Saudi Arabia is hosting a world chess tournament for the first time on 26 December 2017 nearly two years after the country’s top cleric issued a religious edict against playing the board game. Politics have also interfered, with players from Israel and Qatar missing the tournament due to regional politics.
Saudi Arabia’s top cleric, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al Sheikh, said in early 2016 that chess is “forbidden” in Islam because it wastes time and can lead to rivalry among players. Similarly, top Iranian clerics have also decried the game, saying it can lead to gambling, which is not permissible in Islam.
The chess tournament, however, has also been hit by regional politics. Israelis say Saudi Arabia ignored requests by Israeli players to obtain visas to participate in the tournament. Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have diplomatic relations. The fact that players from Iran and Qatar may decide not to participate, after consulting their own authorities, is clearly their own individual decision. The world’s top three chess players from Norway, Armenia and Azerbaijan are participating in the tournament. There is also a women’s chess tournament taking place alongside the open championship.