Coronavirus: Should Players Shake Hands Before A Chess Game?
Fabiano Caruana and Magnus Carlsen shaking hands in Croatia last year. Photo: Lennart Ootes/Grand Chess Tour.

Coronavirus: Should Players Shake Hands Before A Chess Game?

PeterDoggers
PeterDoggers
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110 | Chess Event Coverage

Growing concerns about the new coronavirus raise the question of whether players should still shake hands before and after a game of chess. In a new medical security protocol, FIDE recommends against it.

With 3,200 people killed by the coronavirus and over 92,000 infected in more than 70 countries and territories, the coronavirus is affecting all parts of society. In the chess world, events such as the Dubai Open and the HDBank Open have been canceled, GM Wei Yi and GM Zhao Xue missed tournaments in Prague and Lausanne respectively, and GM Ding Liren is currently in quarantine in the Moscow region before traveling to Yekaterinburg for the Candidates.

Two days ago we asked on Twitter whether chess players should still shake hands before a game and included imagery of the German interior minister Horst Seehofer refusing to shake hands with Chancellor Angela Merkel earlier that day.

It is rapidly becoming socially acceptable to refrain from shaking hands. A fist bump or a tap on the back are often seen as alternatives. The International Chess Federation is now recommending against shaking hands at FIDE events.

On the website of the upcoming World Senior Team Championship (March 5-15 in Prague), a medical security protocol has been published, the text of which was largely based on a similar protocol that was in effect during last week's FIDE Congress in Abu Dhabi.

The protocol is aimed at "minimizing chances of transmission of the COVID-19 virus [sic*] at the upcoming FIDE events which will be held in February, March and April 2020."

FIDE medical protocol coronavirus
FIDE's medical security protocol.

Approved by the FIDE Management Board, the protocol seems to have been mostly intended for the FIDE Congress. The following sentence, taken from the protocol at the World Senior Team Championship, still refers to it: 

Avoid handshakes, hugs, kisses on the cheek and other close personal contact with fellow conference attendees and other persons present. [Underlining by Chess.com.]

Is this the official recommendation from FIDE for players and arbiters at FIDE rated events, moving forward? That's not exactly clear at the moment.

It's not clear either whether handshakes are actually obligatory. In January 2008, there was the infamous "handshake incident" in Wijk aan Zee, where GM Ivan Cheparinov refused to shake hands with GM Nigel Short. The English grandmaster then complained to the arbiter, referring to a decision by the Presidential Board from half a year before:

Any player who does not shake hands with the opponent (or greets the opponent in a normal social manner in accordance with the conventional rules of their society) before the game starts in a FIDE tournament or during a FIDE match (and does not do it after being asked to do so by the arbiter) or deliberately insults his/her opponent or the officials of the event, will immediately and finally lose the relevant game.

Initially, Short was given the full point. The Appeals Committee then decided that Cheparinov needed to have a chance to apologize. The game was rescheduled for the next free day and won by Short (who then stated: "There is a God, and he is not Bulgarian!").


Cheparinov refusing the handshake.

However, it seems that the "obligatory" handshake before the game never made it into the official FIDE regulations, although it might be considered a breach of the Code of Ethics.

Replying to an email from Chess.com, International Arbiter Omar Salama suggests a pragmatic approach:

"The idea of shaking hands is to show respect to the opponent. It was included in the tournaments' regulations to force the players to shake hands or greet politely at the start of the games. I recommend that players just greet politely, that is enough for me. They showed respect to the opponent. Just say good morning or good afternoon, etc. unless the regulations of a certain tournament state otherwise."

Honorary Chairman of the FIDE Arbiters Commission Takis Nikolopoulos:

"I believe the issue with the coronavirus is very dangerous. At the moment that the avoiding of a handshake is included in the measures that FIDE published for helping against the spreading of the virus, I would have no problem if the players were applying it during a tournament. As Mr Salama said, a polite greeting between the players should be enough. Of course, I would inform the players accordingly, before the start of the first round of the tournament."

As many chess fans have noted on social media, it's unclear how effective it is to avoid shaking hands, when players will be touching the same chess pieces if they capture something. Therefore, other general recommendations, such as frequently washing hands and not touching the face, are in place. 


* The protocol is using technical terms rather inaccurately as it speaks of both the "Covid-19 disease" and the "covid-19 virus," it varies with capitalization, and it uses the now-defunct term "2019-nCoV."

For clarity's sake: The correct term for the disease is "COVID-19" which stands for "Coronavirus disease 2019." The official name of the virus is "SARS-CoV-2" which stands for "Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2." 

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