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 outlast Sarana in their round-one match. Only two players, Armenian GMs Ter-Sahakyan and Sargsyan, have won three consecutive rounds with zero match losses.
17-year-old IM Emin Ohanyan was just one win 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 will take place in Singapore from 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. The 14 qualified players from the Trials join the two invited players (Amin and GM Jose Martinez) to compete in the Preliminaries for eight spots in the Finals.
This stage 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 the colors alternating between games. Players who lose three matches are eliminated.
The first two rounds took place on the first day, while the last three were completed on the second day.
Bortnyk was the first to win a game, and he did it in style. The natural moves follow 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 the first day with a perfect score. He would then win another on day two to comfortably qualify for the Finals.
Also in the first round, the most exciting and miraculous comeback was Ter-Sahakyan against Sarana. After losing the first two games of the match, he had to win two games on demand just to force an armageddon tiebreaker.
He did it. With the black pieces, he started with a win after trading down to a king and pawn endgame—only a tempo was the difference between a win and a draw.
He won the next game with white pieces and then even managed to win the armageddon game with white pieces to secure the match. Three wins on demand—in this format, there’s no bigger return.
In the end, both players ended up qualifying for the Finals convincingly. Ter-Sahakyan went three matches unbeaten, while Sarana did not lose another match after that.
Sarana’s path to glory was a triumph, but it did not come without hiccups. The biggest mistake of the tournament happened in his game against Chigaev on the second day. After Chigaev hung his rook in one move, Sarana followed her own queen to the next move—even in blitz, mistakes of this magnitude are rare among grandmasters.
In a game between two grandmasters, one player mistakes the rook, and his opponent mistakes the queen on the next move! 🤯 pic.twitter.com/fhpqw75MMW
— ChesscomLive (@ChesscomLive) May 5, 2023
But he righted the ship. Sarana was able to win the next game and secure the match despite a creative (but inefficient) 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 over IM Yahli Sokolovsky.
Arguably the most exciting endgame in the tournament took place in Sokolovsky vs. Sargsyan in round two. It is not often that one can draw a grandmaster after blundering their queen.
The Israeli IM managed to hold the fort with his rook against a queen, though it shouldn’t have worked. GM Ian Nepomniachtchi shows us how to win the 2020-21 FIDE Candidates Tournament against GM Anish Giri. They had the same endgame (reviewed here by GM Dejan Bojkov) but moved one file to the left.
I also included a second way of winning by using triangulation and zugzwang.
Despite missing out on a win here, Sargsyan would go on to score a perfect 3-0 match mark over the course of two days, a feat only his Armenian compatriot Ter-Sahakyan has also achieved.
The only match that will go to armageddon tiebreak is Rakhmanov vs. saint Four decisive games (White won each) led to an even score, and Rakhmanov got one more point over White to win the armageddon match.
His cleanest victory, however, came in the second game, where a systematic gathering of forces quickly crescendoed into a deadly, tactical blow. GM Rafael Leitao reviews 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 only needed a win on the second to advance. It wasn’t meant to be, and he lost all three games. almost is never enough in the game of chess.
Click here to learn more about the Olympic Esports Series 2023 Chess Event, and make sure you sign up for the IOC newsletter to follow all the Olympic Esports Series 2023 action!
©2023 International Olympic Committee/IOC – All rights reserved. “Olympic Esports Series” is a property of the IOC and may not be reproduced, republished, stored in a retrieval system or otherwise reproduced or transmitted, in whole or in part, in any form or in in any way, without the prior written consent of the IOC. Unauthorized copying, adaptation, rental, lending, distribution, acquisition, resale, arcade use, charge for use, broadcast, public performance and internet, cable or any telecommunications transmission, access or use of this product or any trademark or copyright manufactured parts of this product are prohibited.