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Iranian Chess Player Forfeits Game To Avoid Playing Israeli Opponent

Because Iran does not recognize the state of Israel’s right to exist, it imposes sanctions on those who would compete against Israelis, including chess players.

In order to avoid such sanctions, Alireza Firouzja, a Grand Master chess player, forfeited his third-round game at the GRENKE Chess Open in Karlsruhe, Germany, against Israeli FIDE Master Or Bronstein.

The Indian news website Firspost reported on Firouzja’s forfeit. He would go on to lose his fourth-round game against Antonia Zeigenfuss, who is rated much lower.

A quick explainer. Chess players are rated under the Elo rating system, which is used to calculate the skills and likelihood that a particular player will win. It was invented by Arpad Elo, a Hungarian-American physics professor. Grand Masters, like Firouzja, receive the title with an Elo rating over 2500 and have achieved a high-level of performance in multiple tournaments. Behind Grand Masters are International Masters, with Elo ratings between 2400 and 2500. Below that is the World Chess Federation (FIDE) Master, who would have achieved an Elo rating of more than 2300.

Firouzja, 15, had an Elo rating at least 200 points higher than Israeli FM Or Bronstein. If he had played against Bronstein, however, the chess prodigy could have been banned from future international tournaments.

Chess tournaments have become a minefield for Israeli players, as several countries who send players to compete have boycotted the nation.

“The organisers of such world-class events as the GRENKE are well aware of this. There have also been instances of making manual changes to algorithmically prepared pairings to avoid matchups of Israeli players with players of countries which boycott it. This has been observed even at prestigious events like the 2018 Women’s Chess Olympiad,” Firstpost reported.

Changes can’t be made during the final rounds, the outlet reported, leading some Iranians to forfeit a chance at winning.

Back home in Iran, Firspost further reported, forfeiting to an Israeli is celebrated:

Just a few months ago, Aryan Gholami, another young talent from Iran, was hailed as a hero back at home after he refused to play IM Ariel Erenberg of Israel in the seventh round of the Rilton Cup Blitz in Stockholm. After the event, Gholami got to meet the supreme leader of the Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who lauded the 17-year-old’s decision.

Firouzja’s forfeiture could end up costing him the €20,000 first prize and a chance to play in an upcoming, high-level tournament that would allow the young player the chance to go up against the very best in Chess: Magnus Carlsen, Fabiano Caruana, and Viswanathan Anand. Not forfeiting, however, could have cost him dearly in his home country.

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