General Apr 16, 2022 | 1:30 PMby Tarjei Svensen

Female chess player reports harassment in Reykjavik Open

The Reykjavik Open was British chess player Tallulah Roberts' first international chess tournament, but despite scoring a good performance on the board, the 23-year-old says she was harassed and mentions several unpleasant incidents during the tournament. The Iceland organisers are now investigating the reports.

Tallulah Roberts during the first round of the Reykjavik Open | photo: Reykjavik Open

The traditional Reykjavik Open in Iceland is a popular tournament for chess players all around the world, and ended this week. The tournament has become a favourite among professionals and amateurs due to great hospitality and excellent playing conditions in the beautiful Harpa Concert Hall in the centre of Reykjavik.

23-year-old Tallulah Roberts from Jersey in the UK decided she would play her first international tournament on the island. Roberts has made a name for herself as a chess streamer on Twitch, gaining almost 7,600 followers under the name lularobs. She started playing chess at the end of 2020, but has already reached club player level.

On Twitter she regularly updated her 8,000 followers on her progress and results during the tournament. However, some of the updates weren't very positive. She reported this incident after the blitz tournament.

She later added a follow-up to the incident.

Roberts ended up scoring 3.5 points, a very respectable result for a debut. However, after returning home to the UK, she tweeted about another unpleasant incident she experienced.

She also added: “The chess world isn’t a safe place for us, and it’s time to stop pretending these issues are in the past or that people are only sexist online. It’s 2022 and this happens.” The 23-year-old received thousands of 'likes' to her tweets and a considerable amount of support for speaking out in the replies.

chess24 reached out to Roberts, who says she is pleased with how the organisers quickly contacted her after the tweets.

The organiser did seem genuinely concerned about the incidents I described and contacted me very soon after the tweets started to gain attention. Ingvar [Johannesson], the co-organiser who I had spent a bit of time getting to know throughout the tournament, also contacted me. I know that he is a huge supporter of women in chess and I really appreciate that he reached out to ensure that I was doing okay.

She does not want to talk about the incidents until the organisers have completed their investigation and talked to the people involved.

So far I think they’ve responded well and my hope is that these negative events can be turned into a starting point from which we can move towards prioritising the safety of girls and women who are minorities at such events, and set a precedent for calling out inappropriate behaviour when we see it.

Gunnar Bjornsson, chief organiser of the Reykjavik Open | photo: Reykjavik Open

Gunnar Bjornsson, the chief organiser of the Reykjavik Open and a long-time president of the Icelandic Federation, confirmed to chess24 that they are investigating the incident.

We are of course taking this very seriously. I already emailed her this morning, to get her report it and I received the response. We are looking at her email right now. We are definitely working to make sure this does not happen again. 

Bjornsson has been in charge of the tournament since 2010, and says he has never received any reports of harassment in previous editions. He says the matter would have been dealt with immediately if they had been informed during the tournament.

I first heard about this yesterday night. I woke up this morning, and the first thing I did was to send her an email. We want every player in Reykjavik to feel safe. We want to find a way for this to not happen again.

Bjornsson says they will release a public statement once they complete their investigation.

The incidents reported by Roberts highlight the issue of sexism and harassment that has been raised by women in the game on multiple occasions in the past. The topic received worldwide attention when the Netflix hit series The Queen's Gambit took off globally.

Magnus Carlsen himself raised the issue in an interview with The Guardian, saying, “it's been a problem in chess for a long time.”

Chess societies have not been very kind to women and girls over the years. Certainly there needs to be a bit of a change in culture.

Susan Polgar, retired grandmaster and former Women's World Chess Champion, is one notable woman who has spoken out about being harassed multiple times as a professional player.

IM Anna Rudolf, chess commentator and streamer, has talked about the incident when she was accused of cheating with an engine hidden in her lipbalm by another International Master.

Tallulah Roberts with fellow streamers Anna Cramling and Hans Niemann | photo: Hallfríður Sigurðardóttir / Reykjavik Open

Anna Cramling, the daughter of Grandmasters Pia Cramling and Juan Bellon Lopez and now a renowned chess streamer, tweeted earlier this year about an unpleasant experience she had as a 15-year-old in a youth event.

The problem gained even more attention in February when Russian-language news site Meduza reported that a Latvian International Master sexually harassed at least 15 top women players, some of them underage, for more than a decade. The man allegedly sent packages of porn magazines and used condoms to women and girls since 2009.

Note: Indian prodigy R. Praggnanandhaa triumped in Reykjavik with an impressive victory as the only player with 7.5 points in a field with 22 GMs out of 245 players. The 16-year-old will return to action next week in the Oslo Esports Cup, the next event in the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour.

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