Koneru Humpy, Divya Deshmukh star as India dramatically win gold at Chess Olympiad

Unstable internet connections and power failures dominated the attention at the FIDE Online Chess Olympiad.

Rapid Chess Champion Koneru Humpy [L] and Divya Deshmukh [R] played the semifinal and final for India at the Online FIDE Chess Olympiad 2020

India and Russia were announced joint gold medal winners at the Chess Olympiad in 2020. Just like every other sporting event in 2020, the Olympiad this year also felt different. Never before have the men, women and juniors team combined to form a single team.

This was also the first time the entire tournament took place online, because of the coronavirus pandemic. But there were some obvious challenges to playing online.

Until the dying moments of the final, it seemed as if the Indian team would fall short of the finishing line. India, represented by Nihal Sarin and Divya Deshmukh were behind Russia in the final round when the match was interrupted.

Coincidentally, both Indian players had encountered internet connectivity issues while playing from their respective houses. For the record, 14 year old Deshmukh was in a commanding position in her tie before she lost connection.

This prompted the Indian team to lodge an appeal for the loss. The FIDE analyzed the situation and within 30 minutes of concluding the match, FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich had a verdict. The gold medal would be shared by India and Russia.

Armenia checkmated

The Indian team were handed a lifeline in the quarterfinal too! Their opponents, Armenia had similarly lost connection with the servers. Subsequently, they filed an appeal only for it to be turned down. 

On 29th August, Koneru Humpy won the Armageddon game in the semi-final against Poland. By winning the crucial tie-breaker, she set up India’s date for the final.

But her journey in the competition wasn’t all smooth sailing. She shook off her defeat to Mongolia in an earlier round, bounced back and set up India’s charge for the final. On that day, there was an electricity breakdown at her home in Vijayawada. 

She later credited the authorities for their special care in ensuring that constant power was supplied to her home. “I should also thank the electricity board here, because they took special care during my matches since the quarter-final stage. For three straight days whenever I was playing a game, the local officer and the lineman personally came to ensure that the power in my apartment was perfectly fine,” said Humpy to Hindustan Times.

India’s gold at the Chess Olympiads will go a long way in inspiring more kids to play chess professionally. The unique format saw the prodigies rubbing shoulders with experienced players.

Humpy feels that the young grandmasters stand to benefit and get inspired. “I hope that helps them grow as individual players and evolve as strong players themselves,” she summed up.

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