So proud, says Keralite prodigy Nihal after India's Chess Olympiad glory

Nihal Sarin

Thrissur: India made  history on Sunday by winning their first gold medal in the Chess Olympiad, after they were declared joint champions with formidable Russia in an anti-climactic end to the event played online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

India were initially declared to have lost the final round but they lodged an appeal saying their players lost internet connection due to a server failure. The decision was then reversed.

India’s Nihal Sarin and Divya Deshmukh lost connection to their games in the second round of the best-of-three final due to the online glitch, and Koneru Humpy also faced connectivity issues. The Indian team formally appealed against the issue and after FIDE's (International Chess Federation) review committee investigated the problem for over an hour the gold medals were awarded to both the teams. Russia won the Chess Olympiad for the first time since 2002, while this was India's maiden title. 

Keralite prodigy Nihal was exhausted and emotional following a dramatic final day of the tournament. Son of Dr A Sarin and Dr Shijin A Ummer of Sruthi, Ayyanthole, Nihal had become the 12th youngest Grandmaster in chess history and only the third from Kerala to join the elite club in August 2018.  He is the 53rd Grandmaster of India.

"He came out of the locked room and smiled at me after the frantic finish to Sunday's final. The first thing he told me was to get him a burger. He was so tired and fatigued," said Nihal's father Shijin. 

As per the tournament rules, a player will receive first and final warning for internet disconnection for two minutes or less. A player will receive a yellow card if there is an Internet disruption for two minutes or less for a second time and a red card if the player is being awarded a second yellow card.

The Indian team was very cautious after Vidit Santosh Gujrathi and Koneru Humpy lost their games to Mongolia and Divya Deshmukh her game earlier owing to the disruption in power and internet connectivity. 

"We had beefed up our power and internet connectivity backup systems for the final. It was a neck-and-neck contest as the teams played out draws on all six boards in the first round of the ‘best of three mini-matches’ final. In the second round of the final, Nihal was heading for a draw while Divya was in a winning position. Nihal was prepared for a tie-breaker as he had only 27 seconds left to complete the game. It was then he faced connectivity issues. There was no power disruption or internet failure. We were wondering what could have happened. After some minutes, it was declared that the duo had lost on time. We were shocked to know that India lost in the final," Shijin said. 

Immediately, Nihal and Divya lodged an appeal saying that they lost internet connection due to a server failure. They were hoping that FIDE, the organisers of the tournament, would allow them to restart the game. FIDE's review committee looked into the issue and confirmed that the disruption was due to a server outage. The decision was then reversed and India were awarded the Chess Olympiad gold medal jointly with Russia. 

"The last ten days were intensely stressful. I feel relieved and proud to have helped the country win an international title. I can now fully enjoy Onam with my family," Nihal said, beaming with pride.

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