Chess Olympiad 2022 open section preview: US men favourite for gold; India B could provide sparks

India, with three teams among the top 17 seeds, is tipped to be on the podium while the World champion Magnus Carlsen carries third seed Norway’s hopes of winning its maiden medal.

With the original host Russia suspended by the FIDE for the invasion of Ukraine and defending champion China absent, USA has emerged as the runaway favourite. 

With the original host Russia suspended by the FIDE for the invasion of Ukraine and defending champion China absent, USA has emerged as the runaway favourite.  | Photo Credit: JOTHI RAMALINGAM B

India, with three teams among the top 17 seeds, is tipped to be on the podium while the World champion Magnus Carlsen carries third seed Norway’s hopes of winning its maiden medal.

Four months after hurriedly getting the hosting rights, India is finally ready for the biggest ever Chess Olympiad.

With a record number of 187 nations, the standout novelty will be the never-before simultaneous live broadcast from around 700 boards enhanced by some innovative use of technology at this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Following the grand Opening Ceremony at Chennai’s Nehru Stadium, the on-board action will commence on Friday afternoon at the two sprawling halls of Four Points by Sheraton.

With the original host Russia suspended by the FIDE for the invasion of Ukraine and defending champion China absent in continuance of limiting overseas participation as part of its fight against the ongoing pandemic, the USA has emerged as the runaway favourite.

India, with three teams among the top 17 seeds, is tipped to be on the podium, while the World champion Magnus Carlsen carries third seed Norway’s hopes of winning its maiden medal. Going by the strength and form of various teams, around 10 countries are quietly hopeful of making the medal bracket.

As things stand, it appears futile to look beyond the USA for the gold medal. With four of its five players among the top-14 in the world, Russia and China away, in addition to the absence of the French team members Alireza Firouzja and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave - rated second and ninth in the world - path to USA’s seventh gold looks smooth.

Fabiano Caruana, Levon Aronian, Wesley So - ranked four to six - and the duo of Leinier Dominguez Perez and Sam Shankland placed 14th and 26th, form the US team. Their playing strength massively reduces the chance of any mishap. In any case, with 11 rounds to play, a strong team can always come back even after a setback.

USA’s lowest ranked player Shankland matches the rating of India’s top-ranked P. Harikrishna. This should help put things into perspective when considering the host’s gold-winning prospects.

Trusted campaigner Vidit Gujrathi, an in-form teenager Arjun Erigaisi, a steady S. L. Narayanan and the vastly experienced K. Sasikiran are the other members of the team that promises to perform to its strength.

Vidit Gujrathi.

Vidit Gujrathi. | Photo Credit: RAJEEV BHATT

Before looking at the prospects of other nations, it is important to mention India’s B team that has already raised the expectations of the chess world. Teen-talents D. Gukesh, Nihal Sarin, R. Praggnanandhaa and Raunaq Sadhwani, in the company of a more experienced B. Adhiban, pose a serious threat to the more favoured medal-contenders.

Carlsen returns to head Norway’s campaign after six years. When Carlsen last played the Olympiad in 2016, 12th seeded Norway finished a creditable fifth, one behind India. This year, it has the best chance of being on the podium.

Spain and Poland are well balanced and seeded ahead of Azerbaijan, which slipped from the second to the sixth spot after the late withdrawal of Teimour Radjabov. There is not much choice among teams like Netherlands, Ukraine, Germany and England.

Overall, more than just the average rating involving the top-four players of each team, the form of the players makes a huge difference in a team championship. For some, reputation could prove a burden. For some lesser teams, it could well be a blessing in disguise.

The top-10 teams
1. USA (average rating 2771) - Fabiano Caruana (2783), Wesley So (2773), Levon Aronian (2775), Leinier Dominguez Perez (2754) and Sam Shankland (2720).
2. India A (2696) - P. Harikrishna (2720), Vidit Gujrathi (2714), Arjun Erigaisi (2689), S. L. Narayanan (2659) and K. Sasikiran (2638).
3. Norway (2692) - Magnus Carlsen (2864), Aryan Tari (2672), Jon Ludvig Hammer (2638), Johan-Sebastian Christiansen (2593) and Olsen Urkedal Forde Olav (2555).
4. Spain (2687) - Francisco Vallejo Pons (2702), Alexie Shirov (2704),David Anton (2667), Jaime Santos Latasa (2675) and Eduardo Iturrizaga Bonelli (2611).
5. Poland (2683) - Jan-Krzysztof Duda (2750), Radoslaw Wojtaszek (2708), Kacper Piorun (2636), Wojciech Moranda (2636) and Mateusz Bartel (2597).
6. Azerbaijan (2680) - Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (2759), Rauf Memedov (2656), Gadir Guseinov (2668), Vasif Durarbayli (2638) and Nijat Abasov (2633).
7. The Netherlands (2672) - Anish Giri (2760), Jorden van Foreest (2678), Erwin L’Ami (2634), Benjamin Bok (2616) and Max Warmerdam (2610).
8. Ukraine (2666) - Anton Korobov (2692), Kirill Shevchenko (2654), Andrei Volokitin (2674), Volodymyr Onyshchuk (2612) and Yuriy Kuzubov (2642).
9. Germany (2664) - Vincent Keymer (2686), Matthias Buebaum (2673), Rasmus Svane (2649), Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu (2642) and Dimitrij Kollars (2648).
10. England (2662) - Michael Adams (2696), Luke McShane (2649), David Howell (2650), Gawain Jones (2652) and Ravi Haria (2505).
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