Sunday was a historic day for Indian chess fraternity. The Indian team were declared joint-winners along with Russia in the FIDE online Olympiad after the grand finale was hit by server malfunction and internet disruptions. Russia sealed the deal initially after India's Nihal Sarin and Divya Deshmukh lost out on time in the second leg of the final as they suffered from server disconnection. India appealed against the decision and FIDE, which after reviewing it, declared both teams as winners. However, more importantly, this victory comes at an unprecedented time when nothing significant has happened for the stars of the Indian sports for over months since the lockdown was imposed.
India’s first-ever entry into the final of the Chess Olympiad surely showcases the country's rising stature at an international level. The last Indian athletes reached something at such a grand scale was when Indian women's cricket team played the final of the Women's T20 World Cup final in March this year. The victory at the Olympiad, though online could be an assuring sound of success that nobody can write-off India's stature in world sports.
#ChessOlympiad | First major win for India 🥇. Despite being an online tournament, victory tastes sweeter than ever.
Do you agree? 😌 pic.twitter.com/RZK3nN31CN
— The Bridge (@TheBridge_IN) August 30, 2020
Russia were the favourites to win the tournament. India, seeded seventh, had a brilliant run till then. Grandmasters (GM) Nihal Sarin and R Praggnanandhaa led them to the quarterfinals; Koneru Humpy steered them to a berth in the finals. Besides, the team had Viswanathan Anand, team captain Vidit Gujrathi and Pentala Harikrishna. However, defeating Russia was still a tough job.
In the first round, India managed to hold them to a draw. In second round, Koneru Humpy lost her game; Anand, Gujrathi and Harika Dronavalli drew theirs. While Divya Deshmukh was going for the kill to earn India a shot at the gold medal, the servers crashed.
It resulted in chaos and International Chess Federation (FIDE) announced that Sarin and Deshmukh had lost on time. Team India lodged an official appeal. FIDE finally said it would review its decision. And later India and Russia were declared the joint winners. It would be a first-ever gold for India, and the first-ever shared top-spot for the chess Olympiad.
Indian netizens were ecstatic. ‘#ChessOlympiad’ was among the top five trends on Indian Twitter through the evening, with prime minister Narendra Modi among those congratulating the team. Teams from more than 160 countries have participated in this year's online event, which began in July. But the final is not the first time the tournament has come under scrutiny. Internet problems have been a regular fixture of the tournament. In the first few rounds, India had lost two matches due to faulty internet connections and electricity blackouts. The AICF had then offered to host the players in five-star hotels and pick up the tab. But the players preferred to stay put at their homes and beef-up their internet connections and electricity back-ups.
The results paved an important milestone for chess in India. Although the Olympiad doesn’t carry the same lustre as a World Championship or the Candidates. In the past, chess greats have prioritised Linares and Tata Steel to the Chess Olympiad. Surprisingly, 60,000 people had tuned in to Raina’s live-stream for the finals, which can barely be seen for an otherwise quiet, staid game. Following the win, industrialist Anand Mahindra too tweeted that he be “happy to talk" about supporting the first-ever Indian Chess League, on the lines of the Indian Premier League.