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24 Jan, 2022 11:17

Chess star in mask row after bizarre tournament incident

The Russian grandmaster forfeited a game after refusing to play in a mask as a "matter of principle"
Chess star in mask row after bizarre tournament incident

When Daniil Dubov did not appear for his match against home player Anish Giri at the Tata Masters tournament in the Netherlands, fellow grandmaster Jan Gustafsson sent him a message asking: "You up?"

The 25-year-old was awake but would not be taking up the black pieces in Wijk aan Zee, although he arguably should have been. After being in contact with someone who contracted Covid, Dubov had passed several negative tests and was waiting on the results of a PCR check that would have arrived after he took on Giri.

To his surprise, Dubov was told by organizers who have implemented stringent safety rules amid the pandemic that he had to play the match while wearing a mask.

"Dubov has indicated that he refuses to play wearing a face mask as a matter of principle," tournament bosses later announced, adding that they had asked the Russian to play in a mask "in order to protect his opponent" after consulting their chief arbiter.

"Dubov did not show for his match, which means that he has lost his game by forfeit."

This is the first time that a chess player has lost a match over mask-wearing, which has been a frequent point of contention among athletes and the public during the pandemic.

Top analyst Gustafsson said that when he had asked strong-headed Dubov what he wanted to tell fans, he replied: "Just mention that I'm openly against playing in a mask and we aren't obliged to do it during a game, according to the regulations."

"I've seen Daniil wear plenty of masks," Gustafsson told Chess24. "I do not think that he is against wearing masks in general at all – it's just that it was very specifically agreed, before the tournament, that players don't have to wear masks.

"I understand to some extend – obviously it can get dicey – but it can very much affect your game if you're not used to wearing a mask for an entire classical chess game. He does feel strongly about.

"Daniil was not a fan of it and he specified that before the tournament. He's not obliged to, according to the regulations, and he's not onboard with it."

Russian grandmaster Sergey Karjakin, who is also competing at the tournament, backed Dubov. "Knowing that the organizers of the tournament care about our safety, it was logical, in the event of a negative PCR test, to postpone the Giri-Dubov game to a day off," he said.

"Daniil [decided] not to play. I would do the same. Personally, I will never play masked chess."

Dubov received backing and some criticism online. "It would have been easier to ask Daniil Dubov to start a game without three pawns than asking him to bow to an unprincipled off-the-board request," said chess expert Olimpiu Di Luppi.

One fan suggested that it would have been better for Dubov to agree to the suggestion than postpone the match.

"I'm no super grandmaster but wouldn't the fatigue of playing several hours during a mid-tournament rest day, while the others are relaxing or preparing, be more inconvenient than wearing a mask during a single game?" they said.

Others accused Dubov of setting a bad example and said Giri would have potentially suffered as a result of his absence.

"Giri was completely focused on the match against Dubov, including doing all the prep and waking up at a certain time," they argued, pointing to the rearranged schedule.

"[It was] only [when] Dubov forfeited that he could go back towards his hotel. Just for his actual rest day to become a playing day."

Health experts including Dr Anthony Fauci, US president Joe Biden's Chief Medical Advisor, have repeatedly extolled the virtues of wearing masks despite confusion over their efficacy in easing the pandemic.

Dubov has since returned to play in the tournament after his PCR test came back negative. World champion Magnus Carlsen, of Norway, leads the field.