India and Russia were declared the joint winners of a major international chess tournament in unprecedented circumstances on Sunday after a global internet outage marred the final of 2020 Fide Online Chess Olympiad.
Teams from more than 160 countries have participated in this year’s event, which began in July, and the final was delicately poised until two Indian players – Nihal Sarin and Divya Deshmukh – were disconnected due to a server outage.
The players could only watch in horror as their time ran out, causing their team to lose the match 4.5-1.5, after the first round had ended in a 3-3 tie.
However India were granted an unlikely reprieve after formally appealing, citing the server malfunction. It led to Fide, the governing body of chess, investigating the problem for over an hour, its president, Arkady Dvorkovich, deciding that naming two winners would be the fairest result.
“The Online Chess Olympiad has been impacted by a global internet outage that severely affected several countries, including India,” said Dvorkovich, who hails from Russia. “Two of the Indian players have been affected and lost connection, when the outcome of the match was still unclear.
“The appeals committee has examined all the evidence provided by Chess.com, as well as information gathered from other sources about this internet outage,” he added. “After being informed of their considerations and in absence of a unanimous decision, and taken into account these unprecedented circumstances, as Fide president I made the decision to award gold medals to both teams.”
It was the first time that Russia had won the Chess Olympiad since 2002, while this was India’s maiden title. It was the first time it has been held online, because of the coronavirus pandemic.
But the former women’s world champion Alexandra Kosteniuk, playing for Russia, quickly expressed her displeasure. “Let’s clarify one thing: India didn’t win the Olympiad, but was rather named by Fide a co-champion,” she tweeted. “Imho, there is a huge difference between actually ‘winning’ the gold or just being awarded one without winning a single game in the final.”
Her team-mate Yan Nepomniachtchi offered a sarcastic response. “Smart decision to please Indian chess community,” he wrote. “Meanwhile forgetting about other fans and players. Selective nobleness.”
But India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, praised his team’s result. “Congratulations to our chess players for winning the Fide Online #ChessOlympiad. Their hard work and dedication are admirable. Their success will surely motivate other chess players. I would like to congratulate the Russian team as well.”
The final is not the first time the tournament has come under scrutiny. On Friday Armenia said one of their players was disconnected from the server during the quarter-final match against India, and lost on time. But the appeal was rejected and they withdrew from the competition in protest.
Armenia’s top-ranked grandmaster, Levon Aronian, raised an eyebrow at Sunday’s decision. “I guess like always some of are less disconnected that the others #1984,” he wrote on Twitter.