Fide, the global chess body, and its Russian president, Arkady Dvorkovich, faced a wave of criticism after the 163-nation Olympiad final ended on Sunday with Russia and India declared joint winners and gold medallists. After a major internet outage caused two Indian players to lose by disconnection, Dvorkovich upheld India’s appeal and awarded gold to both teams.
The server outage with the match in the balance gave Dvorkovich sufficient reason to effectively call the final result an unbroken tie.
However, it emerged that the decision had been taken after a discussion with the Russian non-playing captain, Alexander Motylev, and that the Russian players, who were not consulted, wanted to replay the games or to settle the gold and silver medals by an Armageddon tie-break. India’s players, meanwhile, had mentally settled for silver.
Daniil Dubov, the 24-year-old 2018 world rapid champion, a Russian team member and an aide to Magnus Carlsen, was the most outspoken critic of the decision. “Any important sport event is a failure without a winner. We thought there can be only one gold,” he said. “The players were OK with restarting the two last games from move one, but no one has even asked us. We are not a random team and this is not the way we want to win.”
India’s successful claim contrasted with Armenia’s failed appeal in their quarter-final against India, when their claim that the host website’s server was at fault was rejected. Armenia, who defaulted the second round of the match in protest, are bitter about what they regard as differential treatment, and their respected No 1, Levon Aronian, wrote: “Like always some of us are less disconnected than the others.”
Dvorkovich argued that the Armenian disconnection was a local fault and India’s a major outage, but the effect on the players and their teams was identical.
India claimed that the two disconnected games would have ended with a win and a draw in their favour, but there has to be some doubt about whether this was really true in the case of the girl’s board, where the 14-year-old Divya Deshmukh was rated significantly lower than the double world champion Polina Shuvalova. Deshmukh had a big advantage, according to the computer, but the position was blocked and she had very little time left to find a clear winning plan. Judge the final position for yourself.
Paradoxically, it might have been still better for India if they had ended up with silver plus a sense of narrowly missed gold rather than medals which will be somewhat tarnished by the bitter dispute. Judged competitively, India’s players did remarkably well. They were outrated in every one of the 12 games in the final, even including the top board where they fielded the former world champion Vishy Anand. Over 90,000 Indians reportedly watched the final on television.
In a famous incident on the Magnus Carlsen tour a few weeks ago, China’s Ding Liren disconnected in a drawn ending and was duly forfeited. Carlsen generously replied by throwing the next game in four moves.
After that incident the Carlsen tour changed its rules so that a disconnected position is resumed from the position and clock times reached before contact was lost. This would be impractical in the early rounds of the online Olympiad, when many teams have poor internet connections, but it would be possible for the knockout stages and would reduce the risk of controversial decisions.
Dvorkovich defended his position and responded to other criticisms in an extensive “hard talk” with the influential Dutch journalist Peter Doggers.
The 48-year-old Fide president admitted that the widely criticised appeal committee, with two Fide insiders, an American and a Serb, plus himself as chair, had proved inadequate and blamed the regulations. It could have been worse if there had been a dispute in the USA v Russia semi-final, when the Serb delegate would have had to make a decision on her own.
Back in 1985 there was also a famous case when a Fide president declared a world title event as “without result” and received a hail of criticism. Florencio Campomanes made his decision when Anatoly Karpov led Garry Kasparov 5-3 after 48 games in a race to six wins but Kasparov had won the last two games. It was believed that political pressure from the Karpov-favouring Kremlin was a factor, but both players said they wanted to continue while Kasparov never forgave Campomanes. In 1993 Kasparov and Nigel Short broke away from Fide and the schism lasted 12 years.
Dvorkovich is in a much stronger position than Campomanes, as he has made an excellent impression during his two years as president, receptive to new ideas and reaching out to critics. The controversial Olympiad final has followed the derailed Candidates which began in defiance of Covid-19, was halted at halfway, and has yet to find a firm time and venue for its conclusion. These setbacks will be overcome, though he needs a way to mollify Armenia.
The 163-nation online contest replaced what should have been the over-the-board Olympiad scheduled for Moscow in 2020 but cancelled by coronavirus. The 2022 edition of the biennial event was originally awarded to Minsk, but due to the political upheaval in Belarus this now looks poised for the axe.
On 1 September, Fide stated that the 2022 Minsk Olympiad was at risk after the organisers failed to comply with their contractual and financial obligations, and that unless Minsk responded by 7 September the bidding process would be relaunched.
A new bid requires government guarantees by 7 October, and there is speculation that Dvorkovich, a former Russian deputy prime minister, has already arranged for the next Olympiad to be back in Moscow with effectively a two-year postponement.
3687: 1…Ke6?? (1…Ke8! keeps drawing chances) 2 Bc5 d4 3 Rc7+?? missed mate in two by 3 c4! and 4 Re7 mate. A white win would have enabled the US to tie the match.