The Polish team won all six matches in Belgrade and took their first Olympic gold in chess since 1930. IPCA got the silver, and the Philippines won the bronze
Like many times during the 20th century, the Serbian capital Belgrade was a place where (again) chess history had been made, as players with disabilities showed their chess skills on a global stage in a first-ever Olympiad dedicated to them.
The inaugural event celebrating diversity and competition has been a milestone moment for chess. During the past six days, 26 teams with participants from 33 countries competed for the title.
Poland achieved huge success as the team led by GM Marcin Tazbir confidently won the Olympiad, defeating all of their opponents and scoring 12 match points.
The team of Physically disabled chess players (IPCA) won second place with 10 match points. Four teams: the Philipines, India, Serbia 1 and Uzbekistan, shared third to sixth place with eight match points. The cheerful squad of the Philipines came in third after a better tie-break.
Croatia – who had a bad start to the tournament – finished seventh, while second-seed Israel finished eighth and third-seed Hungary took the modest 9th place.
Poland’s Marcin Tazbir: “A great success for our country and our chess society”
Marcin Tazbir is visually impaired. He started losing his eyesight when he was 16. He was already a good player, an IM, by that point. He had a demanding role in this event, playing board one in all matches (winning two games and drawing four).
“I believe that people in our country will say this is a great success. Poland has medals from the Olympiads but before the [Second World] war. So, this type of event is also a great success for our country and our chess society”, Marcin Tazibir said in an interview for FIDE.
The Polish team was the favourite to win. They had the highest average ELO (2327) and proved their status in every match.
Poland’s journey to the top started with a 3:1 victory over Germany in the first round. In Round 2, they narrowly defeated the team IPCA (2,5:1,5) and then crushed the international team of FIDE 3,5:0,5. They then defeated the Philippines (2,5:1,5) and India (3:1). In the last round, the Poles were up against their biggest rivals in this event – Israel. Despite having an average lower rating than Poland, Israel (2171), led by Grandmaster Yehuda Gruenfeld, put on a strong performance and – with India and IPCA – were always in the race for the top place.
One of the heroes of the Polish team is FM Marcin Molenda (pictured below), who played on board two. Molenda had an amazing score of 5,5 out of six, drawing just one game in the last round against Israel.
Poland’s team was a class above anyone else. Out of 24 games played, they won 17,5 points! Altogether, the Polish team lost just three games!
“I strongly believe that this event is a great opportunity for people with disabilities to feel the atmosphere of the Olympiad and a great event… To be able to come together, play and compete is something special for all of us and a great chance to overcome our limits,” Tazbir said.
The foundation of future Olympiads for people with disabilities
Grandmaster Thomas Luther had a pivotal role in making the first Chess Olympiad for people with disabilities happen. As the head of the FIDE Commission for people with disabilities, Luther and his team worked hard to get attention and support from across the chess world.
“I’m very happy! We worked on this for such a long time, and finally, we have done it. Successfully! This event is the foundation of future Olympiads for people with disabilities, and I am so proud and happy to have taken part in this”.
Pulling everything together and organising the event wasn’t easy. “There were many challenges and questions about the event”, Luther noted.
“Do we need this event? Will it be successful? Will people accept it? Will the players come? Will there be exceptional difficulties…? But all went very fine and smoothly. We are looking forward to making the next Olympiad happen – we will increase the participation of countries and use the lessons learnt in Belgrade to improve.”
Speaking about how he will remember the past six days in Belgrade, Luther said: “I will remember Belgrade as a very special place. So much chess history is tied to Belgrade and Serbia. Now, another piece of chess history is made in this beautiful country. We are very grateful to everyone here in Serbia who were working so hard to make this event a success.”
The closing ceremony: “One special dream has come true”
The closing ceremony of the first Chess Olympiad for people with disabilities took place at 7 PM, in the same hall of the Crown Plaza hotel where the matches were played over the past six days.
Present at the ceremony were high-ranking officials of the City of Belgrade, as well as the deputy chairperson of the Management Board of FIDE, Dana Reizniece-Ozola and FIDE Special Tasks Director, Akaki Iashvili.
“This is a very special moment. They say that a true dream is not the one you leave when the morning comes, but the one that fills in every living moment of yours… One special dream has come true,” Dana Reizniece-Ozola said.
“We are extremely proud to have managed to organise this Olympiad! FIDE would like to thank the sponsors – the Serbian Government, the Serbian energy giant NIS, Coca-Cola, Rossety, the Serbian Chess Federation, the arbiters, volunteers and everyone else involved for playing a huge role in making this event happen and for making it a huge success.”
Reizniece-Ozola applauded the FIDE Commission for people with disabilities as well as other organisations and federation members working in this field.
“I am grateful to them for being agile and for providing honest feedback and helpful suggestions on how to make future Olympiads and events for people with disabilities even better.”
She noted that in the future, bidders for chess Olympiads would also have to commit to organising the Olympiad for people with disabilities. “From now on, this Olympiad will be a regular feature”.
Poland’s perfect score in Belgrade
It was a climaxing finale of the great Belgrade competition, the derby of the whole championship between Poland and Israel. All the leaders needed were two points out of four, but there was no sign of a peaceful approach from either side, apart from the Grandmasters’ draw between Marcin Tazbir and Yehuda Groenfeld, the two players with the highest rating in the event.
Other boards were on fire and Pawel Piekielny was the first one to get the full point for his team, using a mistake of IM Andrei Gurbanov, who was in an already weaker position. When Jacek Stahanczik outplayed Aleksandra Aleksandrova, whose trademark sharp play this time didn’t pay off, it was a sign for the celebration of the Polish team.
However, the smiles and hugs didn’t prevent Polish FM Marcin Molenda, the best second board in the Olympiad, to keep fighting for his sixth individual win. Although without any importance for the team standings, his game with Israeli FM Andrey Streltsov was by far the most exciting one in the derby.
Marcin missed his best chance right before the first time control:
The winning combination was: 37.Nc6! Bxc6 38.Rd1+ Kc7 39.Rxd8 Kc7 40.Rg8.
Instead, the game continued with 37.Kxf6 Bxf3 38.Kxe5 g2 39.Kd4.
And now Andrey missed the spectacular winning move: 39…Bd1! After 40.Rxd1 Kc7+ 41.Kc5 Rxd1, the game would be over.
Black opted for pragmatic 39…Rg8 40.Rg1, but the final draw in the 65th move was a fair outcome of the great battle. This game alone illustrated the fascinating fighting spirit of the Belgrade event!
There was more uncertainty around silver medals proudly won by the international selection of Physically disabled chess players (IPCA).
Starting from the 7th rank according to the average rating, the IPCA team won all the matches except one: they suffered a narrow loss of 2.5:1.5 against Poland in the 2nd round.
In their final round encounter, Stanislav Mikheev (Serbia), Sargis Sargissyan (Armenia), Eugenio Campos (Angola) and Artom Andriienko (Ukraine) took the 2.5:1.5 win from the 3rd-seed Hungary and completed their dream run.
The owners of bronze medals were decided on the tie-break among the group of teams with eight match points. The first tie-break criteria, the number of board points, was equal for the Asian teams of the Philippines and India (15:15), but the second tie-break, the sum of Sonneborn-Berger points, favored the Philippine squad, one of the most joyful companies in the Belgrade event!
India and the Philipines went head to head in the final round to decide third place! Darpan Inani brought the lead to India winning against James Infiesto on the third board, but the decision was made in this pawn ending played between Darry Bernardo and Naveen Kumar:
Black can secure a draw by sacrificing pawns in the right order: 71…c5! 72.bxc5 f4! 73.gxf4 gxf4 74.Kxf4 Kc6.
However, after more than five hours of tense fighting, Naveen Kumar did it in the wrong order: 71…f4? 72.gxf4 gxf4 73.Kxf4 c5 74.b5! and Darry Bernardo brought the bronze to his teammates, becoming the best 4th board of the event, with 5,5 points out of six games.
The Indian team had to be satisfied with the 4th place, jumping from the 10th position on the starting list, as well as Serbia 1, climbing to the 5th place after a slow start. The pride of the hosts was 18 years old Jovan Pavicevic, a real discovery of the event, who netted four points on the 1st board and increased his rating by nearly 20 points.
The 6th place was a great success for the fighting Uzbekistani team. They started as the 20th seed and nearly missed the fight for medals at the end.
Some other countries found consolation in winning individual medals. Predrag Nikac (Montenegro) was the best 1st board (5 points), Matthias Dorner (Germany) dominated the third board with 5.5 points, and Mihai Dima (Romania) was the best reserve player, with 4 points out of 5 games.