Friday, April 23, 2010

Israel and the Arab World over the Chess Board

Image credit: SlantRight 2.0.

Samuel Sloan, a New York chess player, posted a story about the game between the Israeli player, Shmuel Nagar and an UAE player, Isak Al Mulla, in a tournament in Thessaloniki. According to the report in the link:
After he had achieved a winning position in the opening against a player named Nagar, Al Mulla casually leaned over and asked his opponent where he was from. He was shocked when his opponent said that he was from Israel.

The United Arab Emirates is one of the many Arab countries which is officially boycotting Israel. For this reason, Al Mulla immediately reported this situation to the head of his delegation, Mr. Awad Ali.

Under normal circumstances, a player from the UAE cannot play an official chess game against anyone from Israel. However, Al Mulla contended that now that the game was in progress and indeed he had achieved a winning position, there was no point in forfeiting the game now. Mr. Awad overruled him, stating that since, when the game started, nobody had any reason to know that the opponent was from Israel, but now they had become aware of this fact, there was no choice but to terminate the game now. Accordingly, Mr. Awad stopped the clock and the game was forfeited.
This report sounds fishy. Would not a player who is intent on not playing an Israeli ask a player with an obviously Jewish name such a 'Shmuel' if he's an Israeli before starting the game? Since when do players 'lean over and casually inquire' where the other player is form in the middle of a tournament game (or for that matter, speak to the opponent at all)? And while, as is well known, anything can happen over the chess board, is it really likely that a UAE player would achieve 'a winning position in the opening' in the opening moves against an Israeli player when, in the 1988 Olympiad held concurrently, Israel came out 7th -- and the UAE, 68th?

Mr. Nagar, in an interview, filled me in with the accurate details. Saying nothing about the position on the board except that the game was in the opening (presumably neither side was winning), he said that, as both of them concentrated on their game, they were in for a rude surprise:
Suddenly, three thugs come into the room and drag him [Nagar's opponent] out of the room by force! I met him in the Olympiad later that day, and he told me, 'You see, Mr. Nagar, we players get along, it's the politicians who don't allow us to.'
This version sounds more believable. But one would like to see the game score -- I found no such game in my Chessbase 9.0 database of almost three million games.

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