“Unprecedented circumstances” as Russia & India share gold in FIDE Online Olympiad

Russia and India were declared joint winners of the FIDE Online Olympiad on Sunday as the highly anticipated final between the two chess giants ended abruptly when two Indian players lost their internet connection during the final round. Unlike in the case of Armenia, however, India was not declared a loser. A look back at perhaps the strangest chess Olympiad ever.

The Olympiad was for the first time in history held online as over-the-board chess is still out of the question in view of the corona virus pandemic. The event lasted five weeks and included more than 1500 players. The time control was rapid: 15 minutes plus 5 seconds increment. In case of a tie a match was decided by an Armageddon game (5 versus 4 minutes, no increment). The games were played on chess.com.

The qualification matches were played in multiple divisions with the teams advancing to the four top divisions (from A to D) with the top 3 of each top division advancing to stage 2, the play-offs in a knock-out format.

Top Division ATop Division BTop Division CTop Division D

In the first round of the match between Armenia and India the Armenian player Haik Martirosyan suddenly lost connection to the chess.com server. The clock ran down, and India won. Armenia filed a protest, but…

Team leader Levon Aronian on Twitter:

As a leader of a 3 times Olympic champion I feel very dissatisfied with FIDE’s desision to reject our just appeal. In our match against India Haik Martirosyan lost on time due to disconnection from chess.com We proved that our connection was stable and it was a problem access to chess.com, not on our side. All we asked for was to continue that game from the same position and same time. Is it too much to ask?

Apparently yes. The Indian players weren’t happy with the result either:

In the semi-finals India won against Poland and Russia against the US team. In the final all six games of the first round were drawn. In the second round Cloudflare suddenly had an outage. Cloudflare is a service that acts as a CDN (content delivery network) and a distributed DNS (domain name server). The outage affected Europe, South America parts of the US and India.

Humpy Koneru, Nihal Sarin and Divya Deshmukh lost their connection to chess.com. While Koneru could resume her game after a few seconds, the two others lost on time.

And with that, Russia had won the Olympiad. Or had they?

Without those two games the score was 2½:1½ in favor of Russia. The game Esipenko-Sarin was equal, but with enough material on the board to blunder something. Deshmukh had a better position in her game against Shuvalova, but all pieces were still on the board, she’d missed winning blows earlier, and Shuvalova is the higher-rated player. Anything could still have happened. 

India filed an appeal, but The Appeals Committee, consisting of two members after FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich recused himself as a representative of Russia, was unable to reach a unanimous decision. Dvorkovich then intervened in his role as president and, citing “unprecedented circumstances,” decided to award gold medals to both teams. His statement read:

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 an unanimous decision, and taken into account these unprecedented circumstances, as FIDE President I made the decision to award Gold Medals to both teams.

The decision caused some controversy with several pointing out that the Indian team had not won a single game in the final. The Indians however, were happy. Viswanathan Anand called it a “dramatic turn of events” to ESPN India:

It was a long wait. I thought they may expect us to play again. Repeat the second match or perhaps repeat a couple of games. I really thought it would be a solution along those lines, but this decision I did not anticipate at all. At the end of the day, I think it’s quite fair because both teams were evenly balanced in this match. It’s certainly a nice and pleasant twist.

In India the event seemed to be a great success with one stream reportedly being watched by roughly half a million people. Even prime minister Narendra Modi shared his congratulations with his 68 million followers.

The Armenian team… not so much:

There were several angry reactions, such as from Russian team members Daniil Dubov and Ian Nepomniachtchi:

One more word on chess24’s behalf: We would have liked to have highlighted the Olympiad more. Unfortunately, FIDE did not find the tournament important enough to require acceptable live PGNs from the hosting site. What we got instead: delayed and unpredictable URLs for the PGNs, which then came without tags for rounds or boards, online handles instead of real names and no or only belated aliases. There is no technical reason for this.

Olly, our man for the tournaments, did heroic work to make the tournaments available to you at least in retrospect, to arrange names and games correctly and to offer usable PGNs for download. Let’s hope everyone learns from this and it gets better next time!

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