Chess could not have produced a bigger farce than what happened at the World Championship Unification match between Vladimir Kramnik and Veselin Topalov.
And that too, in the backyard of FIDE president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov in Elista, the capital of Kalmykia which he rules with an iron fist. If only the FIDE boss had used the same iron fist in dealing with the ‘toiletgate’, chess would have not seen the bizarre incidents that happened in Elista.
As a rule, the classical world championship finals generate lot of heat and controversy because of the bloated egos of the players involved.
But the Kramnik-Topalov match took the cake as far as irrational behaviour goes. Trailing 3-1 after four games, Topalov's team led by his manager Silvio Danailov lodged a protest objecting on the time Kramnik was spending in the toilet.
He gained access to the video recording of Kramnik's rest room (both had separate rooms with attached toilets as per the agreement reached before the match) and alleged that the Russian Classical champion was spending too much time in the toilet, thus inferring that Kramnik was ‘cheating’ by using computer or outside help.
The appeals committee decided in favour of Topalov and ordered closure of the toilet in Kramnik's room. Kramnik sat in protest outside his toilet during the fifth game which was awarded to Topalov, reducing the margin to 3-2.
The impasse continued as Kramnik refused to play the sixth game too and it was finally resolved when the FIDE president sacked the appeals committee. Kramnik agreed to play the sixth game under protest, reserving his right to take legal action at a later time.
It didn't come to that as Kramnik recovered to win the match in rapid tie-breaker. All the same, it left a bad taste in the mouth and the chess community blasted the actions of Topalov and his manager. However, the controversy did not die down as Topalov has recently accused the World Champion of cheating by using computers.
Cheating did become a big issue in the middle of the year when two players were accused of cheating during the World Open in the US. In an amateur tournament, the organisers become suspicious when a known amateur defeated World No 43, Israeli Grandmaster Ilya Smirin — who was quoted saying, "I felt like I was playing against a machine."
Eugene Varshavsky, who played with a 'magical' hat, locked himself in the bathroom when the tournament director wanted to see him and though no illegal device was found he was searched for hearing devices before every game. However, there was no such luck for Steve Rosenberg and was caught red-handed with a hearing device and was expelled promptly.
In India, Umakant Sharma, the top seed at the Subroto Mukerjee tournament in New Delhi, was caught with a bluetooth device hidden in his cap when random checking was conducted during the seventh round. It was the first such incident in India.