World Cup: Health-related issues

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
7/16/2021 – The second round of the World Cups kicked off on Thursday, with the top seeds in both sections starting their campaigns after getting byes in the first round. A couple of health-related issues arose on Thursday, as Levon Aronian showed symptoms of fever and withdrew from his game against Bobby Cheng, while later on, with the games already in play, FIDE announced that another player had tested positive for Covid-19. | Pictured: Irine Sukandar | Photo: Eric Rosen

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Hoping for the best

Amid an inequitable vaccine rollout in different parts of the world and new variants of the Covid-19 virus creating uncertainty even in first-world countries, a chess event that sees players arriving from five continents is taking place in Sochi. To deal with the situation, the International Chess Federation has put forth a public health and safety protocol, which includes daily checks for temperature and symptoms, in addition to periodic Covid-19 tests.

Following the protocol, it was announced before the start of the second round that third seed Levon Aronian would not play his first game against Australian GM Bobby Cheng. The Armenian had a fever earlier this week and “even though he felt well today, in order not to risk the safety of the other players it was decided that he would withdraw from the first game, and undergo additional health tests before deciding if he is fit to play in the second game” (FIDE).

Although this was a bit of a worrying factor, more concerns were raised later in the day when it was confirmed that a player had tested positive for Covid-19. In a field that includes 309 players, this should not come as a massive surprise — however, the fact that the news broke once the games had started was the real issue. Anish Giri tweeted, after beating Boris Savchenko with the white pieces:

FIDE explained that privacy regulations prevent them from disclosing the name of the player who had tested positive and, given the elephant in the room (pointed out by Giri), explained:

The player who has been forced to forfeit his game today had been tested before his trip, and then again in Sochi on July 10th, July 11th, and July 14th. After three negatives, it was this last test the one that turned out to be positive.

The health agency that runs the tests for the event should have alerted FIDE of any positive before 1PM, local time. However, for reasons that we are investigating now, FIDE was not informed about the result of this test until 15:21, when the game had already started.

FIDE did the only thing that was possible in the circumstances: to immediately stop the game, isolate the players, and provide medical advice to them.

During the day, it was also known that Indonesian IM Mohamad Ervan had forfeited his first-round match against GM Nodirbek Abdusattorov after his mandatory test upon arrival had turned out positive. Ervan was one of four players who made their way to Sochi from Indonesia, together with Irene Sukandar, Medina Aulia and Susanto Megaranto. It was GM Megaranto, Fabiano Caruana’s opponent, who left the board mid-game on Thursday. Caruana tweeted:

Much like the ever-courteous Caruana, we expect for this to be an isolated issue that gets resolved without further consequences for the players or the tournament.  

Fabiano Caruana

Fabiano Caruana | Photo: Anastasiia Korolkova

Update: Irene Sukandar and Medina Aulia decided to withdraw from the tournament despite having tested negative for Covid-19.

Levon Aronian also decided to withdraw. He wrote on Facebook:

Dear all, with great regret I have to inform you about my withdrawal from the FIDE World Cup 2021. Having a high fever and tonsillitis, despite my great desire to play, I have to be rational and put mine, and the health of other players first. 

No major surprises

The first games of round 2 saw most favourites taking wins or draws in both sections. Magnus Carlsen made his debut and had no trouble beating Croatian GM Sasa Martinovic with the black pieces — coincidentally, yesterday was Martinovic’s 30th birthday!

Before the start of the round, the world champion received the Fair Play Svetozar Gligoric award, in recognition to his “exemplary behaviour that promotes the spirit of fair play and sportsmanship in chess”. In July last year, the Norwegian politely resigned a game against Ding Liren on move 4 after the Chinese star had lost the previous encounter due to a disconnection.

Magnus Carlsen

Keeping the mask on — world champion Magnus Carlsen | Photo: Anastasiia Korolkova

One of the highlights of the day was Adhiban’s final combination against Neuris Delgado in a game that merely lasted 22 moves.


The Paraguayan GM resigned after 22.Qh7+ due to 22...Nxh7 23.Bxh7+ Kh8 24.Rxf8+ and mate in the next move.

Endgame analyses

Two interesting endgames attracted GM Karsten Müller’s attention on Thursday. First, he looked at Benjamin Bok’s crucial win over Samuel Sevian in a rook endgame, and then he analysed a position with queen against two rooks.


Ukrainian IM Nataliya Buksa needed to find 40...Qa8 to keep the balance in the highly complicated endgame. Her 40...Kb8, on the other hand, was duly punished by 17-year-old American IM Carissa Yip, who now needs a draw with black on Friday to reach the next round.


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Carissa Yip, Alexander Onischuk

Carissa Yip with former U.S. champion Alexander Onischuk, who was defeated by Russian GM David Paravyan on Thursday | Photo: Eric Rosen


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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