As the world’s elite chess players gather in Riyadh for the first time to prepare for battle, Saudi Arabia has called checkmate before any pieces have been moved.
Claims by Qatari Chess Association that Saudi Arabia denied visas to Qatari nationals for the King Salman Blitz and Rapid Championship, set to take place this week in one of the biggest chess tournaments, has been dismissed by the world chess federation (Fide).
It said in a statement that the General Sports Authority of Saudi Arabia named the three Qatari players for whom visas were issued: Mohammed Naser Al Sayed, Mohammed Ahmed Al Muthahaka and Shin Zhu.
"Any publication on the internet stating that visas for players from Iran and Qatar have been 'refused' is completely wrong. The fact that players from Iran and Qatar may decide not to participate, after consulting their own authorities, is clearly their own individual decision," said an official statement from Fide.
Other claims were made that the Qatari nationals were allowed to participate only under the federation's flag and that Israeli nationals were given both visas and the right to represent their country.
The seven Israeli players that qualified for the championship, however, were denied entry to the country as part of Saudi Arabia’s stance to not engage in diplomatic relations with Israel.
“Read the statement by Fide, that reminded everyone that Qatar is not only allowed to play but to represent their country,” said Suood Al Qahtani, political adviser to the King’s Court in Saudi Arabia.
The Fide vice president Israel Gelfer said Saudi Arabia has disregarded a request by seven Israeli players to participate in the world championship taking place from Tuesday until December 30.
Gelfer urged Fide to cancel their agreement with Saudi Arabia to hold competitions and threatened non-compliance will make them “turn to the international Court of Arbitration for Sport".
Mr Gelfer said the Saudi never responded to their request for visas claiming "it's an old system. They simply didn't answer”.
Fide said that they will work with Saudi Arabia to bring most players to the competition, which holds the chess world’s biggest prize fund of US$2 million (Dh7.4 million).
The championship marks the first time a major chess event takes place in the country, which has been experiencing unprecedented social change since Mohammed bin Salman was named Crown Prince.
Clerics in Saudi Arabia previously claimed that chess is ‘makrooh’, or frowned upon in Islam, despite the Islamic Empire widely regarded as responsible for chess popularity as the most well-known tabletop game.
Chess, or “shatranj” as it is known in Arabic, was introduced from India to Ancient Persia where it became mandatory as part of the princely upbringing.
The game was introduced to the rest of the world after the Islamic conquest of Persia and became a popular pastime for both middle class civilians and the Islamic world's elite.
Caliph Harun Al Rashid is believed to have played a chess match via correspondence with the Byzantine Emporer Nicephorus. The game was never finished as the two waged war over a disagreement, supposedly, over that very chess match.
Ultra-conservative Islam, however, attempts to regard Chess as forbidden as it encourages gambling while wasting time that could be used practising Islam.
More modern interpretations however, have disregarded this belief as an extreme interpretation of the religion.
"Chess is no longer 'makrooh' in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Chess Association was formed in 2009 and became a full member of Fide in 2016," Nigel Freeman, Fide executive director, told The National.