The latest scandal in chess: Walking too loudly

France’s Alireza Firouzja is a 20-year-old grandmaster. Photo: PTI
France’s Alireza Firouzja is a 20-year-old grandmaster. Photo: PTI


The game’s most prestigious tournament faced a deafening controversy when a grandmaster was accused of distracting a rival by stomping around the playing hall.

Between allegations of sophisticated cheating, rampant paranoia, and geopolitical strife at the highest levels of chess, the past few years have been among the most tumultuous this ancient game has ever known. So it was hardly a surprise that chess erupted into controversy again at the tournament to determine who would contend for the world championship.

This time, the accusation that threatened to derail a major tournament came at a critical juncture and exploded like a piano falling out of a window.

One of the players was pacing around too loudly.

The charge was the one move that France’s Alireza Firouzja, an Iranian-born prodigy, never saw coming. At a pivotal moment on Sunday, the 20-year-old grandmaster stood up from the table during his game against Russia’s Ian Nepomniachtchi, a common way for players to stretch their legs and collect their thoughts when games drag on for hours.

To those in the playing hall in Toronto, where the Candidates Tournament will determine the next world championship contender, this was no ordinary stroll.

“Players do that all the time, it’s fine," said Aris Marghetis, the tournament’s chief arbiter. “But he had a very heavy footfall. It sounded like boots—it was stomp-ish, if you will. So I was beginning to get a little bit concerned."

Right around that time, Marghetis’s suspicions were confirmed. The volume of Firouzja’s walkabout on the creaky wooden floors was creating a disturbance. Azerbaijani grandmaster Nijat Abasov approached Marghetis to complain.

Marghetis gingerly approached the refreshment area where Firouzja was pacing and waited for the grandmaster to notice him. That’s when Marghetis informed him of the complaint and whispered that perhaps Firouzja could walk in a larger radius. He also suggested that Firouzja consider switching to softer shoes.

Firouzja didn’t appreciate the advice. At that point, Marghetis said, Firouzja leaned in and said he might file an appeal of his own because the chief arbiter had distracted him.

“He was capable of walking more softly," Marghetis said.

Just like his gait, however, Firouzja didn’t go quietly. In a series of posts on X, he dubbed Marghetis’s actions “shameful" and called for him to be punished. He added that he’d been wearing the same type of formal shoe, approved by organizers, for over a year.

“This was a big distraction for me during the game and I [completely] lost my focus," Firouzja wrote.

What made the situation especially tense was the timing. Firouzja’s game against Nepomniachtchi, a two-time winner of the Candidates, came at a make-or-break moment. Playing with the white pieces, Firouzja had a prime opportunity to strike. Instead, the game ended with a not-so-muted draw and Firouzja was still in second-to-last-place.

By Monday, the matter was considered resolved. Firouzja had not appealed and no other players complained about his perambulations.

Still, officials said they would mull one drastic change to the most prestigious tournament in chess: installing extra carpeting.

Write to Andrew Beaton at and Joshua Robinson at

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