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

ChessBase 17 - Mega package ChessBase 17 - Mega package

ChessBase is a personal, stand-alone chess database that has become the standard throughout the world. Everyone uses ChessBase, from the World Champion to the amateur next door. It is the program of choice for anyone who loves the game and wants to know more about it.



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.
Discussion and Feedback Submit your feedback to the editors


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register

arzi arzi 10/4/2022 11:24
mc1483:"Separate tournaments can instead be regarded aa a form of "incentive", at least until there will be enough women of Polgar's strenght."

The problem is how quickly these women get stronger with that format. Besides, Judit Polgar became strong precisely because her goal was to play in the Open group.
mc1483 mc1483 10/3/2022 02:48
@arzi: "In fact, the word should be:" But I think many people would object, because this approach clearly suggests "women in marathon" are not on the same level of men"".
That's true, this also suggests that. But marathon is a physical competition, so the difference in level, implied by separate prizes, is easily accepted. Chess tournaments are a form of mind competition, and that's why I think that many people, both men and women, would object. Separate tournaments can instead be regarded aa a form of "incentive", at least until there will be enough women of Polgar's strenght.
arzi arzi 10/3/2022 02:32
mc1483:"But I think many people would object, because this approach clearly suggests "women in chess are not on the same level of men".

In fact, the word should be:" But I think many people would object, because this approach clearly suggests "women in marathon" are not on the same level of men".

If we use groups where women and men have different strength levels and play in different groups, then it is clear that the general level in one will rise higher than the other. However, the physical characteristics of the body are not the right way to make comparisons, in the use of the brain in chess. The problem is not that men are better or women are worse. It's a quantitative problem. Quantitatively girls and women play chess less than boys and men.
mc1483 mc1483 10/3/2022 11:07
@arzi: "Do they need to be women-only tournaments? Prizes would be distributed according to groups". Yes, that's a good alternative, and there are many competitions with such an approach (New York marathon and so on, for example). But I think many people would object, because this approach clearly suggests "women in chess are not on the same level of men". Separate tournaments, of course, suggest the same, but in a less evident, so more acceptable way. Also, the WC cycle would not exist anymore, no more Gran Prix, Candidates, WC match. Less money, less fame, less opportunities.
The real problem, BTW, is the norms: should they be achieved in women-only, so close environments, tournaments?
arzi arzi 10/3/2022 07:44
mc1483:" So I think women-only tournaments are OK, in order to incentivate women to play, but it would be better to only bestow norms in open tournaments, otherwise too many women would never play outside their close environment, and never would improve."

Do they need to be women-only tournaments? They can all be Open (for men and women) tournaments. Prizes would be distributed according to groups; Title-related group divisions for champions (women and men), open group (women and men) and also group prizes (youth/children, boys and girls).
Longhorn Longhorn 10/3/2022 06:35
There are 327 female Billionaires. Net worth: $ 1.56 Trillion USD. (Forbes 4/5/22). In February 2022 Billionaire
Laurene Powell Jobs was one of several investors involved in a $75 Million Capital funding for the WNBA. (Since 1996 the WNBA has averaged $10 Million in annual losses since inception. Not once has the league turned a profit -'WNBA Still struggling to turn a profit' Sports-King 7/10/22). In golf (LPGA), the USGA loses $10.4 Million on the US Women's Open. "Every championship the USGA runs outside of the US Open loses money."-golfweek.usatoday 3/3/20. One priority potential investors have is ROI (return on investment).

Despite the success of 'The Queen's Gambit,' film for Netflix, I am not aware of any Billionaire investing in Women's chess. Hopefully women will take to the game in numbers and that will change.
Jacob woge Jacob woge 10/3/2022 12:57
By the way, the “E” stands fot Eunuch. EGM?
MrDeplorable MrDeplorable 10/2/2022 11:11
I'm offended that he was fired. Can we just get over this hypersensitivity crap?
mc1483 mc1483 10/2/2022 07:10
@Jacob: you're right, there are other close environments. For example, this a notorious problem in tennis, and from time to time a big surprise occurs. This year we had Tim van Rijthoven, last year Aslan Karatsev, both players being much stronger than expected. I would bet that Lagno is stronger than her current 2563 ELO, while the Muzychuk sisters are weaker than 2530.
Jacob woge Jacob woge 10/2/2022 04:15
There may be other closed environments than gender based, e.g. national championships, junior events, senior chess etc. If the vast majority of U.S. players choose to never go abroad, a separate rating pool will result. If everybody stays in close quarters due to travel restrictions (NZ, AUS), same result, if it last for long enough.

I do not see where exactly to draw the line.
mc1483 mc1483 10/2/2022 12:38
It's not wrong to wonder if norms can/cannot be achieved in women-only tournaments: as some have pointed out, "if a woman plays almost exclusively women-only tournaments, her 2400 rating is relative to the field, not the overall field of players, and this applies to any closed environment". Lagno, for example, did very well in her last tournament, but the last time she played an open event has been 3 years ago (and she played a lot in between). Women-only tournaments do exist in order to encourage women to play regularly and win prizes, given the fact that there are too few of them capable of performing well in open tournaments (Polgar sisters rejected this approach, and so does Hou, but a lot of women do not; Lagno is not the only one). So I think women-only tournaments are OK, in order to incentivate women to play, but it would be better to only bestow norms in open tournaments, otherwise too many women would never play outside their close environment, and never would improve.
Jacob woge Jacob woge 10/2/2022 10:39
Can you, as a male, achieve the WIM / WGM title?

What about the LGBTQE segment. A hot topic in sports, any relevance in chess? E-sport?
arzi arzi 10/1/2022 11:38
Sorry the mistakes in writting, Try to do that with mobile phone. Awful, and painful if the language is not your native tool. Happy weekend.
arzi arzi 10/1/2022 11:26
Judit Polgar has proved that. I'm a fun of her. I have followed her entire career. Great player and a great personality.
arzi arzi 10/1/2022 11:14
No more wgm or wim. Everyone is in the same line.
arzi arzi 10/1/2022 11:09
However, I think that there could be competitions where women and men are in rhe same line. Chess is one of them. Stop the seperate groups and put everyone in the same group, men and women, girls and boys. Simple.
arzi arzi 10/1/2022 10:43
In fact they want that women have the same prizes as men. Image if women ran for cash prizes in the same races as men in rhe 100 m race?
doctormate doctormate 10/1/2022 10:29
Having a tournament that excludes players based on gender is sexist by definition. This is like someone standing in a pig pen, and pointing out some dirt on a person's shirt.
arzi arzi 10/1/2022 06:46
My favorite sci-fi writer, with Asimov.
Jacob woge Jacob woge 10/1/2022 06:28
Wouldnt it be great. You say the exact inverse and the two cancel out.

Science fiction, Arthur C. Clarke unless my memory falis me.
arzi arzi 10/1/2022 03:54
What about touch-word rule? You can take back the word you just mistakenly said? Should we start using that long lost rule again?
Jacob woge Jacob woge 10/1/2022 08:30
Touch-move / take-back, that is.
Jacob woge Jacob woge 10/1/2022 07:08
Time for guesswork.

In the recent Olympiad, the top two boards of one European Open team were female.

In total, two girls have won medals in the junior world chess championship.

Two male top players have attempted to Violate the touch-move rule when playing against a female, both at fast time control. One successful, the other not.
Longhorn Longhorn 10/1/2022 05:16
In 1912 male passengers unselfishly sacrificed themselves to save others.
Over the Centuries men have put trillions of work hours into building and maintaining the Earth's infrastructure.
Around 1970 the U.S. elites decided a way to open markets and increase profits was to strongly urge women to
pursue full time careers. Feminists, Schools, media, Politicians steered women toward Professional careers.
Radical feminists had interests beyond mere work. The lingo included: Patriarchal Society, oppression, discrimination, abortion rights, ERA, sexual harassment, sexism, systemic racism, divorce rights, white male

Since the 1980's, men have been walking a tightrope. They have discovered a need to act perfectly in the
Corporate World when in the company of Women. A mere date request or humor is fraught with risks.
A woman at work can go to Human Resources and complain about a man's behavior - either towards her or others.
Something said on a social media site could bother her. Or being asked out or a joke gone wrong.

Add to this the LGBTQ+ Community. A man now needs to know 70 identities and glossary terms and be sure
to embrace, accept, and offend no one.

Furthermore, Major Corporations have been adopting ESG as well as equity, inclusion, diversity programs.
They are all in on the Mantra of never offending a Customer.

Concluding, FIDE is committed to attracting women to the game of chess. Increased members will create
markets and profit potential. Comments not viewed as positive toward women were perceived by many as offensive.

ps. Ilya, none of your Twitter critics lead perfect lives. None of them show the character quality to forgive let alone
give of themselves to save your Titanic situation. They have emulated the '70's radicals vision, and only ever
work toward such ends.
psilocybin psilocybin 10/1/2022 01:49
Dinosaurs go extinct.
arzi arzi 9/30/2022 05:14
Maybe, the using the word, man, is allowed only to woman?
fgkdjlkag fgkdjlkag 9/30/2022 03:33
I've heard many non-native English speaking commentators, including women, use "men's section" instead of "open", and make similar such comments. But to ask why women should have separate events while commentating on a women's event, and saying that someone "plays like a man" and when asked to clarify, talk about superior positional understanding, is pretty crazy.
arzi arzi 9/30/2022 07:17
Maybe he should have used a word "Open" instead of "Man"? World is an unforgiving and hard place. One mistake and you are out, no mercy. After that every one is happy again, except one.
Magic_Knight Magic_Knight 9/30/2022 01:36
I like how Smirnin keeps referring to the Open section as "Mens section" when it's not. Plenty of women have played in the Open section. The guy's logic is off, like way off.
AidanMonaghan AidanMonaghan 9/29/2022 09:09
Perhaps ill-considered words by Smirin to illuminate gender distinctions, given the times.

Gender segregated play however, is necessarily distinctive.

Over-reactions are also problematic.
e-mars e-mars 9/29/2022 07:49
@fede666 totally agree, but with the current climate if you say something like that you're going to get into trouble for sure, so it depends on whether he wants to pursuit a career as commentator or as a activist for men's rights in chess. For the latter, his comments were certainly spot on.
Mike Magnan Mike Magnan 9/29/2022 06:31
POOR MAN. Just is a great example and should be shared as much as possible. It's rare and fun when you hear an honest paternalistic viewpoint. Kinda of like when Europeans "Discovered " America. It's nonsense...but It's good to know that these very outdated forms of thinking are still alive and kicking. It's up to change that shit.
AWKUZ AWKUZ 9/29/2022 05:31
Сексисты только на Западе бывают?! Что-то в других частей земного шара о них не слыхать. Бедные ограниченные люди, зажатые рамками "правил".
MisterM_nas MisterM_nas 9/29/2022 04:10
@A Alekhine
It absolutely does matter. Take a pool of 100 men rated 2400 (A) and a similar pool of 100 women rated 2400 (who mostly gained their ratings in women tournaments) (B). Throw a woman chess player rated 2400 into A+B and let her play against them. Against which pool will she score better? A or B?
If a women plays almost exclusively only-women tournaments, her 2400 rating is relative to the field, not the overall field of players.
This applies to any closed environment.

It is not sexist if it is true.
fede666 fede666 9/29/2022 03:39
I feel sorry for GMs like Smirin...they are strong 2700 GMs and struggle all their life with money...then they watch a woman tournament where the strongest player is 2500 and something (no 2600 there) and see that the winner of a woman tournament can make much more that he could (despite his rating is over 2700)..and he gets angry and frustrated and says stupid thing...He wonders why chess is throwing away money like that and have mediocre 2550 players make much more than he does ???
lagrigorescu lagrigorescu 9/29/2022 03:17
I am pretty sure Smirin meant to make a compliment "playing like a man" means better than female level. What is wrong with that? Judith Polgar then showed disrespect to women by playing against men only, following this logic.
A Alekhine A Alekhine 9/29/2022 03:12
My understanding is that FIDE titles are based on ratings and norms. These factors are not related to gender. For example, if you play at a 2600 standard in an event, the gender of your opposition doesn't matter. Perhaps I am missing something here, but that is how I see it.
Werewolf Werewolf 9/29/2022 03:08
Don’t claim there’s any difference between the sexes, or you will be labelled a sexist and fired.
MisterM_nas MisterM_nas 9/29/2022 02:47
It IS a valid question: should it be possible to earn 'standard' titles in only-women competitions?