For Immediate Release :: 30 November 2020

The Upset Watch

Semifinals – Round 8 

By: Arena International Master Sean J. Manross & Bear the Chess Husky

It’s the moment Bear the Chess Husky has been waiting for: the playoffs!

As we’ve seen, the field of the main event is a huge melee – a free for all where anything can and will happen, every single round. Because of the depth of the field in the main event, we only kept you abreast of the biggest, most dramatic and unexpected upsets. Yet, here in the playoffs, everything changes. This is the moment every team – nay, every player - has been vying for. Although the drama is at a climax, so too must be the caution and professionalism of the athletes.

In the playoffs, the nature of the Upset Watch changes. Anytime a lower-rated player defeats their senior, it’ll be seen by the watchful eye of Bear the Chess Husky. Anytime a player misses a chance to crush their opponent, it’ll be reported to you. Above all, if and when a team gets upset, we’ll examine how it occurred and what we can learn from it. Today, the first FIDE Online Olympiad for Persons with Disabilities reaches its pivotal phase. This is the semifinals.

The athletes from Poland-1 have emerged as the sole leaders of the playoffs, decisively crushing Ukraine-3 by the unflattering, but not unexpected, score of three wins and a draw. Amazingly, even this lopsided result was, arguably, a minor upset. On the top board, the tournament’s most powerful player and leader of the Polish, GM Marcin Tazbir (2513), chose not to attempt to convert a full point, against IM Igor Yarmonov (2391). The Ukrainian International Master probably spared his team the ravishing of a total sweep by choosing to play a drawish Queen’s Indian Defense. The dull opening may have convinced the Grandmaster to prematurely call the game a draw…but a question mark hangs over this game due to Tazbir’s potentially-passed b-pawn, the bishop-pair, and a convincing initiative and one would have wished to see him push the issue, in the spirit of our world champion and today’s birthday boy, GM Magnus Carlsen.

For the purposes of the Upset Report, the real story of the semifinals was the dreadful failure of Russia’s top team to keep pace with their Polish rivals. Russia-1 squandered away what should have been their own crushing team win, settling instead for a humbling draw at the hands of Poland-3. Boards 1, 3 and 4 finished as expected: Russia’s leader, FM Stanislav Babarykin (2387), defeated Mateusz Lapaj (2216); Poland’s anchor, Maciej Szalko (1946) routed Marina Kaydanovich (1734); and Russian master, Evgeniy Suslov (2236), overpowered, predictably,  Zuzanna Lukasik (1643) on board 3. Yet, one momentary oversight, on board 2, cost Russia an immediate victory in their match, as Pawel Piekielny (2098) stunned the Olympiad fans by defeating IM Andrei Obodchuk (2299) in a huge upset. Piekielny won a pawn in a super sharp Ruy Lopez - Marshall Attack and Obodchuk’s bishop pair could not withstand the pressure.

At this stage, the tie between Russia-1 and Poland-3 has resulted in a situation where, by slight tiebreak advantage, Russia is in the second seed and Poland-3 is third. Poland-3’s upset victory over Russia-1 forces, potentially, another tiebreak situation in which – quoted verbatim from the ruling of experienced Chief Arbiter, Jirina Prokopova - the semifinal results will be determined by the following criteria:

(a)   Board Points

(b)   Board count/Berlin (lower sum of Board numbers, counting won games)

(c)   Board elimination/cut (bottom board is eliminated)

(d)   Ranking from the Swiss stage

Whether or not Russia-1 and Poland-3 find themselves in a tie probably depends, entirely, on the strategic decisions Poland decides to make this evening. Because of the current tiebreaks, tomorrow morning, Poland-1 will play against Poland-3…the conflict of interest should be self-evident, but we can do the same pregame analysis which the coaches of the Polish chess squad have been, doubtlessly, engaging in all night and into the witching hours of the morning.

Poland-1 is going to move up to the finals – that is, entirely, within their own nation’s control. Literally, every team member of Poland-1 is a titled player and they boast the tournament’s unquestioned hegemon, GM Marcin Tazbir. At this stage, it is beyond doubt that the nation of Poland is favored to emerge the world’s champion of the first Online Olympiad for Persons with Disabilities. Strategically, if they can prevent a showdown with Russia in the final, it is a matter of fact that Poland will emerge victorious. Poland-1 would either go, again, against Ukraine, who was utterly and irreversibly demoralized in today’s blowout against Poland-1…or they would showdown with Poland-3. Both scenarios guarantee international Polish dominion of chess for the disabled, in 2020.

All of this begs the question of how can Poland keep Russia out of the final, without even playing them in tomorrow’s round? There are conditions under which they simply cannot. Poland has to assume that Russia is going to sweep Ukraine in tomorrow’s ultimate semifinal round and, if so, Russia would emerge from such a success with six points. Poland-1, therefore, cannot give all four points to Poland-3, lest Russia would emerge top seed into the final and Poland-3 would be their competitor. This could easily cause the nation of Poland to unexpectedly lose the Online Olympiad and the Upset Watch would yearn to report such a coup.

Alas, we can safely assume that Poland-1 will not be allowing Poland-3 to take home all four games as victories - nor would they take only a single point, because the third Polish team would still emerge ahead of their top team. But what if they were to quietly orchestrate a 2.5-1.5 result? This would be Poland’s best shot: in this scenario, Poland-1 emerges with 5 points and, importantly, Poland-3 would come out with 4.5 points. Such a scenario, virtually, guarantees the elimination of Ukraine and the berth of at least one Polish team to the finals. Therefore, at the team level, the best bet for Poland, as a nation, will, theoretically, be to hand Poland-3 two and a half of the points from tomorrow’s round. While all of this would perilously skirt the rules, this aforementioned tactic would not, actually, be illegal; and it would be eerily reminiscent of similar “slingshot” tactics employed in elite team cycling competitions, common in Europe.

Poland could easily orchestrate such a result without setting off too many alarm bells. Just one example of an appealing and statistically-probable 2.5 – 1.5 finish might be a draw on board 1, with an upset on board 2, complemented by board 3 (predictably) going to the master from Poland-1, and, lastly, board 4 seamlessly going to Poland-3’s slightly higher-rated anchor. Again, while some might question the morality of such a deliberate result, the rules, technically, allow for this type of tactic in team competition. Bear the Chess Husky would never make such a prediction about this type of possibility, but he reminds you if you see such a score for the top board at the end of tomorrow’s round…that you heard the probability here first. Yet, what would such a 2.5-1.5 result, in Poland-3’s favor, mean for Russia?

The world’s dominant chess superpower will, obviously, be looking at a must-win match against Ukraine, tomorrow. Nothing short of three points (out of four) will guarantee their berth to the finals, at least in this scenario. That being said, Ukraine’s abysmal performance in the first semifinal round should not be taken to imply that a victory against them is a foregone conclusion for the Russians. On board 1, Russia’s leader, FIDE Master Stanislav Babarykin (2387), will be the underdog by one title and four rating points, against International Master Igor Yarmonov (2391). On board 2, Russia’s IM Andrei Obodchuk (2299) will have his work cut out for him against IM Vadim Bondarets (2210); and, on board 3, FM Evgeniy Suslov (2236) will not have an easy game against Ukraine’s FM Nikolay Mukha (2163). Thus - even though there is little hope for Ukraine to emerge victorious on board 4 - if any two of the top three Russians lose or draw their games, they’ll be lucky to outpace Poland-3 in the tiebreak to progress to the final.

Tomorrow’s penultimate, semifinal round will be the tournament’s most interesting round, yet. Will the Polish leave their tournament to the whims of Caïssa or will their coaches take fate into their own hands? Will the Russians advance to their ultimate showdown with Poland-1 or will the Ukrainians stop the Russky army dead in its tracks? No matter what happens in tomorrow’s intense action, join Bear the Chess Husky, right back here, vigilantly manning the Upset Watch!