Author: Nadir SANANOGHLU
The Covid-19 pandemic postponed the sports events not only in Azerbaijan but throughout the world. Unlike most sports, the chess world has turned to online competitions, since organising chess competitions online was quite possible. Thus, the representatives of intellectual sports began to compete in the virtual world.
Due to the pandemic, a number of chess competitions have been postponed in Azerbaijan, including the national championship among men, the Baku Open and Nakhchıvan Open tournaments, the Vugar Hashimov Memorial in Shamkir, as well as the World Chess Olympiad among the 16-year-olds. The dates for most chess tournaments have been changed both in Azerbaijan and throughout the world.
We decided to discuss the upcoming changes in the chess world after the lockdown with the Vice-President of the International Chess Federation (FIDE), Vice-President of the Azerbaijan Chess Federation, Mahir MAMMADOV.
"What was the effect of the pandemic on chess?"
"The pandemic hit the chess world unexpectedly. When the spread of the virus was just progressing, Teymur Rajabov refused to join the Candidates Tournament. By the way, the competition could not be finalised anyway. In fact, holding the Candidates Tournament in such a difficult environment did not do any good to FIDE. And Teymour was right in his request to postpone the tournament. At the moment, we continue negotiations on this issue. We believe that everything will be settled through negotiations between FIDE and Rajabov, we will find a solution comfortable for both sides.
“Although all competitions have been postponed due to the coronavirus, chess has one advantage. It seems it is been designed for the Internet. There are famous chess sites, platforms that define chess policies in the world. Before the pandemic, there were very few official online tournaments, but now the whole chess life has migrated to the Internet. Amateurs have used online platforms before. And during the pandemic, even professionals joined online competitions.”
"During the pandemic, you initiated online competitions in Azerbaijan and Georgia. Are you satisfied with the results of online tournaments?"
"It was an attempt to attract chess players to online competitions. It was the first time that we held the Azerbaijan Cup online. One of our members from the national team, Eltaj Safarli, became the winner. When I was in Georgia for a business trip, a similar tournament was held there and Niko Volkov became the first. Then there were the international tournament Silk Road dedicated to independence days of Azerbaijan and Georgia, which included 55 chess players from both countries. Rauf Mammadov became the winner in an interesting competition. We will continue our online competitions. Another tournament is planned for the end of July. We are planning to hold a friendly match between the chess players of Azerbaijan and Ukraine."
"What is the scale of losses of the International Chess Federation during the pandemic?"
"Unfortunately, we had to postpone all competitions. The World Chess Olympiad among 16-year-olds, which was scheduled for October in Nakhchivan, has been postponed to 2021. Also, the Moscow Chess Olympiad was postponed to the next year. The pandemic also caused financial problems to firms supporting major chess competitions. Nevertheless, FIDE managed to implement interesting projects online. For the first time, we organised the intercontinental Nations Cup. Teymur Rajabov of Azerbaijan was part of the world team.
“On July 22, FIDE is going to host the World Chess Olympiad online. According to the regulations in the mixed teams competition, each team will have six chess players. They must include at least two chess players. Also, each team will include grandmasters under the age of 20 - a boy and a girl. Azerbaijan will be represented by Shahriyar Mammadyarov, Teymur Rajabov, Gunay Mammadzade, Gulnar Mammadova, Vugar Asadli and Khanym Balajayeva. The Azerbaijan Chess Federation included Rauf Mammadov, Gadir Huseynov, Turkan Mammadyarova, Ulviya Fatullayeva, Aydin Suleymanly and Govhar Beydullayeva as substitutes. The format of the Chess Olympiad is similar to the UEFA Nations League. The national team of Azerbaijan, as one of the strongest team, will play only nine games. Then comes the play-off round.”
“What are the main problems of online competitions?”
"Same as with face-to-face meetings, the main problem of online competitions is associated with a foul play, when players can attempt to get the computer assistance. In regular tournaments, a chess player is subject to strict examination at the entrance to the hall. In online competitions, we have to monitor all participants in order to prevent the use of computer assistance. Several cameras are set up around the chess players, they are under constant supervision. In addition, the games are verified on internet platforms using computers. At the end, the moves are checked by the judges and the video footage is watched in detail."
"Will it be possible to restore face-to-face meetings after the lockdown?"
"Online competitions will never replace face-to-face tournaments. Chess players must feel the opponents. Any competition becomes more interesting when the opponents are watching each other live. After the end of the pandemic, we will again be able to watch the games of professionals and intellectuals. Of course, chess will still be online but traditional tournaments should also take place.
“The pandemic has demonstrated that it is possible to do something without travelling long distances. As you know, FIDE Main Assembly convenes four times a year. Such meetings can be held without going somewhere and without spending financial resources.”
"What will be the fate of chess competitions previously scheduled for 2020 in Azerbaijan?"
"Currently, the organisation of chess competitions in 2020 is not a subject of discussions. It is necessary to follow the instructions of the Operational Headquarters under the Cabinet of Ministers. We do not plan to hold traditional tournaments this year."
"Will the pandemic have a negative impact on the training of chess players?"
"Only irresponsible chess players can give up their positions. But I do not believe that this is possible in six months or a year. They should definitely train. You can't do without training. All professionals are constantly training."
"Thank you for the interview!"