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Chess Olympiad: India, Russia declared joint winners after internet issues mar final

The games of Nihal Sarin (above) and Divya Deshmukh were disconnected, leading to them losing on time. J Casares/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

India and Russia were declared joint winners of the 2020 Online Chess Olympiad after internet disconnection and server malfunction issues marred the final, leading to India provisionally losing 1.5-4.5 to Russia in the second round and subsequently the entire match on Sunday.

On board five and six, both Nihal Sarin and Divya Deshmukh's games were disconnected, leading to India dropping points, while on board three Koneru Humpy also lost some time due to internet issues.

The Indian team formally appealed against the internet outage and FIDE's review committee investigated the issue before deciding to award the title - being held online for the first time due to the Covid-19 pandemic - to both teams.

The internet issues led to a controversy on Friday when Armenia, led by World No. 7 Levon Aronian, appealed to the arbiters and the appeals committee after team member Haik Martirosyan lost on time to Sarin in the quarterfinal. Armenia argued the time running out was due to a server error on chess.com, where the tournament was being held. However, after both appeals were turned down, Armenia withdrew from the tournament in protest.

World No. 15. and former World Champion Viswanathan Anand, India's top-ranked player, sat out for the first round as captain Vidit Gujrathi occupied board one against current World No. 4 Ian Nepomniachtchi. Vidit out-prepared Nepomniachtchi and had a clear advantage in the middle game, but the Russian managed to hold his fort to force the game into a draw. Koneru Humpy had to settle for a draw after squandering her pawn advantage against Kateryna Lagno. After the first round, India and Russia, who went into the final as slight favourites, were on equal footing, at 3-3, with all the games ending in draws.

Russia won the second round 4.5-1.5 with wins for Andrey Esipenko over Sarin and Polina Shuvalova over Deshmukh, with the Indians claiming the losses were due to connection issues. In the second round, Anand, coming in for P Harikrishna, drew with Nepomniachtchi while Gujrathi drew with Daniil Dubov. Koneru Humpy, the world rapid champion, was beaten by Alexandra Goryachkina and D Harika drew with Alexandra Kosteniuk. "It is a bit strange that we lost due to server failure and our appeal was accepted. Well, I can say we fought till the end," Humpy said afterwards.

Russia has not won a Chess Olympiad since 2002, while this was India's maiden appearance in the final of the tournament.