The 2016 world title challenger has been banned for six months over social-media posts praising Vladimir Putin and supporting the war in Ukraine © EPA-EFE

Sergey Karjakin, the 2016 world title challenger, has been banned for six months by the world chess body Fide’s Ethics Committee and will be excluded from the 2022 Candidates, which will decide Magnus Carlsen’s next championship opponent. This decision is in response to the 32-year-old Russian’s outspoken and controversial statements on social media in which he praised Vladimir Putin and supported the war. Karjakin was born in Crimea, and represented Ukraine until he moved to Moscow in 2009.

There will be an appeal: “The RCF opposes discrimination against athletes by any criteria, and will fight for their rights. We appeal to Fide President Arkady Dvorkovich with a request to take the situation under his personal control”. A Kremlin spokesman called on Fide to “reconsider this decision and remain out of politics”.

Russian teams have already been excluded from the 150-nation Olympiad, which has been switched from Moscow to Chennai, and from the world team championship in Israel, which has been postponed from April to November. However, banning a qualified player from the individual world championship for his opinions, however repugnant, is new.

In 1946, the then world champion Alexander Alekhine was accused of Nazi collaboration based on some virulently anti-Jewish articles, and was barred from a London tournament. However, he was still welcome to play in Spain and Portugal, while Russia’s Mikhail Botvinnik continued negotiations for a title match until Alekhine’s sudden death.

Karjakin’s participation could provoke opponents to refuse to play him, risking that the outcast would profit from defaults and thus qualify as Carlsen’s challenger. Previous occasions when personal relations have completely broken down, such as Vlad Kramnik vs Veselin Topalov and Anatoly Karpov vs Viktor Korchnoi, suggest that a much more likely scenario is that Karjakin would simply be ostracised, with no handshakes and separate postgame press conferences.

Arkady Dvorkovich, then Russia’s deputy prime minister, looks on as Vladimir Putin speaks in Moscow in April 2018 © Getty Images

The RCF’s appeal directly to Arkady Dvorkovich increases the already severe personal pressure on Fide’s Russian president. Dvorkovich, who turns 50 on March 26, has political baggage. He was deputy prime minister in 2014 at the time of the seizure of Crimea. As Fide president, Dvorkovich has been  dynamic, hard-working and innovative, transforming Fide’s image from the eccentric actions of his predecessor Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, drastically upgrading its budget, and always being available at important and difficult moments. But, says Nigel Short, the former world title challenger who is now a Fide vice-president, “Dvorkovich is being attacked in the west for being too Russian and in Russia for not being Russian enough”.

Dvorkovich’s attempts last week to explain his position appeared self-contradictory and, following a fiercely critical attack from the pro-Putin United Russia party, he resigned  as chair of the Skolkovo Foundation, a centre for advanced technologies.

There are some who also want him to quit Fide, notably Magnus Carlsen’s chief second Peter Heine Nielsen, who said “The chess world without Russian control is necessary”, but the general opinion is that any change will happen only at the next Fide congress at Chennai in August.  

It would be a major surprise if Dvorkovich was forced out, since his achievements are widely respected and he is personally liked. If he goes, the favourite to succeed him would be Fide’s managing director Dana Reizniece-Ozola, who as a player defeated China’s world No1 Hou Yifan in an Olympiad, whose pre-Fide job was as finance minister of Latvia, and who impressed with her organisation of last year’s Grand Swiss in Riga.

Meanwhile Carlsen’s Play Magnus Group, which incorporates inter alia the website, the Meltwater Champions Tour, and the Play Magnus app, continues to perform strongly. It is already listed in Oslo, and was this week also admitted to the US Over the Counter market. The FT-Statista 2022 ranking of the top 1,000 fastest growing companies in Europe places Play Magnus Group in first place among all gaming companies and 27th overall. The ranking is composed of European companies that achieved the highest compound annual growth rate in revenue between 2017 and 2020.

Puzzle 2462

Daniil Dubov vs Levon Aronian, speed 2021. Black to move and win. When both players are attacking, the first blow is often decisive.

Click here for solution

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