Chess Olympiad: Anand’s presence lifts India

The world’s largest congregation of chess players is set to battle it out in the Chess Olympiad here for the most sought-after team honours in the game.

This time, with Anand playing on the top board, India is better equipped.

The world’s largest congregation of chess players is set to battle it out in the Chess Olympiad here for the most sought-after team honours in the game.

Over the next 12 days, Russia will try to win back the title from USA with China, Azerbaijan, India and former champion Ukraine fancying their chances.

Indeed, gone are the days when Russia, or before that the erstwhile Soviet Union, could take its success for granted.

For the record, there are 185 teams in the open section and 151 in the women’s category. In all, 1667 players have entered the competition.

Highest ever seeding

From the Indian perspective, in both sections, medal hopes are realistically high. The return of Viswanathan Anand has rightly given India its highest ever seeding of five.

Two years ago, India started as the ninth seed and finished a creditable fourth. This was India’s best finish but the sorrow of having missed a historic medal left the players understandably disappointed.

“The last two rounds in a Swiss League format are very crucial,” points out coach R.B. Ramesh and continues, “last time we did not win these rounds. This time, too, we need to take every team very seriously and see how we are placed after nine rounds (in the 11-round contest).”

Giving due respect to the other leading contenders, Ramesh said, “No doubt, USA is a very strong contender. But we are not intimidated by teams like China or even Russia. In fact, we have beaten Russia (in the World team championship in China) and drawn a number of times. This time, with Anand playing on the top board, we are better equipped.”

Carlsen to skip

With the World championship match scheduled later this year, World champion Magnus Carlsen has decided to stay away from Norway’s campaign. But challenger Fabiano Caruana will be leading USA’s title-defence.

Among the women, Russia, Ukraine and China will undoubtedly be the teams to watch out for. Unlike the open section, the competition in the women section remains predictable.

For India, the performance of comeback girl K. Humpy on the top board will be the key. Although away from competitive chess for two years, Humpy can still be expected to produce some gritty performances. On the lower boards, Indians hope to strike rich.

In the first few rounds, the leading teams can be expected to win. That should allow Humpy the much-needed match practice before the race to the podium hots up.

Leading seeds (with average rating):

Open: 1. USA (2772), 2. Russia (2764), 3. China (2756), 4. Azerbaijan (2748), 5. India (2724), 6. Ukraine (2698), 7-9. France, Armenia, England (2688), 10. Israel (2676).

Women: 1. Russia (2523), 2. Ukraine (2486), 3. China (2485), 4. Georgia 1 (2484), 5. India (2458), 6. France (2418), 7. Poland (2406), 8. Kazakhstan (2403), 9. Germany (2397), 10. USA (2382).

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