Dubai: Triveni Continental Kings emerged champions of the inaugural Global Chess League, triumphing over the upGrad Mumba Masters following a thrilling marathon finale, comprising two legs of the normal climax, a pair of tie-breakers and four Sudden Death play-offs between individual players. Not just the Kings won from the brink of exiting the tournament, the two unlikely heroes were Sara Khadem and Jonas Bjerre.
Led by Levon Aronian, one of the strongest grandmasters in the world and a replacement icon player on the eve of the tournament, the Kings showcased remarkable resilience to finish on an impressive six-match winning streak in winning the coveted title. Four wins to end the league stages saw Khadem winning three of her matches after coming in as a substitute for Nana Dzagnidze, who withdrew for health reasons.
After two rounds of rapid ending in a draw, and then another two rounds of blitz which also finished with draws, the Champion was decided in a series of sudden-death blitz games where the decisive outcome came in the fourth game.
In a spectacular finish, Danish Grandmaster Jonas Bjerre, 19, helped Kings clinch victory after defeating Uzbek 17-year-old prodigy Javokhir Sindarov in a suspenseful game on the Prodigy category table.
Bjerre, who was one of the most inexperienced players in the tournament and lost most of his games, delivered the crucial victory to his team when it mattered. After suffering a series of four losses to Sindarov, in a drawn even endgame which the Uzbek player decided to force, Bjerre got the upper hand and won.
“The last game was incredibly tense. It was really exciting. I’m still shivering”, said Bjerre whose journey in this tournament can be described as going from zero to hero. “Levon (team captain) told me - just fight, take it one game at a time,” Bjerre added. The Dane helped his team secure the final and the $500,000 prize purse. The overall fund for the tournament was a stunning one million.
Hailing the win for the Kings, Anand Mahindra, GCL owner and chairman of Tech Mahindra, said: “You know Triveni had two pullouts and I thought to myself, ‘why does lightning have to strike twice? But they have made the Kings more powerful with the addition of Aronian and Sara Khadem.”
The addition of Khadem proved to be the lucky charm the Kings needed as they went on a four-match winning streak in the final stages of the round-robin. It was a run that inspired other teams too, including the Masters, while prising out the early leaders SG Alpine Warriors with Magnus Carlsen and the Ganges Grandmasters with Vishwanathan Anand as icon players respectively. “People were getting wistful, but the beauty of this league is that it proved having a genius in the team is no guarantee of the result,” Mahindra said.
As fate would have it, the first board selected was No 5; it was a duel between Khadem and India’s Harika Dronavalli. Both players traded advantage but the game ended in a draw. Next up was former world blitz champion Alexander Grischuk against one of the world’s strongest players, Yu Yangyi, of the Kings.
The latter managed to create a 2:1 pawn advantage in a gripping endgame. However, Grischuk managed to hold on and stave an upset. Then came his wife in the rival camp, three-time world blitz champion Kateryna Lagno and India’s strongest woman Grandmaster, Koneru Humpy. This time, Humpy had the advantage bit erred in the time scramble and let off Lagno with a draw.
When the chess prodigies were drawn, Masters hopes of victory went high as Javokhir Sindarov had won all four games against Bjerre. In an even endgame, Sindarov decided to decline a draw and push. In the crucial moments it backfired and Bjerre ended with the upper hand and won. As Sindarov looked in disbelief, the arena erupted with applause.