Chess players often agree on the difficulty of performing at your best when other problems are boiling in your head. Despite his frontal opposition to the invasion of Ukraine, Ian Niepomniashi is supported by one of the richest men in Russia, Vladimir Potanin; but another millionaire, Andrei Filátov, president of the Russian Chess Federation, criticized him a few days ago, after a defeat, for his insecurity: “He looks like a monkey with a hand grenade.” The current runner-up in the world tied this Sunday comfortably with the black pieces the tenth game of the fourteen scheduled against the Chinese Liren Ding in the World Cup in Astana (Kazakhstan), and now dominates by 5.5-4.5.
His words about the war would be enough to send any normal citizen to jail immediately. But no Russian media of any relevance has echoed what Niepómniashi told EL PAÍS on April 9: “I signed that manifesto [en abril de 2022, pocas semanas después del inicio de la invasión] with the heart. That war is horrifying, a tragic catastrophe. I understand to a certain extent the sanctions against Russian athletes, although I have serious doubts that they will contribute to improving the situation. If they force me to play with the FIDE flag [Federación Internacional de Ajedrez], as happened when Russia was punished for the mass doping scandal, I do. But I do not identify the Russian flag with the war, which horrifies me, but with my country, which I love”.
On the nepoteam.com portal, managed by the player’s assistants and admirers, you can read a recent statement, without a signature, criticizing Filatov’s outburst: “We fully recognize anyone’s right to express their personal opinion. But if he is a senior government official, directly related to the current events, his words are no longer personal. And they do more damage because they hit people’s reputations. Furthermore, these statements were made officially, in an interview with the TASS agency”. The representative of Niepómniashi, Zoe Artnáskaya, confirms that this portal has not been broken by any pirate and that these words “reflect the general feeling among those who support Ian.”
After signing the third consecutive draw, with the black pieces and in just three hours, after a deep home preparation clearly aimed at making a draw, Niepomniashi responded to Filátov’s phrase: “It’s a good question, but I’d rather not explain that now.” . Several conversations with people close to him lead to a clear conclusion: Filatov, who is close to Vladimir Putin, is not only annoyed by Niepomniashi’s insistence on condemning the aggression against Ukraine a year after the manifesto signed to the same effect by 44 chess personalities Russian, but this time he has not asked the Russian Federation for help to organize his previous months of training, as he did in 2021 when he faced Norwegian Magnus Carlsen, current champion until May 1, in Dubai.
However, Niepómniashi has the support of Potanin, much more influential than Filátov and closer to Putin (in fact, included in the international sanctioned lists), as highlighted on the same website, nepoteam.com, one day after publish his criticism of Filatov. Potanin is a fan of chess with a high technical level and even played some friendly games with Niepomniashi.
Taking into account that Putin has said in public at least twice that regaining the world chess title is a priority for Russian sport, one wonders why Filatov issues such a shrill reproach in the middle of the World Championship, knowing that it could harm psychologically to Niepomniashi. A source very familiar with the ins and outs of Russian chess gave this newspaper -on condition that his name is not mentioned- a perhaps enlightening explanation: “Filatov protects himself preventively, in case niepo loses the duel and falls in disgrace before the power”.
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