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Armenia withdraws as India moves into Semi-finals of Online Olympiad 2020; will face Poland

by Sagar Shah - 28/08/2020

Team India advanced to the semi-finals of the FIDE Online Olympiad 2020 beating Armenia. But the way the match ended was quite unfortunate. India won the first match against Armenia with a score of 3.5-2.5. Pairings for the second match were made. It was at this point that Arrmenia made an appeal first to the arbiters, then to the appeals committee. Their appeal was turned down. At this point the Armenian team decided to withdraw from the tournament. India was given a win and we advance to the semi-finals. What exactly happened. What was the controversy, we bring you the entire story.

The day started just like any other Indian match. The fans were excited. There was enthusiasm and nervousness in the air. The stakes were extremely high. One error and you would be eliminated. It waas India versus Armenia - the quarter finals encounter at the FIDE Online Olympiad 2020. The Armenian team led by Levon Aronian were in excellent form as they had effortlessly beaten Greece in the pre-quarter finals. India on the other hand had been dominant in the tournament, also beating the mighty China in the group stages.

The Armenian team has six players who are strong and can beat any team on a given day. Led by Levon Aronian and Gabriel Sargissian on board two, the team is well covered on the open boards. The juniors Haik Martirosyan and Anna Sargsyan are also very strong. If there is a small chink in Armenia's armour it is definitely on the women's board where Danielian and Mkrtchian were weaker than their Indian counterparts.

India decided to go in with Vishy Anand, Vidit Gujrathi, Humpy Koneru, Harika D., Nihal Sarin and Vantika Agrawal

The Live commentary was done by yours truly (Sagar Shah) and Amruta Mokal along with Samay Raina on Samay's YouTube Channel. The interest in the crowd was huge and at some point in the livestream we reached a live viewership of 40,000 people! This surpassed the Wankhede stadium analogy that I have been using for quite some time now. (The capacity of Wankhede cricket stadium is 33,108 people!).

40,000 people watching a chess tournament live is quite unprecedented!

The match began Vishy Anand winning a pawn against Levon Aronian, but soon going wrong. The Madras Tiger was put under pressure by the Armenian Lion and before we knew it Vishy was already a pawn down in quite a tricky rook endgame. But it's in such endgame that Vishy plays very well. He made his moves quickly and very soon reached a 2 vs 1 rook and pawn endgame. This game was the first one to draw and Indian fans heaved a sigh of relief.

The crucial board one encounter between Anand and Aronian had ended in a draw | Photo: Niklesh Jain

With the score at 0.5-0.5 India was the first one to strike as D. Harika scored a win over Lilit Mkrtchian. The position was around equal, but Harika managed to put her opponent under grave tension and finally under time pressure Lilit blundered and India led the match 1.5-0.5.


Lilit Mkrtchian vs D. Harika

In this position Lilit could have moved her rook from e4 and the game would have been completely drawn. But the Armenian blundered with Kg3 and Harika instantly took the bishop on f3 and after Kxf3 Bd5 it was all over. India led the match 1.5-0.5.

Anna Sargsyan has been a hard hitter for team Armenia throughout the event. She had the white pieces against Vantika Agrawal and was surely the mini-favourite in the match. However, Vantika played the opening exceedingly well. She sacrificed the pawn and maintained control. In fact at some point Black (Vantika) was clearly better as well. But when the time started to run low it was Anna Sargsyan who held her nerves better. With this win, Armenia levelled the scores. 1.5-1.5.


Anna Sargsyan vs Vantika Agrawal

The game was moving towards a draw and ...Re7 would have sealed it. But Vantika blundered with Rc7 when after Ne6+, she had lost an entire rook.

Whenever it has been required Anna Sargsyan has fired for team Armenia and the Quarter Finals was no exception

Vidit Gujrathi, who had been completely dominating his game against Gabriel Sargissian, right from the opening and into the middlegame, lost the thread of it in the endgame. Gabriel was pressing and Vidit was trying to fend off the attack. The game would be around even when one of the biggest blunders of Sargissian's chess career took place:


Gabriel Sargissian vs Vidit Gujrathi

Gabriel simply hung his queen in one move with Qd7+ and Vidit gobbled it up! 0-1

When the clock starts running below 10 seconds, it becomes more about holding your nerve and less about calculation and chess skills. Vidit is able to hold himself together much better.

With 2.5-1.5 lead for India, two more games were in progress. It was Nihal Sarin vs Haik Martirosyan and Koneru Humpy against Elina Danielian. While Nihal was a pawn up, Humpy was a pawn down. India just needed one more point out of the two games. While Humpy was frantically trying to save her position, something quite disturbing happened in Nihal's game. His opponent ran out of time and lost the time! We couldn't believe hat we had just seen. It not only meant that Nihal had won his game, but also meant that he had helped India win the match with a margin of 3.5-1.5. Subsequently Humpy lost her game and the score was 3.5-2.5.


Nihal Sarin vs Haik Martirosyan

The final position of Nihal versus Haik Martirosyan where the latter's time just got depleted. The position is definitely better for White as he is a pawn up. But can he breakthrough? It looks extremely difficult, if not impossible. White may have some tricks, but if Black plays carefully the position would most probably end in a draw.

India had won match no.1 with a score of 3.5-2.5 and the pairing for the second match was also out. The only change was Pragg taking place of Nihal. Rest of the players just remained the same.

Armenia's appeal

While we waited for the game to begin, we got to know that Armenia had appealed to the arbiters about the fact that Haik Martirosyan's internet was completely fine. According to them it was not an internet issue from their end but a problem of the server. Their argument also lay in the fact that all Armenian players had gathered together and were playing from the same venue. So if Elina Danielian didn't face internet issue then how did Haik Martirosyan face it. The arbiters contacted the team and the kept the result in favour of the India after the clarification was made. The Armenian team, not satisfied with this decision contacted the Appeals committee and asked them to review their claim.

Haik Martirosyan's loss turned to be the decisive factor in Armenia withdrawing from the tournament

At the end of nearly an hour the appeals committee had made their decision. They had turned down Armenia's appeal and asked the two team to start the second round. Armenia did not agree with this verdict. Instead of continuing the match, they decided to withdraw from the tournament. As a result India qualified to the semi-finals.

It was a victory with a bitter sweet feeling for the Indians. Bitter because no team would like to win a match in this manner. Sweet because India didn't have to fight another match and were adjudged as the winners.

IM Sagar Shah explains the entire episode along with how things panned out 
The commentary of the Quarter finals by Samay Raina, Sagar Shah and Amruta Mokal

India's next opponent - Poland

Through some unbelievable chess Poland managed to beat Azerbaijan. In the first match it was Duda and Wojtaszek who struck gold  on the top two boards against Mamedyarov and Mamedov. Poland won 4-2. Moving on to the next match, It was necessary for Azerbaijan to win this and level the scores. Duda drew his game against Radjabov, but Wojtaszek couldn't hold Mamedov. Both the women players of Azerbaijan registered wins and Asadli Vugar beat his young Polish opponent. Alicia Sliwickja continued her good form by winning a key game for Poland, but it was a little too later. Azerbaijan won with a score of 4.5-1.5.


It was now time for Armageddon and the teams had to choose a player from women section. Poland went with Monika Socko, while Azerbaijan chose Gunay Mammadzada. The Azerbaijani girl had the black pieces, 4 minutes and draw odds. Monika had the white pieces and five minutes and was in a must win scenario. Gunay dominated the game right from the start. Just when it seemed that Azerbaijan would qualify, a big blunder occurred and Socko weaved a mating net around Mammadzada's king. Before you knew it Poland was already winning and they managed to clinch the game. What an amazing win!

Commentary by Niklesh Jain, Sagar Shah, Samay Raina and Nubairshah Shaikh

India vs Poland, semi finals with take place on the 29th of August 2020 at 2.30 p.m. IST. The Live commentary will be done on the ChessBase India YouTube channel.

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