Astana GP: Zhu scores, Smirin fired over sexist comments

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
9/29/2022 – Going into the final round of the Women’s Grand Prix in Astana, Kateryna Lagno leads Aleksandra Goryachkina by a half point after both contenders for first place drew their games with white on Wednesday. Zhu Jiner (pictured) beat Alina Kashlinskaya to grab sole third place. Unfortunately for the chess world, another scandal made headlines on mainstream media: commentator Ilya Smirin was fired by FIDE after making sexist remarks during round 9’s broadcast. | Photo: FIDE / Anna Shtourman

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An upsetting incident muddied the broadcast of the Women’s Grand Prix in Astana. During round 9, Ilya Smirin, who was making his debut as a commentator in English, made sexist remarks while sharing his thoughts on the games with co-commentator Fiona Steil-Antoni. 

Referring to Zhu Jiner, Smirin said, “Why does she want to be like men grandmasters in this case? Is it possible to make a man norm in a women’s tournament?” Steil-Antoni, who admirably kept her composure while retorting to Smirin’s disparaging remarks, reacted with a conspicuous, “Of course, why not?”.

Smirin had already mentioned that Goryachkina had been playing “like a man”. The Israeli grandmaster tried to justify his comment by explaining that he was referring to the fact that Goryachkina had played in the open section of the 2021 Russian Superfinal

The show went on, but the incident did not escape the attention of Uzbek-born American WGM Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova, who clipped the exchange and shared it on Twitter.

Shortly before the start of round 10, the International Chess Federation issued a statement condemning Smirin’s actions and announcing that the commentator had been fired from his duties. The official statement thus justified the decision:

During yesterday’s Women's Grand Prix live broadcast, one of the announcers expressed some very embarrassing comments.

Although we have great respect for Grandmaster Ilya Smirin as a chess player, the views he expressed on air are completely unacceptable, offensive, and do not represent any of the values that FIDE stands for. Therefore, we unreservedly apologise to all those who were offended. Additionally, GM Smirin will not continue as a FIDE commentator with immediate effect.

FIDE not only strives to increase women’s representation in professional sports and official positions but also to change the perception of chess as purely a men’s world. Our community has to be a place where women feel safe and respected. Therefore, any action that carries disrespect, sexism or physical, verbal or emotional assault is unacceptable.

Michael Rahal, Fiona Steil-Antoni

Colleagues — IM Michael Rahal and WIM Fiona Steil-Antoni | Photo: FIDE / Anna Shtourman

This controversy follows three weeks of incessant speculation and finger-pointing surrounding the Carlsen - Niemann cheating scandal. Moreover, amid the social-media frenzy following Tokhirjonova’s rightful accusation, FIDE’s Director General Emil Sutovsky tweeted (he later deleted the tweet):

I spoke to GM Smirin. He sincerely apologized, and promised to bring an apology on air tomorrow.

Sutovsky’s tweet was read by some as an official FIDE statement, since the 45-year-old is very active on the social platform and often defends the Federation’s actions in Twitter exchanges. Naturally, the community did not react well to this at-best lukewarm reaction. 

At this point, we can only wish for all the drama to de-escalate, and we hope for FIDE — whoever is responsible to deal with such situations within the organization — to help us move in that direction.

Strong condemnations of the incident were shared by well-known female chess players and promoters like Jennifer Shahade and Susan Polgar. Irina Bulmaga noted that this is not an isolated occurrence:

Despite my previous sympathy towards GM Smirin as an interesting player and person, I do find his remarks highly disturbing. Very disappointed... Unfortunately this attitude is something very common in the chess world.

In round 10, Pavel Tregubov joined Steil-Antoni in the commentary booth.

A two-horse race

Going into the final round (which starts an hour earlier than usual), only Kateryna Lagno and Aleksandra Goryachkina have chances of winning the event. Lagno leads her compatriot by a half point, while third-placed Zhu Jiner stands a full point behind Goryachkina.

In the final round, Lagno and Goryachkina will face Alxandra Kosteniuk and Vaishali Rameshbabu respectively, both with the black pieces. 

Aleksandra Goryachkina, Alexandra Kosteniuk

Aleksandra Goryachkina and Alexandra Kosteniuk | Photo: FIDE / Anna Shtourman

Zhu’s victory was important in the fight for third place, as she entered the round tied in points with Kosteniuk after losing two games in a row. Zhu bounced back with a black win over Alina Kashlinskaya. The latter went for a direct attack on move 16.


After a 14-minute think, Kashlinskaya played 16.Bxh6. Zhu had clearly foreseen this idea, as she quickly grabbed the piece with 16...gxh6. After 17.Rxe6 (the point), the Chinese did spend some time on 17...Qf4, the strongest move in the position.

The engines predictably give Black an edge, but only after Kashlinskaya erred with 18.g3, White’s position is all but hopeless (18.Rxc6 was the only acceptable continuation).


Zhu, who had shared the lead until round 8, needed about 15 minutes to find the refutation — 18...Nb4 19.gxf4 Nxd3 20.Rxf6 (20.Rxe7 was better) Bxf6 21.Rxd3 and Black is clearly winning.


White resigned three moves later. There is no way to save the position.

Elisabeth Paehtz and Tan Zhongyi also scored full points in round 10, as they defeated Bibisara Assaubayeva and Dinara Wagner respectively.

Elisabeth Paehtz

Elisabeth Paehtz | Photo: FIDE / Anna Shtourman

Standings after round 10


All games



Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.


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