FIDE declares India and Russia joint winners of the Online Olympiad

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
8/31/2020 – The 2020 FIDE Online Olympiad came to an end on Sunday, with an internet outage prompting FIDE to declare finalists Russia and India as joint winners. The match had started with a tie in the first six-game mini-match. In the second encounter of the day, however, Nihal Sarin and Divya Deshmukh disconnected towards the end of their games and lost on time. First, the Russians were declared champions, but after India’s appeal, on the grounds that their players lost connection as a consequence of a massive internet outage, FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich decided to grant gold medals to both teams.

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A tough call

FIDE Online Olympiad 2020It was a strange end to a unique edition of the traditional Chess Olympiad. Due to the restrictions imposed amid the covid-19 crisis, FIDE decided to organize a massive online event in which each national team had to present a lineup including a mix of men, women, juniors and girls. Organizing such a large-scale tournament online was a brave decision, given the difficulties related to potential cheaters and unpredictable internet-connection problems.

Already during the Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour, connectivity issues had slightly disrupted the normal flow of the events, with Ding Liren losing a couple of games on time after his connection was lost. Luckily, the problems were solved and normal service was restored.

In the Olympiad, things did not go as smoothly, particularly in the incident that involved India and Armenia during the quarterfinals. Nihal Sarin had defeated Haik Martirosyan after the latter had lost his connection. The Armenian team appealed the result, pointing out that “the specified player was connected to the Zoom call during the whole incident, and the video call was not interrupted”.

Citing that “the quality of the internet connection is the responsibility of the player”, the Appeals Committee rejected Armenia’s request, noting that the Indian national team had previously lost two games against Mongolia for similar reasons.

Fast forward to Sunday’s final, which kicked off with a thrilling first mini-match. All games ended drawn, but only after Ian Nepomniachtchi and Kateryna Lagno showed great resourcefulness in defence to save half points against Vidit Gujrathi and Humpy Koneru respectively. ‘Nepo’ gave up his rook to muddy the waters in a complex position:

 

White is a pawn up and has the initiative. Vidit’s best move here was 24.c5, the kind of crucial manoeuvre that can only be precisely calculated with plenty of time on the clock. The Indian went for the natural 24.Qe5 instead, and saw his opponent lash out with 24...Rxf2 — the engines do not like this picturesque sacrifice, but from a human perspective Black is now the one calling the shots. In the end, it was Vidit who gave perpetual check to secure the draw.

After the 3:3 result in the exciting first mini-match, the teams made key substitutions for the second round. Anand and Praggnanandhaa replaced Harikrishna and Nihal Sarin in the Indian squad, while Dubov, Goryachkina and Esipenko replaced Artemiev, Lagno and Sarana among the Russians.

The one decisive result — that was not a direct consequence of a disconnection — in round two saw Aleksandra Goryachkina beating Humpy Koneru with the white pieces. Nonetheless, Humpy did lose her connection for a while, and although she managed to reconnect she had lost some valuable time in the 15-minute game.

Then came the main incident of the day. Nihal Sarin and Divya Deshmukh lost on time against Andrey Esipenko and Polina Shuvalova after losing their connections. Nihal had equalized what had been a worse position for most of the game, while the young Indian girl had a superior position with the white pieces.

 
 

The Indian team immediately sent an appeal to the committee formed by Arkady Dvorkovich, Michael Khodarkovsky and Sava Stoisavljevic. Since Dvorkovich is Russian, he recused himself from involvement in the decision. Nevertheless, after the remaining two members were unable to reach a unanimous decision, the FIDE President declared both teams as joint winners and published the following official statement:

The Online Chess Olympiad has been impacted by a global internet outage, that severely affected several countries, including India. Two of the Indian players have been affected and lost connection, when the outcome of the match was still unclear.

The Appeals Committee has examined all the evidence provided by Chess.com, as well as information gathered from other sources about this internet outage. After being informed of their considerations and in absence of a unanimous decision, and taking into account these unprecedented circumstances, as FIDE President I made the decision to award Gold Medals to both teams.

In their official report, FIDE mentions that the internet outage was caused by a Cloudflare crash.

Of course, the fact that Dvorkovich is Russian put him in a particularly propitious spot to negotiate with the team that would have been granted tournament victory had the appeal been rejected — it was informed that Russia’s team captain was contacted and accepted the decision. Had other teams been involved, it would have been more difficult for the FIDE President to make that call.

Not all members of the Russian team were happy with the decision, however. Ian Nepomniachtchi tweeted:

Smart decision to please Indian chess community, meanwhile forgetting about other fans & players. Selective nobleness. 

Former women’s world champion Alexandra Kosteniuk also shared her thoughts:

Let’s clarify one thing: India didn’t win the Olympiad, but was rather named by FIDE a co-champion. Imho, there is a huge difference between actually “winning” the gold or just being awarded one without winning a single game in the final.

Let us not forget that, although the Russians are the traditional chess superpower, they have not won the Olympiad since 2002, so getting this gold medal without controversy would have been a major success and would have rewarded the fact that they presented an impressively strong lineup in the online event. 

For India, on the other hand, this was a great achievement. As it is already indisputable, the incredible work made to promote the game in the Asian country during the last decade or so has shown impressive results. Once over-the-board chess fully returns, the Indian squad will be surely among the favourites to take gold in the next Olympiad, when they will most likely fight neck in neck with chess superpowers Russia, China and United States — not to mention Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Poland and others.

Vishy Anand, the man who started it all, spoke to DD News:

Obviously I’m thrilled with this result. Today was quite eventful, and it’s one of the features of the new format, but I think, in the whole, in the Olympiad the Indian team showed a lot of spirit. Especially I can say that [to get] this medal the biggest contribution came from the youngsters and it shows the bright future we have for chess in India.

All games from the final

 

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Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.

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