Chess World Cup 2021: The hidden part of the Dubai Chess World Cup | Chess News

This piece corresponds to one of the shipments of the weekly newsletter Maravillosa Jugada, from EL PAÍS, which is sent by email every Thursday.

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Hello! Greetings from Dubai!

The duels for the world title, which previously lasted months and now three weeks, feed that deceptive image of chess: two people, almost always men, little less than immobile for hours. What could be interesting about that ?, many people wonder. You already know the answer: a lot, because of what goes on in your minds, because of what they represent, because of the exciting connections of chess with various branches of science and art, etc. Today I’m going to tell you what’s behind the scenes in Dubai where the mental gladiators Magnus Carlsen and Ian Niepómniashi face off (this spelling is closer to Russian pronunciation than Niepómniachi).

The Spanish David Llada, head of Communication and Marketing of the International Chess Federation (FIDE), guided me yesterday through the most restricted area of ​​the Dubai Exhibition Center (DEC), the huge congress hall within the Universal Expo site. That is to say, all the people who enter the DEC have already had to pass the security control of the Expo, similar to that of the airports. And those who have access to the stage area must pass more controls.

Both players are full body scanned before each game to prevent any electronic gadget by which an outsider could blow them the moves recommended by computers that calculate millions of positions per second. And not only that: one of the referees has a machine that detects and blocks any type of electronic emission (including bluetooth) other than that necessary for the board where the games are played to instantly transmit each play to the giant screens for the public and the internet signal for the whole world. That is, even if Carlsen or Niepómniashi managed to slip an invisible and undetectable headset on stage, it would be of no use to them.

Due to unforeseen circumstances, Llada has responsibilities in Dubai much greater than those of his position. In fact, he was the main person in charge of setting up the stage and the huge amphitheater, and that allows me to know interesting details: “I had to spin very fine on various issues so that no one would get angry. For example, as Carlsen’s dressing room is closer to the stage than Niepómniachi’s, his bathroom is the furthest away, to compensate ”. More problematic was satisfying the different sponsors: “Each brand wants to be at the exact point that guarantees it the most appearances in photos and videos, or where most people look; so I had to do a meticulous study so that the distribution of the spaces was equitable in different parts of the table and the stage ”.

In Niepómniashi’s dressing room there are abundant cola drinks, chocolate, coffee and tea of ​​various kinds. In Carlsen’s, a lot of Isklar water (one of his sponsors), and nuts. In both, an armchair and a television screen, where the signal from the electronic board is projected, which allows the player to follow the game from the dressing room when it is his rival’s turn to play.

Spectators can enter with mobile phones because the stage is soundproof. And protected by a thick opaque glass screen (they can see the players, but not them). However, the bathroom and dressing room area is not: “This forces us to ask the public to remain completely silent, as in normal chess tournaments, without acoustic isolation.”

The table where the World Cup is played on the stage of the Expo Dubai
The table where the World Cup is played on the stage of the Expo DubaiERIC ROSEN

Llada also designed the table, with the appropriate centimeters on both sides between the edge of the tabletop and the edge of the table itself so that the Norwegian and Russian can rest their arms at will. The office chairs are the most comfortable that I remember having tried in my life. And the light has also been scrupulously studied, to avoid shadows on the board and to facilitate the work of photographers; only eight of them can be in the glass area during the first minutes of each game.

Behind the scenes, hidden between screens, are the working rooms of the Norwegian television NRK and the American NBC. Both, together with the Russian Match TV, the Emirati and several of the Expo’s own media, cover daily and have preferential access to the players after the games.

Finally, Llada opens the Holy of Holies, the VVIP room (very very important person). About 30 square meters of glass to the left of the stage, hidden from the public with very comfortable seats; from here, the players are only a few meters away. And its existence has a logical explanation: “We do not rule out that one day Putin may come. You can’t tell a character like that that he has to be here at 4.15pm sharp so as not to disturb the players, because he will come whenever he wants. In this way, when a character of that level arrives, we can put him here discreetly, passing him behind the scenes, without the players knowing it ”.

Among other special attentions, this very exclusive room stores several bottles of a Bordeaux wine produced by Andréi Filátov, one of the Russian millionaires closest to Putin, president of the Russian Chess Federation, philanthropist of Russian art and owner of a vineyard in that famous French city. Certainly, seeing so closely the world champion and his challenger – those two people almost motionless for hours – while enjoying an exquisite soup does not seem like a bad plan for an afternoon in Dubai.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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