General Feb 22, 2023 | 10:14 AMby Colin McGourty

Russia Chess Federation to join Asia

The World Chess Federation today announced it has no objection to the Russian Chess Federation leaving the European Chess Union and joining the Asian Chess Federation (ACF). All that remains is for the ACF to rubberstamp that switch at its General Assembly on February 28. FIDE will allow Russian players to switch to a European chess federation with no transfer fee or delay in being able to represent their new country.

Will Russia's gold at the 2021 European Team Chess Championship be their last? | photo:

ECU takes stronger position on Russia than FIDE

In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Russian and Belarusian Chess Federations were banned from holding official FIDE events and their teams excluded from team events. FIDE didn’t follow the International Olympic Committee’s recommendation and ban individual players, however, instead simply requiring that when they play no Russian flag is displayed.

The European Chess Union (ECU) went further. While Russian players could compete in FIDE events while still registered officially as Russian Chess Federation players, the ECU insisted that players take advantage of FIDE’s offer to make a free and quick switch to the neutral FIDE flag. (A restriction was later added to limit players abusing the system to switch only for the duration of an event.)

The ECU also described the Russian Chess Federation (RCF) as “politically exposed, but also exposed to the consequences of war”, noting that the RCF’s Board of Trustees includes the Russian Minister of Defence Sergei Shoigu and Vladimir Putin’s Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov. They also note that the RCF has incorporated Crimea, which is internationally recognised as part of Ukraine.

ECU: “We will assume the RCF also has the green light from FIDE”

The RCF voted in April 2022 to apply for membership of the Asian Chess Federation, which was made possible by the fact that 77% of Russia is in Asia, though it’s also worth noting that 75% of the population lives in what is considered European Russia.

European Russia, generally considered to end at the Ural Mountains, is just 23% of Russia's landmass, but home to 75% of the population | image: Travelpleb, Wikipedia

Since then, FIDE, whose President Arkady Dvorkovich is also on the Board of Trustees of the RCF, had remained silent.

In a statement on January 30 this year the ECU wrote, “we will assume that the Russian Chess Federation also has the green light from FIDE”, and called on the RCF to withdraw from the ECU by this Friday, February 24. That’s the last working day before the ACF General Assembly in Abu Dhabi, but was surely chosen symbolically as the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

FIDE gives its approval

FIDE finally confirmed in a statement today that they will not try to block the switch. The FIDE Council reviewed a report of the Constitution Commission and took “two main decisions”:

  • To rename Zone 1.6 (Russia) as Zone 3.8, as part of Asia, effective May 1, 2023, given that the Asian Chess Federation confirms it accepts the Chess Federation of Russia as a member in their General Assembly.
  • To adopt a series of additional measures to protect those players who decide to leave the Russian Chess Federation at this point and join any European chess federation. Players previously belonging to the CFR will be allowed to represent their new federation with immediate effect, from the next day of submitting their application, without any restrictions. All transfer fees, to FIDE or CFR, are waived.

The second point responds to a key criticism of FIDE — that it was forcing top Russian players to pay significant amounts of money to the RCF to switch federation and be able to represent another team.

It also incorporates the ECU’s suggestion that there should be a special status for Russian players who want to remain within the European chess family.

Some criticism may still come for the fact that players who choose to stay in Europe this way can also leave at the drop of a hat.

2.4 In the event that the Players decide to leave the national federation to which they transferred under the above procedure, such a federation is not entitled to receive any compensation fee. Also, these Players can transfer to CFR later with no fees to be paid to their previous national federation or FIDE.

What happens now?

Many questions will arise if the switch is confirmed. The most immediate, perhaps, is what will happen with the European Individual Championship taking place in Vrnjacka Banja, Serbia from March 3. That tournament qualifies 23 players to the FIDE World Cup later this year, with Alexandr PredkeAndrey EsipenkoAlexey Sarana and Evgeniy Najer the top Russian-born players registered. (Incidentally, chess legends Boris Gelfand and Vasyl Ivanchuk are also set to play.)

No. TitleNameFEDRating
1GMSargissian GabrielARM2699
2GMMartirosyan Haik M.ARM2686
3GMWojtaszek RadoslawPOL2686
4GMNavara DavidCZE2685
5GMMoussard JulesFRA2684
6GMPredke AlexandrFID2684
7GMAnton Guijarro DavidESP2679
8GMEsipenko AndreyFID2675
9GMGelfand BorisISR2670
10GMSarana AlexeyFID2668
11GMNajer EvgeniyFID2666
12GMIvanchuk VasylUKR2664
13GMShevchenko KirillROU2662
14GMSaric IvanCRO2661
15GMGrandelius NilsSWE2660

Will players potentially be able to play in both the European and Asian Chess Championships?

Uzbekistan's victory in the 2022 Olympiad, with India on the podium, was symbolic of the chess shift towards Asia | photo: Lennart Ootes

In the wider sense, nothing changes, as the switch doesn’t free the Russian Chess Federation from war-related sanctions. For now, Russia will still not be able to host official FIDE events or enter teams in team events. The main change, then, may be that the RCF expects no longer to have pariah status in its new home, while for players there may be practical advantages.

24-year-old Russian Grandmaster Vladislav Artemiev recently commented:

Personally, I look at it positively. The situation in the world now is very complicated, and I don’t think it’ll be possible to play in Europe continually in the near future. At best there will be problems with visas, logistics and cancelled tournament invitations… Objectively, it’s even desirable to switch to Asia. It’s even to a large degree better for the young chess players. After all, when you’re young, every year counts – at 15-16 you need to play constantly. Besides, there’s a very high level of competition in Asia.

Of course, Russia switching to Asia also potentially means much more competition for the same World Cup spots and other qualifying places, so it will be interesting to see how, for instance, the chess powerhouses of India and China react to the increased competition. Will FIDE be tempted to offer more places to Asia and fewer to Europe?

We can expect interesting times ahead, though first the Asian Chess Federation has to approve the Russian Chess Federation’s application.

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