49,000 watch as India beats Poland, sets up finals with Russia
29th of August 2020 is celebrated as the National Sports Day in India. On this day, the Indian team played out of their skins to beat Poland and reach the finals of the FIDE Online Olympiad 2020. It was not a straightforward victory for India as we lost the first match with a score of 4-2. However, in the second match we made a resounding comeback with 4.5-1.5 The match went into an Armageddon and it was the super-woman of Indian chess Koneru Humpy who came to the fore and delivered! India have not just qualified to the finals, they have also assured themselves of a silver medal. Now between the Indian team and the Gold medal lies the formidable Russia. A complete semi-finals report.
The match was tied at one match a piece. The tension in the air was at its highest. It was Armageddon time and one wrong move meant that the journey of an entire nation would come to a halt. In such a scenario Humpy sat in her chair with a stoic face. There was not a hint of hesitation nor a bit of tension. Seeing her focused face could inspire confidence in just about anyone.
The most weird thing that was happening was how similar India versus Poland was as compared to the Azerbaijan vs Poland match in the quarter finals just a day ago. These were the similarities:
1. Poland had won the first match against Azerbaijan 4-2, the same happened against India.
2. Azerbaijan won the second match with a score of 4.5-1.5. India did the same.
3. The match went into the Armageddon and the women's section was selected for the gladiator to be sent in!
4. Monika Socko was Poland's choice in the match against Azerbaijan. She also decided to play against India.
5. Azerbaijan also had the black pieces and so a draw was fine for them.
Now came the scary part. Gunay Mammadzada of Azerbaijan was completely winning against Monika Socko, then she had a lot of ways to draw the game, but she eventually lost. Would history repeat itself again? As Teimour Radjabov (top Azeri player and also an expert commentator in the India vs Poland match), "Lightning does strike the same place twice!"
The game began as a Catalan and Humpy played extremely solid. She was a pawn up, but gave up the pawn at the right moment with ...e5. She simplified the position at every possible juncture and eventually made the position so sterile that Monika had to start taking risks. That's where Humpy got her chance. She swooped in with her queen, picked up a few pawns and eventually exchanged the queens as well. The writing was on the wall, but the real celebration happened when she picked up the final pawn in Monika's position and it was clear that even if Humpy's internet disconnected, India was going through to the finals. Captain Vidit got up from his chair with happiness and pumping his fists! GM Srinath, the vice captain, who doesn't like to express much, had a smile on his face. Humpy had done it! India had done it! A historic silver medal and we have the chance to convert it into a gold.
Earlier in the day
It was not just about India losing the match. It was about how we lost it. Vishy Anand was outplayed by Jan Krzysztof Duda. Vidit fought well until a point, but then succumbed to a deadly attack against Wojtaszek. Divya Deshmukh was equal, maybe even slightly better, but then blundered a piece to lose the game. The two boards where it seemed India had a superiority (women's boards) is where we could only manage draws. Only Nihal managed to play a nice game in the Queen's Indian System bringing home the full point. India's plan had gone haywire and there was very little time to recover.
Alicja Sliwicka vs Divya Deshmukh
Nihal Sarin vs Igor Janik
India fights back
At one point in the match we were leading 2-1. Vidit had beaten Gajewski, Humpy had got the better of Socko. Pragg had lost his game to Igor Janik. It seemed like team India would easily seal the deal, because Vantika was completely winning the game. Her opponent's pieces were terribly passive and it seemed like winning the game only a matter of time. But things began to shift in that game. Harika wasn't able to latch on to her advantage, and the position started looking drawish. Vishy Anand was under some pressure against Duda. Were we going to lose the match?
Vantika Agrawal vs Alicja Sliwicka
At some point Vantika was losing the game, but she managed to steady her boat and draw the encounter. This was good news for team India.
Harika's opponent also went wrong and the Indian GM scored a very important point for the team. With Harika's win, India reached 3.5 points in the match and forced the Armageddon.
It was good news for Team India that Vishy Anand managed to beat Jan Krzysztof Duda to take the score to 4.5-1.5. Although India had already won the match, a final win for Vishy means that his confidence would be on a high going into the finals!
The other 3 games of the day
49,000+ people watch the LIVE commentary
The capacity of the Wankhede cricket stadium is 33,108. To have these many people watching chess commentary was a dream. But on 29th of August, we surpassed this number by a huge margin, as 49,000+ concurrent viewers watched the Live commentary of the match between India and Poland. It was one of those moments when you begin to believe that chess is a sport that can be popularized in the masses and can be very exciting for the viewers to follow. A big thanks to all the viewers who watched it and enjoyed the Livestream.
Preparing for the finals
There seems to be no chink in Russia's armour. They are solid on all the boards. It's a battle between two sides who have depth in all the different sections of chess in their country - open, women, juniors. It will be interesting to see how India manages to breakthrough the Russian wall. The match begins at 4.30 p.m. IST on 30th of August 2020.