Isa Kasimi (Igors Rausis) 1961-2024
Isa Kasimi in January 2024. Image: Dina Belenkaya/YouTube.

Isa Kasimi (Igors Rausis) 1961-2024

| 89 | Chess Players

Isa Kasimi, better known as Igors Rausis, the Latvian International Master and coach who was banned for six years and was stripped of his GM title after being caught cheating, has died at the age of 62. The news was confirmed by his ex-wife Olita after a post on Facebook by GM Alexei Shirov.

Kasimi was born Igor Kondylev on April 7, 1961 in Komunarsk, a small town in the Lugansk province in eastern Ukraine. Only at the age of 14 did he start to get interested in chess, first trying out correspondence chess before he turned to normal games. While at school in Sevastopol (Crimea), he started playing more and more.

He got a medical education and was schooled as a neurologist, although he also showed a talent for languages as he learned to speak English, German, and French fluently. He worked in the emergency unit in Sevastopol and was a crew member of an ambulance.

Igors Rausis young
Kasimi as a young man. Photo: Sergey Glushko/Facebook.

Although he had become a serious chess player at this point, his interest soon switched to coaching. He worked as a chess teacher in the Simferopol Pioneer's Palace and, after he moved to Latvia in 1984, he started coaching the national youth team in Riga. Among his pupils were Shirov and GM Andrei Sokolov.

He then finished the Higher School of Trainers in Moscow in 1988. Around that time, at the age of 27, he got his first international rating, and in 1992 FIDE awarded him the grandmaster title. He would represent Latvia in three Olympiads (1996, 1998, and 2002) and one World Team Championship (1993). In 1995, he won the Latvian Championship.

He worked as a coach in many different countries. He spent the years 2003-2007 in Bangladesh and also represented that country as a player in those years. In 2007, he started representing the Czech Republic. At Olympiads, he coached the Latvian women's team (1994), the Bangladeshi team (2000, 2002, 2008), Algeria (2010), and Jersey (2012, 2014). In 2018 he obtained the FIDE Trainer title.

In December 2019, the FIDE Ethics and Disciplinary Commission banned Kasimi for six years and took away his grandmaster title after he was caught holding a phone in a toilet cubicle during the Strasbourg Open earlier that year. The ban would have expired on July 30, 2025.

Igors Rausis toilet
The photo that was taken in Strasbourg led to news media around the world reporting on this cheating story.

Kasimi had been under investigation for cheating for a long time. He had raised suspicions after he increased his rating to 2685 in 2019. He had gained almost 200 points in a period of about 10 years. Then the world number-50, he was the oldest player in the world's top 100.

After the incident in Strasbourg, where he voluntarily withdrew from the tournament, he commented to "I simply lost my mind yesterday. (...) At least what I committed yesterday is a good lesson, not for me—I played my last game of chess already."

However, in October 2020, Kasimi showed up at a small rapid tournament in Valka, Latvia, playing under his new name. He was allowed to participate because the games were not FIDE-rated, but he withdrew from the tournament after a protest from the Latvian grandmaster Arturs Neiksans.

"After what happened yesterday, actually I am not very upset," he told "Because now I understood that my first wish was not to come to chess at all after Strasbourg happened. But yesterday I regretted that I returned to chess."

After Kasimi married his first wife Olita Rause, a Latvian Woman Grandmaster, he changed his surname from Kondylev to Rausis. He had two daughters and two grandsons with her. After the cheating scandal, he changed his surname name to Kasimi, after his second wife Ajgul Kasimova.

Kasimi told that he changed his name because of the unflattering photo that was published in numerous publications and on social media. He said he also changed his name because he felt ashamed for his family. 

Igors Rausis
Kasimi in Rouen, a tournament he won in January 2019. Photo:

In our last interview, Kasimi told that he was diagnosed with cancer in 2003. He had been taking medication since, and also started to undergo chemotherapy, from 2018 onwards.

He revealed that, two days before the start of that fateful Strasbourg tournament, he had completed his sixth chemotherapy session. "I was completely crazy, I was out of my mind," he said. I shouldn't have gone there but I was in the running to break 2700."

He emphasized that he didn't want to use his physical situation as an excuse: "I take full responsibility for myself. I cannot blame my weakness or my sickness or whatever. I did very dangerous things that may harm the entire chess world. I believe I did the most harmful thing you can do for chess."

Shirov, a former world class player, broke the news of Kasimi's death on Thursday on Facebook. The Spanish-Latvian grandmaster commented:

I realise and take it as a given that most of the chess world had a rather negative attitude to this master over the last five years (and some for even longer).

Igor will be remembered by me first and foremost as a man who would often, and in good time, come to your aid. The last time was in the "pandemic" year of 2020, when, thanks largely to him, I was able to cope with another creative crisis and dramatically improve my game for a period of time.

The first experience of working together dates back to the distant 1986. Igor significantly expanded the boundaries of my perception of chess and taught me how to play dynamically. He also taught me the Arkhangelsk variation, still the "old" version at the time, and many memorable episodes in my chess life and career are connected with it.

Possessing encyclopaedic knowledge, as well as a calm, even, and mild character, Igor was a wonderful mentor and coach, but unfortunately, as we all know, he was not always Dr Jekyll.... 🙁

Shirov and Rausis in 2011
Shirov and Rausis playing in a tournament in 2011. Photo: Facebook.

In 1989 Igor coached the Latvian national team at the Youth Games in Kramatorsk, where I (at that time an international master) was lucky enough to beat Vasyl Ivanchuk, who was already the world number-three. We then analyzed the game for a long time with Igor and the whole team, Igor found how I could have improved on the game in the opening, and a year and a half later I managed to beat Olivier Renet using that idea.

Igor played many brilliant games in his life, and not just the ones you're thinking of. Perhaps I should search the database and make a good selection, but somehow precisely at this moment I don't feel like it... But his black victory over Sasha [Alexander] Shabalov in the Latvian Championship in 1989 (I didn't play there anymore) sticks in my memory. In the Latvian hierarchy Shabalov was rated much higher than Rausis, and was on the verge of a big rise. Rausis had a penchant for excentric moves, which was always welcomed in Latvia, but Shabalov played in classic Tal style, so he seemed to be the clear favorite in their game.

Today, thanks to Stockfish, it is easy to say that Sasha Shabalov had a big, almost decisive advantage. But in those distant times Igor and I analysed the game (our joint commentary can be found in the archives of the New In Chess Yearbook), and this fact was not so clear to us. In the end, Igor managed to seize the initiative and outplay one of the brightest representatives of Latvian chess in great complications.

Below are the three games Shirov discussed in his Facebook post:

Among the people responding to Shirov's post were several grandmasters, almost universally emphasizing Kasimi's kind nature. GM Michal Krasenkow called him "a wonderful chess player and person," while GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov wrote: "He will always remain in our memory as a wonderful and friendly person."

Neiksans, who clashed with Kasimi at the Latvian rapid tournament in 2020, told "We've had some unpleasant clashes in the past, including the last scandal when he was playing under disguise, but apart from that I thought that we always had a collegial relationship and didn't hold anything personal. Albeit Igors was a controversial player and made mistakes that I'm sure he deeply regretted, he will also be remembered as a great chess coach, successfully working with many leading Latvian players in the past. Rest in peace."

In January 2024, WGM Dina Belenkaya posted a video on YouTube in which she played a blitz game against Kasimi at the Charlotte Chess Center. Her opponent showed humor by playing the Latvian gambit. After the game, when asked why he lost his GM title, Kasimi replied: "Actually nobody understood this. I got my grandmaster title when no internet and smartphones existed. [It was] to show to other cheaters that punishments could be very harsh. It makes sense, because it's become a big problem nowadays."

Belenkaya commented to "It's very sad, I learned about his passing this morning. As I tried to depict Igors in my video, despite the controversy around his name, he was extremely pleasant, kind, galant, and positive. I was lucky to have an opportunity to meet him in person and he left a very warm impression on me."

Tarjei Svensen contributed to this story.

Peter Doggers

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