A federation is a local or international chess governing body responsible for organizing events and ratings in a given area.
It also represents the nationality of the players where the federation of a competitor usually depends on the country they belong to, however that can change.
There have been cases where several chess players decided to switch federations (or the country that they are representing) which raises a question. Why do chess players switch federations?
Chess players will switch federations if their own federation does not have financial support for its players or connections to established tournaments.
Players can also switch due to the lack of expertise in their current federation preventing them from reaching the next level.
I have noticed that there aren’t many valuable resources answering this question on the realms of the internet so here I am, I will provide all the potential reasons for such a decision.
Do chess players switch federations because of financial issues?
Chess players switch federations because some governments are not capable of providing financial support to their sportsmen like with the case of Wesley So, some other federations offer higher prizes in tournaments as well which is another incentive.
Most people are not aware of this but most chess players do struggle financially, the career they are in business just doesn’t provide a lot of monetary incentive.
As such, chess players most of the time switch federations to acquire financial support in their career pursuit, only a few governments in the world after all provide backing for aspirants.
I have created an article showing the full estimated details of why chess elites do not earn that much, this article (will open in a new tab) is the one I am talking about.
But in a nutshell tournament prizes are extremely low for the amount of competition that needs to be competed against, which is why in the end the money is not that distributed.
This is why most chess players rely on the financial support that can be given by their federation in order to further their career, failure to do this will cause someone to switch federation.
Going to international tournaments require expensive travel, accommodation, and participation expenses that usually cannot be provided by the player, and so a supportive federation is needed.
This is the case with the famous used-to-be philippine grandmaster Wesly So and his federation, the Philippines chess federation.
This one kind of brings a sting to my head since I am a Filipino and therefore would want someone like him to be in the same federation, but he has decided to switch long ago.
Our government (and the federation) provides little to no financial backing for their chess players, someone as talented as Wesley So decided that staying in the federation wouldn’t allow him to reach the top.
And this is actually true, after that he was able to participate in many prestigious tournaments that wouldn’t be possible with the local federation (he is in the U.S federation now).
Some federations just have a market that values chess tournaments more than others, this financial support is definitely the biggest factor even among this list.
Specific federations have higher tournament prizes
Some federations that are more popular like the United States will offer higher prizes than the one that can be found in other countries, this is an incentive for aspiring players to switch their federation.
Wealthier countries will have more sponsors and personalities that are willing to provide backing on chess competitions, money is the primary driver.
Of course the players are going to be much more attracted to those that have a higher monetary incentive, even local tournaments in USCF can make hefty cash.
Not only are the players able to make a living they can actually afford luxuries from winning tournaments in such selected federations, therefore the switch.
Do players switch federations because it will be good for their career?
Some federations have a specialized population of chess players with various expertise that is an incentive for other players to learn from them therefore the switch.
Chess players will also consider switching federations in order to play for a country that would recognize their abilities.
Honored players switch federations to acquire the expertise of a competitive country’s chess population, this allows them to easily interact with such identities.
When someone becomes elite money will be less of an issue as discussed by my other article on the link above, and they will focus more on improving their game.
The USCF (federation of the USA) for example will have a lot of native grandmasters that have their own specialized knowledge, which is something to look for.
Belonging in the same federation with such an expert pool of players will allow an opportunity to learn valuable knowledge that couldn’t be otherwise acquired and incorporate it into the player’s own skillset.
Chess players secretly want fans
Sometimes chess players switch federations since their home country does not subscribe to chess, they want a place where they are recognized for their abilities.
And this makes sense since imagine dedicating your whole life to a particular career only to be dismissed by the general population, it is quite discouraging.
One would rather participate in their interest in a federation that has people that can admire their skills, they are also going to be motivated to make progress by being in such an environment.
It just feels great if there is someone out there that can provide social validation for the effort we put in our career, so some players may switch because of this.
Is the switching of federation by the players due to preference?
Chess players who want to improve have to go to other countries in order to bolster their skill, over time the player might like the country and eventually choose to play for it.
Also, some chess players have mixed nationalities and therefore can prefer one over the other causing the switch.
In order for players to improve they are required to be exposed to masters that reside abroad, they might grow fond of the country over time and decide to represent it in the future by switching federations.
This is exactly the case of Levon Aronian switching to Saint Louis (USA) from the homeland that he has been representing for years because he just found a social bond around the said location.
This place is where he trains constantly in order to improve his game, in this setting he does not only have people that can recognize him but also those he is playing with regularly, it is understandable.
He even mentioned in an interview that it does not mean that he hates his country, but he just wants to be with another place going forward in the future.
His fans back from his homeland are pretty supportive of his decision and would still hope for the best for their native chess player. This is the opinion of Hikaru Nakamura on this choice of Levon to switch his federation:
Mixed nationality is a factor for a chess player to switch federations
Some chess players who have a mixed nationality can choose to switch federations between their two countries, there are chess players after all who are in such a conundrum like with Hikaru Nakamura.
But then again I admit, Hikaru Nakamura didn’t exactly play for the Japanese federation (he started already from the U.S.) but the point remains, someone who has a mixed nationality will choose one over the other.
They might have started playing for the federation since that is the local one growing up, but might choose to subscribe to the other as they become older.
This is incredibly fair since the person will have both rights to represent their chosen country as they have the option to do so (from their blood).
Are some chess federations better than others?
Some federations are better than others when it comes to the treatment of their players by providing tournament options and privileges, a player in bad federation management can choose to switch federations due to inconvenience.
An unheard federation in an unknown country may not do well to represent their chess players, those who come from such places can choose to switch into federations that are more reliable.
Perhaps it is how the players are informed of the available competitions, the research regarding the opponents of the competition, or the materials that can be used to train everyone.
Some federations just naturally put more importance on the wellness of their player’s career, this is why some might consider going into a better one.
Someone who belongs to a trustworthy organization is more likely to succeed than those who are not, and since everyone wants to be competitive they are looking for such a setting.
Certain federations offer more opportunities
Some privileged countries can offer top players their connections to ensure that they can participate in privileged tournaments, this can cause some to switch federations.
This is the case with Alireza Firouzja who switched federations because his country withdrew from both the world rapid and blitz tournament.
Alireza would be out of the picture if he continued playing for the Iranian Federation, he did set out to play on the Fide flag and still entered the tournament despite his country’s withdrawal.
Those two particular prestigious tournaments turned out to be a major breakthrough in his career, he has beaten some of the top players (and almost the world champion) which affected his confidence going forward.
He wouldn’t have been able to experience that if he hadn’t switched federation.
Do players switch federations because they don’t like their country?
Chess players can switch federations if their home country is constantly at strife with war, terrorist attacks, economic crisis, etc. which can get in the way with tournament schedules, switching federations would provide a consistent tournament presence.
An elite can run from their homeland that is plagued with war and turmoil which cancels chess competitions, this allows them to compete globally and not get left behind.
Because let’s face it the world will continue moving forward even if there is a war in a specific country, chess players, in particular, wouldn’t have the opportunity to compete if the events get canceled.
This is why it is a logical choice to choose a more stable federation that will accommodate chess competitions most of the time, increasing the likelihood of success.
It is just very hard to excel in a field that is frequently hindered by politics and terrorism that keeps getting in the way, getting out of that environment is not a bad choice in my opinion.
Not everyone likes the home country they are born into
Some people just don’t like representing their own country as the same with some chess players, maybe it’s the people, the place, or the government that made them try to look for another residency (and later a new federation).
Some people may not agree with me on this but this is not so unethical in my eyes, you are not obliged to like a country that you just happened to be born in without having the initial choice to do so.
As people acquire more experience and perspective they start growing fond of other places and their population which they may choose to represent in a given sport.
They might have switched federation in order to represent another country on the global stage since they have come to like that country and its people.
Do you now know why chess players switch federations?
It may seem awful that someone of a native country/federation can just switch and choose to represent another, but I think it is pretty fair.
If an organization does not provide resources for its players to improve, is it really fair that they get to enjoy the privileges when the players achieve something great?
In the end it’s all about which place does the player feels to have made the most contribution to their achievement, I think that is very proper.
Even with my own countrymen (Wesley So) that have switched federation which I do not like, is reasonable since I cannot deny that our environment is just not very good for chess players.
I hope this has brought some awareness to my readers at least, sleep well and play chess.