda.

The winner of the 2022 Candidates Tournament will go on to face reigning Champion Magnus Carlsen in 2023.

In 2016, Karjakin was the first man to challenge Carlsen for the title he obtained in 2013 from Indian legend Viswanathan Anand. In a 12 game match, Karjakin won a stunning victory in Game 8 before Carlsen equalized in Game 10.

Carlsen narrowly defeated Karjakin in rapid time control tie-breaks.

For chess professionals, the opportunity to face Carlsen is financially significant. The prize pool for Carlsen’s 2021 match against Karjakin’s countryman Ian Nepomniachtchi was $2 million USD, split 60-40 between winner and loser.

For contrast, website chessprizes.com shows Karjakin netted a total of $158,990 USD in 2019 and only $10,500 USD in 2020 in tournament winnings.

Karjakin’s response

Russia Today cited Karjakin’s response in Russian media, where the now-former candidate said he may boycott professional chess as a result of the proceedings, “’I’m disappointed. You understand, this is not just a suspension for six months, everything was planned.”

“The idea was to prevent me from playing in the Candidates Tournament and to deprive me of a possible entry into the [world title] match with Magnus Carlsen…I don’t know if I’ll be returning in six months to tournaments under the auspices of FIDE. They dishonored not me, but themselves.”

He continued, “I just don’t remember such a precedent when a chess player was not allowed on principle. It’s a shame.”

Taking aim at FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich, a fellow Russian, Karjakin said he “is trying to show that he is a European official. He wants to remain FIDE president. He decided to sacrifice me for his political ambitions.”

Karjakin added that he was not naive about the reality that his comments would lead to cancellation, “But I believe that I am first and foremost a citizen and patriot of my country, and I say this without any boasting.” 

“If such a situation arose again, I would not be silent, but again I would write such a letter. I do not regret what I did. Choosing between supporting my country and participating in the Candidates Tournament, I would always choose the first one.”

How it began

Just one day after Putin announced Russia’s assault on Ukraine, Karjakin posted in Russian on Twitter, “Many people ask my opinion about Ukraine. At first, I almost wrote a big text with my thoughts, but then I came across a post @Anna_Shafran and … I subscribe to every word! You can’t put it better!”

Karjakin linked to a Telegram post in Russian by Shafran, which stated, among other things, “The war in Ukraine was not started by us, and it started long ago – with the first dead not even in Donbas, but in the streets of Kiev in January 2014. But now we have an opportunity to end this protracted war.”

In the earliest days of the war, censorship and cancel culture were running wilder than they did during the peak of COVID vaccine hysteria. Everyone and everything was expected to denounce Vladimir Putin and #StandWithUkraine, including Russians living in Russia. 

Just one day later, Karjakin posted a Russian-language image-based statement on his account supporting the war, part of which stated the Russian Federation “is fighting for the safety of the peaceful Russian population of Donbass and the Lugansk People’s Republic.” 

He added, “I express to you, our commander-in-chief, full support in protecting the interests of Russia, our multinational Russian people, eliminating threats and establishment of peace! I wish you the speedy fulfillment of all the tasks assigned to our valiant army.”

After posting, he was attacked by online platform Chess24, whose social media manager replied, stating, “Sergey Karjakin makes a long statement that starts by saying he opposes war, but then goes on to list all the false pretexts for war given by Vladimir Putin, including characterising Ukraine as a ‘fascist state.’”

Karjakin, who Wikipedia states is a Ukraine-born Orthodox Christian who became a Russian citizen by a Presidential decree in 2009 under former President Dmitry Medvedev, held his ground, asking the platform, “Do you think that you know more about the crimes of Ukraine than I, who lived in the Donetsk region as a child, began to closely monitor this since 2013 and has a large number of friends from all sides of the conflict?”

Chess24 blocked Karjakin on Feb. 27 after he gave the company’s social media manager a Feb. 26 ultimatum that stated, “If I don’t get answers to at least the second question today, I promise I’ll never play on Chess24 again.”

Cancel culture

Chess24, which merged with Magnus Carlsen’s Play Magnus in 2019 leaving Carlsen with a 62 percent controlling interest in the company, according to Norwegian media outlet Dagens Naeringsliv, was only too happy to continue to dehumanize Magnus’s 2016 World Championship challenger as he faced an onslaught of cancel culture in the chess community. 

On March 2, the company published an article coined Sergey Karjakin Shunned by Top Chess Events, which opened with the mic-dropping, “Sergey Karjakin has infuriated the chess world through his recent controversial comments on social media supporting Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.”

The organizer of the Norway Chess super tournament, which Karjakin won in 2013 and 2014, stated that Karjakin would never be invited again because he “chose to support a nation and a president that is responsible for cruel war acts against another nation and innocent people.”

In the same article, Chess24 was also pleased to announce that organizers for the prestigious London Chess Classics tournaments stated, “In percentage terms I would put the chances of him [Karjakin] being invited to a tournament I organise in London as somewhere between zero and minus 1.”

Dogpiling

Karjakin’s ardent stance on Russia’s war efforts led self-described “biggest chess database” Opening Master to announce on March 12 that it would be deleting Karjakin’s 3,655 games from its database, despite the super grandmaster’s professional prowess and contribution to opening theory, because “Mr. Karjakin openly supports the war and invasion of Russia to Ukraine ‘no matter what’.”

Two days later, the company walked back its threats, stating, “After careful reconsideration we will keep GM @SergeyKaryakin as is. You are right he is part of the history.”

But Opening Master quipped, “Wish he could learn as quickly as us.”

On March 17, leading online platform Chess.com announced in a statement denouncing the war in Ukraine that Karjakin would not be eligible to play in events with a prize because, “Individuals who support the war are not eligible to participate in prize events.”