A leading contender to become the World Blitz Chess Champion was forced to withdraw from competition on Thursday after testing positive for COVID-19.
The International Chess Federation (FIDE) said “a few players” had tested positive and could no longer participate in the major championship in Warsaw in Poland.
Among them was Hikaru Nakamura, one of the world’s top blitz chess players and also a popular streaming star on Twitch. He had felt ill earlier in the competition but tested negative, then recorded a positive PCR test he had taken so he could fly out of Warsaw.
“I can’t finish the tournament and now I’m worried about all my opponents,” Nakamura wrote on Twitter.
Despite FIDE’s assurances that other players were aware of the outbreak, German player Maximillian Berchtenbreiter wrote on Twitter that he only heard about it through a friend who notified him of Nakamura’s announcement.
Players could only use public testing facilities
Several players had complained that they had to wait hours to be tested in city center facilities open to the general public in Warsaw, rather than having the capacity to test at or near the site, including Nakamura shortly before its positive result.
Indian chess grandmaster Vidit Gujrathi wrote on Twitter that he had to leave the queue after two hours and return in order not to lose his first game of the day.
FIDE said it was “terribly sorry” for the “unfortunate circumstances” and would provide logistical support to the affected players.
Warsaw came in at the last minute as host
The World Blitz Chess Championship kicked off on Wednesday, a day after the World Rapid Chess Championship ended with a longer time frame at the same venue.
In all, about 300 of the best male and female players in the world had descended on Warsaw for the fast or the blitz championships, or both.
In the World Blitz Chess Championship, each player has 3 minutes on the clock to finish a game, plus 2 extra seconds per move.
FIDE and the organizers in Warsaw had to race against the clock to prepare for the competition. Until December 9, the tournament was scheduled in Kazakhstan. But when the ommicron variant first started to spread, organizers in Nur Sultan canceled the event, citing concerns about safety and travel restrictions.
The following day, Warsaw, which hosted the final Rapid and Blitz Championships in 2019, announced it would become the venue in 2021. The 2020 event was canceled outright, also due to COVID.
‘MVL’ wins men’s blitz title after three tiebreaks
French star Maxime Vachier-Lagrave finally walked away with the men’s blitz title on Thursday evening, after three tiebreaker rounds with Polish player Jan-Kryzsztof Duda.
Alireza Firouzja, seen by many as the natural heir to the world No. 1 and outgoing blitz champion Magnus Carlsen, actually finished the regular matches with the same score as “MVL” and Duda.
However, he lost due to the complex set of rules used to choose the two leading players if more than two have the same number of points. It was also a similar story in the fast-paced men’s championship, where four players were tied on points but only two advanced to the tiebreaker.
In the women’s competition, 17-year-old Bibisara Assaubayeva from Kazakhstan won the tournament without the need for tiebreaks. Russian player Kateryna Lagno was the big favorite who entered the competition and claimed the title in 2019 and 2018.
Edited by: Mark Hallam