This is reported on several websites, including the El Pais website and the ChessBase website.
It seems more than likely and indeed beyond reasonable doubt that FIDE is pressuring Ponomariov not to play in Linares. This is the kind of thing that FIDE would do, especially since Linares has refused to join the FIDE Commerce System and FIDE Commerce has declared war on Linares.
Last year, FIDE Commerce asked several major chess tournaments to agree to become part of a series of FIDE Commerce Grand Prix type events. Linares along with all of the other major tournaments declined to join. With that, FIDE Commerce and Tarasov said, "We will destroy you. This is War", and declared that if Linares refused to join FIDE Commerce, then FIDE would stop the top players from competing at Linares.
This is obviously what is happening now. Linares has traditionally been the strongest annual tournament in the world. FIDE is using its power over the FIDE World Champion to stop him from competing.
One wonders: Has Ponomariov been paid his prize money for winning the FIDE World Championship last month? FIDE has often delayed payment of prizes and may be telling Ponomariov that he will not be paid if he plays in Linares or if he publicly reveals what is going on.
Alekander Khalifman faced similar problems when he won the 1999 FIDE World Championship in Las Vegas. It is known that Khalifman waited months for payment and yet said nothing publicly about it. Also, Khalifman made the same excuse that Ponomariov is making now. After winning the 1999 FIDE World Championship, Khalifman said in the press conference that I attended that he was an amateur player and would be hereafter devoting himself to setting up a chess school in his home town of St. Petersburg.
Now, Ponomariov is almost saying exactly the same thing. Ponomariov says that he is backing out of playing in Linares because he wants to set up a chess school in his home town of Kramatorsk.
Although Ponomariov won the FIDE World Championship a few weeks ago, there is doubt that he is really the strongest player in the World. Linares 2002 will provide him with the opportunity to prove that he really is the strongest player in the world, because the top players in the world are competing, including Garry Kasparov, Viswanathan Anand, Michael Adams, Vassily Ivanchuk, and Alexei Shirov.
Ponomariov is only 18 years old and is rapidly improving. He gained 100 points in the recent FIDE rating list. With this rapid improvement, he might actually be the strongest player in the world. Linares will be his one and only chance to prove it at this point in his career, if he plays.
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