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Chess Saudi Arabia

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Grandmasters sign up to participate in controversial tournament

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Norway's Magnus Carlsen smiles as he speaks with the media at a news conference after clinching the FIDE World Chess Championship in the southern Indian city of Chennai November 22, 2013. REUTERS/Babu

Former world championship challenger Nigel Short was the first player of name to confirm his participation in the King Salman World Rapid and Blitz Chess Championships scheduled for 26-30 December in Riyadh.


Since then, top champs like Magnus Carlsen (Norway), the highest-rated chess player in the world and incumbent World Rapid and Blitz Champions, Sergey Karjakin (Russia) have joined in, as well as Ukrainian champion Vassily Ivanchuk (Ukraine), along with over 180 top grandmasters.

But many of the world’s top players have announced that they will boycott the tournament.

Last month, Ukranian Grandmaster Anna Muzychuk attacked the World Chess Federation FIDE by tweeting her reluctance to wear a headscarf.

“First Iran, then Saudi Arabia.. wondering where the next Women's World Championships will be organized.

“Despite of the record prize fund, I am not going to play in Riyadh what means [sic] losing two world champion titles.

“To risk your life, to wear abaya all the time?? Everything has its limits and headscarves in Iran was more than enough,” she tweeted.

Hikaru Nakamura, the American World number 3 joined in by saying that “to organize a chess tournament in a country where basic human rights aren't valued is horrible.

“Chess is a game where all different sorts of people can come together, not a game in which people are divided because of their religion or country of origin.

Organisers in Riyadh say that hosting the tournament should be seen in the context of attempts to modernise the nation.

But in addition to the regime’s restrictive nature, a massive crackdown on corruption, that resulted in the arrest, detention and alleged torture of hundreds of high ranking officials seem to scare off many of the world’s top chess players to come to Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia itself is not a strong chess nation: according to the FIDE website, the strongest Saudi player is Ahmed Al Ghamdi, who ranks no. 29.119 on the list of the world’s strongest players, with an ELO rating of 2159.