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Sarana Wins Inaugural Olympic Esports Series Finals In Chess
Sarana finished first, Chigaev second, and Truong Son third. Photo: Olympic Esports Week 2023 Local Organizing Committee.

Sarana Wins Inaugural Olympic Esports Series Finals In Chess

AnthonyLevin
| 8 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Alexey Sarana won the inaugural Olympic Esports Series 2023 Finals chess event after defeating GM Maksim Chigaev with a perfect 3-0 score in the final match. This is one of the first major victories for Sarana since he changed federations from Russia to Serbia not long ago.

After making it into the top four, Vietnamese number-two GM Ngoc Truong Son Nguyen defeated GM Aleksandr Rakhmanov (playing under a FIDE flag) in the match for third—winning on demand with Black and then again with White in the armageddon tiebreak. 

The Finals were a two-day affair, with a Pools Stage and Knockout. The top finishers battled through a field of 10 finalists in Singapore's Suntec City shopping mall to make history in the first-ever Olympic Esports Series.

See what happened
You can click here to find all the details of what happened during the event, including games, results, standings, and more, as part of our live events platform.
Live broadcast of the second day, hosted by IM Jovanka Houska, WGM Qiyu Zhou, and Claudio Fabiano.  

The Olympic Esports Series, which was first announced back in March, finally came to a close on June 24. After a series of qualifiers in which tens of thousands participated, just 10 players remained. Although they would still play their games on computers, they met face-to-face in Singapore for the Finals.

The opening ceremony on June 22 featured dazzling lights, music that ranged from atmospheric to club-like techno, and a dance performance attributed to chess. 

Other competitions put the sport in "esports," including games not usually associated with online play: archery, baseball, cycling, dance, motorsport, sailing, shooting, taekwondo, and tennis. The games were all played virtually; i.e., archery took place on Tic Tac Bow, shooting on Fortnite, and so on.

The chess games, which have been historically settled on a physical chessboard, were played in the same LAN-style format (with noise-canceling headphones, gaming chairs, and computers) as spectators have seen in Chess.com's Pro Chess League. Just like the traditional Olympic Games, players agreed to anti-doping procedures.

Pool Stage

Ten finalists first participated in the Pool Stage. Eight had qualified for their spot in online qualifiers, while two were invited by the FIDE President: Singaporean GMs JingYao Tin and Kevin Goh. Unlike the majority of chess tournaments, the grandmasters went head to head in the middle of the Suntec City shopping mall, which was connected to a convention center (where the next phases were held, on stage). 

There were two groups, Pool A and Pool B, each a round-robin tournament with five players who were sorted according to seeding. Each match consisted of four games played at the 3+2 time control. Scoring proceeded as follows: 2 matchpoints for a match win, 1 matchpoint for a match draw, and 0 for a loss.

In Pools, tiebreak scores would decide winners on an even score, and no playoff would occur. Rankings in each pool were determined by:

  • Matchpoints
  • Gamepoint Difference (Games Won minus Games Lost; including forfeit games)
  • Direct Encounter

The top two from each group would move on to the Semifinals.

Pool A

Chigaev was the most consistent player in his pool and won every match he played except the one against Bortnyk. He defeated Goh 3-1 (losing only one game to what looks like a mouse slip queen blunder), Tin 2.5-1.5, and Truong Son 2.5-1.5 only after winning in the last game after three draws.

His match against Bortnyk was the only one to end in a match draw, a 2-2 equal score after four decisive games. Bortnyk, who finished on 5 points, came very close to making it to the next stage.

The last game in their match, which Chigaev won with Black, was perhaps the most exciting after 8...g5!?, an opening choice criticized by the engine but also one that spiced up and arguably won the game. Although White had an objective advantage, the position was extremely murky in blitz, and the Russian grandmaster navigated the complications better. 

Truong Son earned the runner-up spot by scoring 5 match points and 9.5 gamepoints (Bortnyk scored 8.5). He drew Tin 2-2 but beat Goh 3-0 and Bortnyk 3-1, his only match loss being against Chigaev.

In his dominant match victory against seven-time Singaporean Champion Goh, he finished their first game with a pretty final combination, although he missed an opportunity to sacrifice his queen to earn even more style points.

Pool B

Sarana was the player to score the most gamepoints in both pools, 10.5 in total; Rakhamnov came a half-point behind that. Although he drew the runner-up Rakhmanov 2-2, Sarana won 2.5-1.5 against Ter-Sahakyan (winning the match just in the last game) and, more impressively, defeated Bassem 3-1 and Sukandar 3-0. 

The final score in Sarana's match against the highest-rated African player in history, Dr. Bassem, was surprisingly one-sided. Bassem's 2690 FIDE rating was the highest in the group, after all. The rook endgame in their last round came to a shockingly quick end after White landed himself in zugzwang with 61.Kd1??. Black's response, cutting off the second rank, was instructive.

Besides his 2-2 draw with the eventual tournament winner, Rakhmanov won all his other matches: 5-3 against Ter-Sahakyan, 5-3 against Bassem, and 3-0 against Sukandar. 10 points was enough to qualify for the Semifinals as runner-up. 

One of his nicest wins came in game two against Ter-Sahakyan, where he sacrificed a piece for two pawns and ultimately won his piece back in a few moves, with an attack.

Semifinals

The winner of Pool A would face the runner-up of Pool B; the winner of Pool B would face Pool A's runner-up. An unusual rule was included: The player who won their pool earned the right to choose White or Black in game one of the Semifinals (which would be their same color in game three and a possible armageddon game).

The two winners of their respective pools, Sarana and Chigaev, continued to play in top form and moved to play one another for first place, while the two runner-ups played in the third-place match.

Sarana-Truong Son 2.5-1.5

Sarana, who chose to start with the white pieces, won games one and two. The first game showed that checkmate patterns are almost always a factor in the game, even when just a few pieces remain on the board.

But after losing game three, Sarana was in a must-draw situation in game four. In a crazy game where both sides were winning at various points, he managed to hold the draw.

Chigaev-Rakhmanov 3-0

Chigaev's match was much more one-sided. After starting with the white pieces too, he won all three games. They were all decided by blunders of significant material in time scrambles. Can you find the winning move in game two?

Black to move and win. 

Medal Round

1st Place Match: Sarana-Chigaev 3-0

The medal round was brutally successful for Sarana. He won all three games—what more could one ask for?

A dream come true for Sarana in the Finals. Photo: Olympic Esports Week 2023 Local Organizing Committee.

In the first game, he won in an endgame with a rook and three pawns for each side—where his pawns were further advanced.

In the second game, he used an attacking pattern with rook and knight similar to the one featured in his win over Truong Son. Again, in a game without queens, he showed his attacking prowess.

Needing just a draw in the third game with White, Sarana still did not shy away from complications. When he achieved an advantage, he went for the throat with a "stealer sweeper" pawn sacrifice 24.e5!. The attack led to a pawn-up endgame, which turned into a two-pawns-up endgame, and his opponent resigned.

This impressive attacking game is analyzed by GM Rafael Leitao as our Game of the Day below.

Received on stage with blaring lights and loud applause, Sarana was timid but visibly pleased. He said: "It's [an] amazing feeling. I expected a lot from this tournament and I enjoyed it, and before the tournament, I considered myself as a favorite, and I managed to even win it."

Asked what it felt like to win this specific competition, he responded: "To be honest, I never played with spectators... like this," but stressed that seeing so many fans was a good change of pace.

3rd Place Match: Truong Son-Rakhmanov 3-2

This match was an absolute rollercoaster. After a game one draw, Rakhmanov took the lead when he won game two. From there, the Vietnamese grandmaster put together an unlikely and exhilarating comeback.

After a draw in game three, Truong Son had to defeat his strong grandmaster opponent with the black pieces on demand. With a strong pair of connected passed pawns, he managed to do just that. 

In the last game, he had the white pieces in armageddon, meaning he had to win. A draw would equal a match victory for Rakhmanov. Truong So had five minutes against Rakhamnov's four.

It ended with an epic armageddon faceoff. Photo: Olympic Esports Week 2023 Local Organizing Committee.

It came down to the clock. No increment. With under a minute each, Truong Son had three passed pawns but was down a bishop. His opponent was unable to withstand the pressure, and he won on demand—again.


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AnthonyLevin
NM Anthony Levin

NM Anthony Levin caught the chess bug at the "late" age of 18 and never turned back. He earned his national master title in 2021, actually the night before his first day of work at Chess.com.

Anthony, who also earned his Master's in teaching English in 2018, taught English and chess in New York schools for five years and strives to make chess content accessible and enjoyable for people of all ages. At Chess.com, he writes news articles and manages social media for chess24.

Email:  anthony.levin@chess.com

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