From the 25th to 30th of December, the Rapid & Blitz World Championship for 2017 was held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Intense preliminary negotiations took place in London and this culminated in an event with a record US Dollar prize fund of 2,000,000, the highest among all FIDE championships in recent times. The work carried out by Geoffrey Borg and Malcolm Pein in these negotiations must be highlighted.
Initially, major obstacles were predicted due to the stringent dress code in Saudi Arabia as well as the political confrontations outside of sport that currently exist in the Middle East. These seemed insurmountable but due to active work on the part of FIDE, led by its Acting President, Georgios Makropoulos, a solution was found that had seemed impossible. It was agreed that the female participants did not have to wear the traditional dress of hijab and abayas in the game room or in the host hotels, and also that men and women participated together in the same games room, both remarkable facts given the customs of the country.
Another substantial obstacle was the granting of visas for participants from Qatar, Iran and Israel given the existing regional confrontations. In this respect Mr Makropoulos obtained the acceptance by the authorities that the first two countries mentioned above were granted the relative permits. However, in the most difficult case of all, Israel, negotiations were held but the decision of the US government on Jerusalem, which came at the worst possible moment, prevented progress.
Given the complexity of the task, it must be said that of the 4 problematic cases, FIDE obtained a satisfactory response in 3, which gives an example of what sport can do to solve tensions. (It should be remembered that it was Table Tennis that opened the doors of diplomatic relations between China and the USA).
As Saudi Arabia will request to organize the R & B World Championships of 2018 and 2019 the FIDE Acting President, Mr. Makropoulos, said in his inaugural speech and outside the protocol that the next championships would be called "King Salman, Peace and Friendship" in a clear allusion to that all FIDE member federations will participate in them. The door is open and it will be the FIDE General Assembly that will decide on this.
The organization of the Rapid & Blitz was excellent, even more so considering it was a totally new federation. There were magnificent hotels, imposing headquarters and excellent transportation. In the end, no reason for complaint. The friendliness of the Saudi staff with all the visitors was remarkable. The support provided by the chess federations of Asia and the UAE was commendable.
In the technical aspect, the game room was unbeatable, the pairings were always on time and there were only two protests due to arbitration errors that were resolved correctly. A highly positive measure that must be followed by FIDE in all its world championships was the free opening of the transmission of the live games to all the websites that wished to use it. This promotes chess and does not limit it as when transmission is conditioned by an economic interest.
On the development of the event, much has been written and I will not repeat, just to note the dramatic way in which Anand won the Rapid and the spectacular Carlsen attack to win the Blitz, also the intense fight in the women's section. I am sure of the satisfaction of all the participants and their desire to return.
As an anecdotal question regarding different customs, I mention that always in the lobby of the event there was a hunting hawk. We were permitted to have our pictures taken with the hawk whenever we wanted. I did not resist the temptation and published two of them.
Riyadh, December 31, 2017.