Amidst the global pandemic, when the sporting world had come to an indefinite halt, Chess happened to be one of the few active sports despite the challenging circumstances. Most Chess Tournaments opted to go online on various platforms giving it a miss to the traditional, over-the-board games. While Indian YouTube streamers and Chess players made the sport mainstream in this lockdown, the Online Chess Olympiad Finals between India and Russia witnessed close to 68,000 live concurrent viewers watching the Online Chess Olympiad 2020. That is close to the capacity of the Eden Gardens Cricket Stadium in Kolkata.
Chess.com, a popular Chess-playing platform organized the Junior Speed Chess Championship for titled players under the age of 20. The top 16 juniors of the tournament saw 5 Indian Grandmasters battle it out with others for the Junior Speed Chess Championship. India’s GM Nihal Sarin, GM R Praggnanandhaa, GM Raunak Sadhwani, GM Arjun Erigaisi, and GM Gukesh D were the 5 Indian Grandmasters participating in the tournament.
The format for the Junior Speed Chess Championships was quite interesting. It was a knockout event where each match featured 90 Minutes of 5 +1 Blitz, 60 Minutes of 3+1 Blitz, and 30 Minutes of 1+1 Bullet Chess. While GM R Praggnanandhaa, GM Raunak Sadhwani, and GM Gukesh D faced defeats in the earlier rounds, GM Arjun Erigaisi managed to make it to the Quarter-Finals where he lost to USA’s Jeffery Xiong with a score of 13.5-15.5.
Nihal Sarin was one of the favorites to win the tournament. The young GM from India is only 16 years old and is ranked 9th in the country. In the JSCC, Nihal was pitted against top junior talents such as USA’s Andrew Tang in the first round, Australia’s Anton Smirnov in the QFs, Armenia’s Haik Martirosyan in the semi-finals followed by Russia’s Alexey Sarana in the Finals. Nihal did not have an easy run and had to fight it out in every round.
Although, Nihal comfortably sailed through in the first round against Andrey Tang by defeating him with a score of 16-8. In the QFs, Nihal won against Anton Smirnov with a close margin of 14.5-12.5. Nihal Sarin faced Armenia’s Haik Martirosyan in the semi-finals of the JSCC. In the Online Chess Olympiad, Armenia had withdrawn against India in the Quarter-Finals because of internet disconnection in Haik’s game against Nihal. Despite the indirect history, Nihal crushed Haik Martirosyan with a score of 17-9 and booked his berth in the finals of the Junior Speed Chess Championship against eventual finalist Alexey Sarana of Russia.
The finals between Alexey Sarana and Nihal Sarin was a mini-Olympiad in itself. Russia and India were the Joint-winners of the Online FIDE Chess Olympiad after a global internet outage caused disruption and loss of internet connection. Sarana and Nihal are both known to be great players under time pressure. When one player attacks, the other shows resilience and defends well and vice-versa, was one of the comments made by his coach and trainer – GM Srinath Narayanan, while commentating on his YouTube Channel.
While Nihal took the initial lead in the finals of the JSCC, Alexey Sarana tried to grab every opportunity to reduce the gap and equalize. Despite the pressure, Nihal managed to keep the lead with a very slight margin after the end of (5+1) and (3+1) format. It was the bullet section where Nihal showed his dominance and started winning convincingly. Nihal Sarin considers bullet chess as his dominant area. Nihal showcased an ideal balance of aggression and resilience in the game and took a massive lead in the bullet section. By the end of the Bullet matches, Nihal had taken a big lead and won the finals in a convincing and commanding manner. The final score of the tie stood 18-7 in Nihal Sarin’s favor as the young Indian grandmaster defeated 20-year-old Alexey Sarana of Russia and won the Junior Speed Chess Championship.