Eight players qualified for the Olympic Esports Series 2023 Finals after accumulating three match wins in the Preliminaries on Thursday and Friday: GMs Shant Sargsyan, Samvel Ter-Sahakyan, Oleksandr Bortnyk, Alexey Sarana, Bassem Amin, Maksim Chigaev, Ngoc Truong Son Nguyen, and Aleksandr Rakhmanov.
The biggest comeback in any single round was that of Ter-Sahakyan, who won three consecutive games on demand to overtake Sarana in their round-one match. Just two players, Armenian GMs Ter-Sahakyan and Sargsyan, won three consecutive rounds with zero match losses.
17-year-old IM Emin Ohanyan was just one match victory away from moving on, but he succumbed to Chigaev in the final round. Thus, all eight winners of the Preliminaries were grandmasters.
The OES Finals take place in Singapore starting on June 23 (times to be announced).
See what happened
Tens of thousands of players have been whittled down to 16 in the penultimate phase of the Olympic Esports Series. 14 qualified players from the Trials joined two invited players (Amin and GM Jose Martinez) to fight in the Preliminaries for eight spots in the Finals.
This phase featured an “Elimination Swiss” tournament, the same format used in the 2023 Pro Chess League. Each encounter is a four-game match, with the higher seed playing White first and colors alternating between games. Players who lose three matches are eliminated.
The first two rounds occurred on day one, while the last three wrapped up on the second day.
Bortnyk was the first to win a game, and he did so in style. Natural moves follow in the checkmating sequence starting with 34.Ng5+, but the final, quiet king move (despite being a piece down) is as elegant as it is simple.
The Ukrainian grandmaster would go on to win both of his first two matches and finish day one with a perfect score. He’d then win one more on day two to comfortably qualify for the Finals.
Also in round one, the most exciting and miraculous comeback was Ter-Sahakyan’s against Sarana. After losing the first two games of the match, he needed to win two games on demand just to force an armageddon tiebreaker.
He managed to do so. With the black pieces, he started off with a win after trading down to a king and pawn endgame—just one tempo was the difference between a win and a draw.
He won the next game with the white pieces and then even managed to win the armageddon game with the white pieces to secure the match. Three wins on demand—in this format, there could not be a greater comeback.
Ultimately, both players ended up qualifying for the Finals convincingly. Ter-Sahakyan won three matches with zero losses, while Sarana wouldn’t lose another match after this one.
Sarana’s path to glory was a success, but it didn’t come without hiccups. The biggest blunders of the tournament occurred in his game against Chigaev on the second day. After Chigaev hung his rook in one move, Sarana followed up by blundering his own queen on the next move—even in blitz, blunders of this magnitude are quite rare among grandmasters.
In a game between two grandmasters, one player blunders the rook, and his opponent blunders the queen on the next move! 🤯 pic.twitter.com/fhpqw75MMW
— ChesscomLive (@ChesscomLive) May 5, 2023
But he righted the ship. Sarana managed to win the next game and secure the match despite a creative (but not sound) queen sacrifice by Chigaev.
With this victory, Sarana qualified for the Finals. Despite losing this game, Chigaev would also go on to qualify for the Finals with his victory against IM Yahli Sokolovsky.
Arguably the most fascinating endgame in the tournament occurred in Sokolovsky vs. Sargsyan in round two. It’s not often that one can draw a grandmaster after blundering their queen.
The Israeli IM managed to hold the fortress with his rook against a queen, even though it objectively should not have worked. GM Ian Nepomniachtchi showed us the winning method at the 2020-21 FIDE Candidates Tournament against GM Anish Giri. They had the same endgame (analyzed here by GM Dejan Bojkov) but shifted one file to the left.
I also included a second way of winning by using triangulation and zugzwang.
Despite the missed win here, Sargsyan would go on to score a perfect 3-0 match score across the two days, a feat only his Armenian countryman Ter-Sahakyan was able to also accomplish.
The only match to go to the armageddon tiebreak was Rakhmanov vs. Santos. Four decisive games (White won each) led to an even score, and Rakhmanov racked up one more point with White to win the match in armageddon.
His cleanest win, however, came in game two, where a methodical buildup of forces crescendoed quickly in a deadly, tactical blow. GM Rafael Leitao analyzes our instructive Game of the Day below.
GM Aleksandr Shimanov had arguably the most heartbreaking event. He scored 2-0 on the first day and needed just a single win on the second to move on. It wasn’t meant to be, and he lost all three games. Almost is never quite enough in the game of chess.
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