Women World Championship starts in Tehran

2/11/2017 – After an almost non-stop stream of controversy regarding the Women World Championship, whether because of the infamous Hajibgate, or simply the country itself, the grand championship has finally begun its cycle to determine the next title-holder. The opening proceedings were somewhat overshadowed by the recent demise of Romanian IM Cristina Foisor, who remained in the roster as a tribute. Here is the amply commented report on the opening by Elshan Moradiabadi.

Women’s chess has been through a lot of controversies in the past couple of years. From Nigel Short's controversial claim about women's innate ability to play chess to Hou Yifan's withdrawal from the world championship cycle and her later, alleged protest in Gibraltar by resigning in only five moves, women’s chess events and figures saw a lot of stories and more media attention in the past couple of years.

However, the most colorful of these stories was the protest against the mandatory official Hijab custom during the women world championship in Tehran, Iran. Some of the players withdrew early on and protested to FIDE for its location choice to host the Women World Championship in 2017, while some others withdrew (e.g. ex-Women World Champion Mariya Muzichuk and World Championship finalist Koneru Humpy) for not considering it suitable to play in Tehran. Still, the majority (Anna, Mariya’s older sister is playing) made it to Tehran and are ready to kick off the event, Saturday, February 11th. It should be noted that Thursday and Friday are considered weekend days in Iran.

The tournament is a knock-out event comprised of sixty-three players from twenty-eight countries. Why sixty-three? It is due to the very sad news that took place three weeks ago: IM Cristina Foisor, five-time Romanian champion, and a frequent player in the Women World Chess championship, passed away. Cristina Foisor’s life was chess: it was her passion, her job, and her family. She was married to IM Ovidiu Foisor and both of her daughters Sabina (WGM) and Veronica (WIM) are both very strong chess players. FIDE and organizers decided to keep her seat in the championship in her name to honor her memories and career. Thus her opponent WGM Olga Girya (2458) will play the second round.

IM Cristina Foisor had a long and successful career and she was a competitive and strong player in the chess scenes until the very last days. The knight was her favorite piece! She will be remembered among chess players and enthusiasts. (Photo credit: Personal family album)

Nevertheless, the Foisors have a representative in this championship: Sabina Foisor, who happens to be fiancé of your author, represents the USA in this event (she has played in four Olympiads for the US so far). Organizers and officials of this event took this as an opportunity to officially honor the career of her mother in the opening ceremony.

WGM Sabina Foisor receives tributes, the statue of a knight (horse) and flowers, from Iran’s Minister of sport and youth affair, Masoud Soltanifar, and president of FIDE Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. (Photo: Reza Mahdipour)

The gifts in memory of Cristina Foisor

Having reviewed the dramatic pre-tournament incidents, let us see what the tournament is about and review its logistics, conditions, and facts. The tournament is taking place in Tehran, Iran from Februaury 11th (today) until March 3rd. The playing venue and official hotel is Espinas Palace Hotels and resort, situated in the north-western part of Tehran.

Espinas palace hotel’s lobby: designed in Persian empire style with the Achaemenid warrior statue on the right side and French-style chandeliers!

Hotel Espinas Palace at night. A brand new five star hotel in accordance to western standard. In a private conversation with some of the players and delegates, I heard a good degree of satisfaction regarding the facility and its service. (photo: Reza Mahdipour)

A view of Alborz mountain from the 19th floor of Espinas Palace hotel in Tehran’s winter. (photo: Sabina Foisor)

Espinas Palace view toward the city. This road goes right into the heart of one of the big business centers in northern part of Tehran. (photo: Sabina Foisor)

The opening ceremony took place on February 10 and the press conference was on the 9th. The press conference was brief and only covered, although thoroughly, by national TV and press.

The hosts of the press conference: (front) – FIDE CEO Geoffrey Borg, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, Shohreh Bayat (Deputy Chief Arbiter and secretary of the Iranian Chess Federation), Mehrdad Pahlevandazdeh (President of the Iranian Chess federation and head of the organizing committee). (rear): local stars and representatives of Iran: from left to right: WGM Mitra Hejazipour (Asian champion 2015), IM Sarasadat Khademalsharieh (first Iranian woman to obtain the IM title and one of the wild card winners), WGM Atousa Pourkashiyan (ex-Asian champion, and wild card winner).

I am sure hosting this event was a challenging matter in spite of financial difficulties for an event of this magnitude. Although Iran had hosted the Women GP once in 2016, organizing an event of this size (64 players) compared to the GP (12 players) is a different league in terms of complexity. Thus, it is no wonder that Mehrdad Pahlevanzadeh used all his human resources until the very last minute to make sure everything would go smooth and calm.

With the tournament hall design done, it is time to prepare the boards and pieces!

With all the criticism and controversies, there is a lot at stake for Iran’s chess federation in order to prove its potential and competence despite all of the national mandating laws. Here we see a number of packages, customized for each player, though their contents have yet to be revealed to your author!

The efforts of Iran Chess Federation should be considered paid off because the field attracted major women players... and with great players come great coaches!

Top seed is GM Ju Wenjun from China. Fresh from a great result at Gibraltar, the Chinese has crossed 2600 and is at the pinnacle of her career.

Two ex-world champions: Antoaneta Stefanova from Bulgaria (second from left) and Zhu Chen from Qatar (second from right), accompanied by their well-known coaches Ivan Cheparinov (left) and Victor Bologan (from Moldova) on the right.

From left to right: Olga Goryachkina (WGM) (Russia) (far left) – ex-world champion Anna Ushenina (Ukraine), IM Lillit Mkertichian and GM Elina Danielian (Armenia)

Two strong GMs from Ukraine sitting next to each other: current world rapid and blitz champion Anna Muzychuk (left), and Valentina Gunina.

Monsieur et Madame! GM Pavel Tregubov and ex-world champion Aleksandra Kosteniuk: husband and wife, coach and player? However you like it!

GM Jacob Aagard (an award-winning coach and author), coaches WGM Sabina Foisor in this event. It seems Jacob has a couple of purple tricks up his sleeves to lighten Sabina’s mood...

...Or not. 'Huh? You did not like it?'

GM Natalia Zhukova from Ukraine, seated next to her coach GM Anton Korobov also from Ukraine

GM Pia Cramling from Sweden was the true hero of last knock-out championship by reaching the semi-final

More well-known commentators and coaches: GM Evgenij Miroshnichenko and GM Mikhalchishin

IM Padmini Rout and GM Harika Dronavali (busy with her phone) from India

From left to right: GM Yakovich, Melia Salome, new mom Sopiko Guramishvili

Last knockout tournament finalist, Natalia Pogonina

WIM Shamima Akter from Bangeladesh and ex-Asian champion IM Irene Sukandar from Indonesia

GM Ivan Sokolov, Iran’s head coach

Ju Wenjun got white for her first game

Chief Arbiter Anastasia Sorokina from Australia and her deputy IA Shohreh Bayat are going to do their best to ensure the best playing condition for the players. Here we see Sorokina in a tense mood. What could be the cause?

It seems that Geoffery Borg found a way to ease the tension for these two ladies who are going to run the event over the next 20 days

First round pairings

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onyman onyman 2/11/2017 10:50
Nice report!

But it's Aleksandra Goryachkina, not Olga. Anyway, her method to wear the cloth on her head is the coolest. Not sure if it is allowed though.
Augusta2022 Augusta2022 2/11/2017 11:37
Disgusted seeing the women being forced wearing a veil. Western women should have the right to dress as they choose.
tages erebus tages erebus 2/11/2017 11:38
I await the asteroid with pleasure.
Ellhnas Ellhnas 2/12/2017 02:04
Valentina Gunina is from Russia not Ukraine...
moonsorrow55 moonsorrow55 2/12/2017 02:52
"world championship" lol
benedictralph benedictralph 2/12/2017 03:09
When someone relatively young passes away, it begs the question what did she die of? Why is that such a big secret?
jamesbow jamesbow 2/12/2017 05:20
Look I'm not opposed to having people dress moderately, but to force women to wear Muslim religious attire? Why even play in a hostile terrorist nation who threatens other nations with utter destruction simply for existing. FIDE has taken ten steps into darkness...
alpine alpine 2/12/2017 06:30
I don't think ICF's efforts "attracted" top players. More like forced top players through a single bid. So yes glad the little people of Iran's federation are making the political dictates work out. I hope there is some noteworthy chess played in this tournament, because the entire circumstance is disgusting!
portici portici 2/12/2017 06:59
@Augusta2022:
I fully agree that the women should not be forced to wear a veil. But not just "western women" should have the right to freedom of dressing, all women should have such right as well. Many eastern and Asian women are not Muslim, and they do not wear a veil in everyday life.
CostaMaison3 CostaMaison3 2/12/2017 07:18
They looks younger with the veil. Am I right?
ulyssesganesh ulyssesganesh 2/12/2017 08:12
i wish the tmt., a grand success!
James L Hankins James L Hankins 2/12/2017 08:42
The entire spectacle is demeaning to the players in Tehran, to the top women players, and to the game of chess in general. Observance of local customs and religious preferences should be voluntary for visitors. It's a basic principle of a free and stable nation. Why FIDE chooses to host events of any stature in these places is puzzling. Any financial gain is surely offset by the loss of prestige of the game itself, and the embarrassing diminished worth of the title for the winner of the event.
Lavanda Lavanda 2/12/2017 09:35
"Olga Goryachkina (WGM) (Russia)"

Goryachkina's first name is Aleksandra.

As someone else pointed out, Valentina Gunina is from Russia, not Ukraine.
fightingchess fightingchess 2/12/2017 10:16
despite hejab issue, everything looks great: prizes, hotel and playing condition.
Andrea Mori Andrea Mori 2/12/2017 10:28
It would be nice if all of them decided to take off their veils simultaneously during play.
DaTribe DaTribe 2/12/2017 10:37
If you wish to dress as you please then don't go to their country. If you wish to go to their country, then abide by their rules.
cptmajormajor cptmajormajor 2/12/2017 11:20
To force the players to wear the head scarf is disgusting indeed. Sexist double standards. Would the men play a chess tournament in some random country if they were forced to wear a codpiece. Bending to primitive customs in a way that is not for cultural fun is a backwards step.
KnightsForEver KnightsForEver 2/12/2017 12:31
thats indeed an optical abuse all women in vail in 2017!! fide is so low on ethics this moment do what ever money orders they d kick the soonest this corrupt president
offpister offpister 2/12/2017 09:54
FIDE is morally bankrupt.

@DaTribe: Seriously? They did not choose to go there on vacation. This is a FIDE invitational event.

@ Benedictralph: No, it does not beg this question. Only tactless insensitive people like yourself ask it, and then presume there is some secret. Gross.

@CostaMaison3: You are a misogynisrt Am I right?
benedictralph benedictralph 2/13/2017 12:07
@offpister:

Why do you assume it's tactless to ask about a relatively young person's cause of death? ChessBase reports deaths and causes of death all the time. I remember an article here recently explaining how a young man died falling from the 12th floor during parkour and another relatively young man dying by suicide. What's so secretive about this IM's cause of death? They should at least mention the family or whoever does not wish to reveal it or what we have is poor reporting that begs the question.

http://en.chessbase.com/post/gm-urii-eliseev-dies

http://en.chessbase.com/post/david-foster-wallace-1962-2008-and-chess
chessdrummer chessdrummer 2/13/2017 05:04
Again... the delegates of all federations should have brought these concerns up at the General Assembly when all 159 nations voted to have the event in Iran. You can't vote for something without an objection then later cry foul. Iran has hosted a number of tournaments where the head covering was required. When visiting a foreign country you cannot pick and choose which of the national laws you will obey. You have three options... visit and follow the local cultural laws, visit and ignore the laws with risk of fine or penalty, or don't travel. In fact, I'm sure the players are following all other rules even if they are not used to them.

I believe we always try to be on our best behavior and adopt the local culture when traveling. You also will not try to eat beef in India, eat in public during daylight hours of Ramadan, or spit on the sidewalk in Singapore. Once you learn, you honor the national culture as a guest. Why wouldn't you? That is what we would expect of visitors when they come into our countries. Imagine if a person could decide which of the laws they will obey in your country.
hansj hansj 2/13/2017 10:40
All of these women submit to the sexist regime. Awful to see. Do they not have any self respect? This is bad, so bad.
diegoami diegoami 2/13/2017 11:32
On the other hand, in our oh-so illuminated west, there are still precious few female high-level chess players. Once I read that a strong female chess players stopped attending chess events because she was tired of nerdy guys hitting on her, and that the community is still strongly biased against women. One might assume that Iranian female players hardly have this problem - or am I being naive ?
benedictralph benedictralph 2/13/2017 12:41
@diegoami

"Once I read that a strong female chess players stopped attending chess events because she was tired of nerdy guys hitting on her..."

Presumably if they were hot guys, she wouldn't mind?
Daniel Miller Daniel Miller 2/13/2017 07:17
I applaud all the women here who didn't blow a head scarf out of proportion and deny them a chance at what they have been preparing for their whole lives. If we had to have a venue that didn't offend someone, there would be no host countries. When you play an international sport as a profession, following customs and dress of different countries that host your events comes with the territory. I should hope that western women who didn't see it as more than a local article of clothing weren't bullied by their "progressive" peers to miss this tournament. Let's focus on the chess.
Hadi Mohammadzadeh Hadi Mohammadzadeh 2/15/2017 10:02
Please think to the chess only. with a blue headgear , beside the sea, you'll be beautiful!!!
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