First Person

Unmasked

04 Aug 2020

When the Austrian Chess Federation reported the first case of a player being infected during a tournament it also gave away his identity: Tommaso Fuochi shares his personal experience.

Our first “First Person” author at the Open in St. Veit.
Our first “First Person” author at the Open in St. Veit. (private)

2020 has been a tough year: like most people I had to spend many months at home due to a ferocious illness that killed many in my region. That is why, as soon as I had the possibility to leave my town and see new places, I started looking for a chess tournament somewhere in Europe. I knew by chance about the Jacques Lemans Chess Open in St. Veit an der Glan, and when I realized it was not too far from Italy and saw that the organization took all the safety measures to prevent the spreading of the virus among the participants, I just decided to take part.

During the whole journey I wore a mask, since in Italy it’s compulsory whenever you are in a closed place, which includes public transport. As soon as I reached Austria, I noticed on the spot that things were not like expected. Nobody in my hotel or in its restaurant wore a mask. When I entered the mini-market with my mask on, a cute girl, who was shopping, jumped back as soon as she saw me, as if I were a monster.

Was wearing a mask so strange in Austria? In Italy it was compulsory. The one place where I had to protect myself and others in St. Veit was the tournament hall. Masks were kindly provided by the organizer to every player before each round. We also had to wash our hands with an alcoholic gel before entering. Everyone inside, arbiters and staff included, wore a mask, and nobody dared to act against the rules.

After the fight was over, you could spend some pleasant time in the lobby. There were sofas to relax and, for the ones still eager to play blitz or analyze, there were plenty of boards and clocks at disposal. Next to each board there was an alcoholic spray to disinfect the chess pieces before and after using them. The lobby also included a bar in which you could taste local food or have a beer. Nobody was required to wear a mask in the lobby and hardly anybody did.

Playing with a mask didn’t go well for me. My glasses fogged up every five minutes or so. It was so bothering that after the eighth round I decided to withdraw from the competition. I enjoyed the last round as a spectator and I was present at the prize awarding ceremony as well. The ceremony was held in the tournament hall, but the Anti-Corona rules seemed only a far memory, as almost nobody was shielding him- or herself with a mask.

On the way back I decided to keep a distance from my family for a while. I’m fond of prophylaxis! One of my favourite players from the past is Tigran Petrosian. I developed what felt like a mild summer cold, and after a few days I decided to get tested. After the positive result I informed Mr Knapp, the organiser from St Veit. Then followed endless days alone in my room. Until I got a surprising email message: Stefan Löffler from ChessTech asked if he could call me about my Coronavirus infection and offered to keep my name unmentioned.

Tommaso Fuochi is a chess player from Imola and recently graduated at the University of Parma in Journalism and Publishing.
Tommaso Fuochi is a chess player from Imola and recently graduated at the University of Parma in Journalism and Publishing. (private)

How the heck could he know about my infection? When he called, I first asked him: “Who informed you?” The reply was another surprise. From an official posting on the Austrian Chess Federation website Stefan knew that the infected player was a foreigner who skipped the last round. A look a the results page had sufficed to establish that it could only be me. He contacted a common friend who gave him my email address.

Even without explicitly revealing my name the Austrian Chess Federation had violated my privacy! I just started laughing. Dealing with superficial people frequently in Italy has taught me that reacting with sarcasm is much healthier than with anger. While I am sitting at home until another Covid test will confirm my full recovery, I am waiting for an explanation from Austria. And for an apology*. I may forget soon about my disastrous play in St. Veit, but I got something to tell my grandchildren in fifty years.

  • Update: Meanwhile, ACF President Christian Hursky has reached out with an apology that was accepted.