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Ukraine's Mariya Muzychuk: Her world title match against Yifan Hou was marred by petty accusations by both countries' delegations (Vitaliy Hrabar CC BY-SA 4.0)

World chess championship matches have unfortunately become notorious for the outrageous suspicions that each player has developed about the other’s conduct. This is typically manifested by accusations (never substantiated) of cheating. To be fair to the actual combatants, these claims tend to be made by their delegations, and in some cases represent institutionalised paranoia.

For example, in the 1972 Fischer-Spassky match, the Soviet delegation proposed that their American counterparts were employing unspecified electronic devices to befuddle Boris Spassky’s brainwaves. At their request, the players’ chairs were taken apart. The only unexpected contents turned out to be two dead flies.

Then in 1978, when the USSR’s Anatoly Karpov played the Russian defector Viktor Korchnoi, the latter’s delegation demanded the yoghurt that Karpov was delivered during the games be of the same colour, to avoid the possibility of information being contained by variations in the flavours sent to him by the Soviet team chef.

Most unpleasant of all, in the 2006 world title match between Russia’s Vladimir Kramnik and the Bulgarian Veselin Topalov, the latter’s manager, Silvio Danailov, accused Kramnik of using a computer in his frequent trips to the lavatory during the games. This became known as “Toilet-gate”. There was not the slightest substance to the charge and to this day Kramnik refuses to shake hands with Topalov when they play each other.

Until now, however, the women’s world championship had been mercifully free of such psychological warfare. But in a remarkably frank interview in the latest issue of the Dutch publication New In Chess, China’s Yifan Hou revealed just how much her recent world title match against Ukraine’s Mariya Muzychuk had been disfigured by off-the-board tactics.

From the start, the Chinese delegation had been concerned about illicit advantages that the 23-year-old world champion Muzychuk — a year Hou’s senior — might be offered as a result of the event being staged in her home city of Lviv. So the Chinese team insisted that all radio signals to the auditorium be cut, and the transmission of the moves to those outside be delayed by half an hour. It was not until the day before the match started that the Ukrainian organisers conceded on this point, when it became clear that the Chinese would otherwise walk out.

But as Hou made plain in her interview, the home team took petty revenge for this imputation of dishonesty: “During the first half of the match, every day I would receive some complaint that was directly aimed at me personally, which really made me unhappy and it was disturbing. Minor issues, you cannot imagine. For example, after game two, they said I could not wear my jeans and sports shoes to the games. They said it was written into the contract. But there was nothing there. Not a single word.”

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