Chess Olympiad 2022: Indian chess player profiles, form, Elo ratings and records

The 44th Chess Olympiad will be held in Chennai from July 28 to August 10. Here’s a brief sketch of the members of the Indian Olympiad teams.

The 44th Chess Olympiad will be held in Mahabalipuram from July 28 to August 10, 2022.

The 44th Chess Olympiad will be held in Mahabalipuram from July 28 to August 10, 2022. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

The 44th Chess Olympiad will be held in Chennai from July 28 to August 10. Here’s a brief sketch of the members of the Indian Olympiad teams.

 This is the first time ever that India is hosting the 44th edition of the Chess Olympiad at Mamallapuram, Chennai. With a record 187 countries taking part with 188 Teams in Open section and 162 in the Women’s section, the Olympiad will witness highest ever participation. 

A record total of 30 Indian Players across six teams (Three in open and three women) will be participating at the Olympiad. Each team will have 5 members out of which four will be fielded in each round. The Captain of the Team, in most cases non-playing, will decide the team composition. The Olympiad will be a 11 Round Swiss League event.

The host countries can field two teams but India could field one additional team in both the categories as the total number of teams was odd.

India ‘A’

P. Harikrishna.

P. Harikrishna. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

P. Harikrishna — One among the country’s most seasoned campaigners, World No. 25 Harikrishna will be the highest rated Indian in the competition. Whether he gets to play on the top board or lower will be known once the board-order is submitted on the eve of the competition. During his illustrious international career, now into the third decade, this 36-year-old won the Asian title after becoming the country’s youngest Grandmaster in 2001, the year he claimed the Commonwealth title. He went on to win the 2004 World junior championship. He gained his best world ranking of 10 in November 2016. Over the years, apart from the World and Continental team championships, Harikrishna also turned up for several team league events in Europe. His inputs will be of immense value to the team. His form was a concern this year, but the way he bounced back to win the Prague Masters in June was a sign of his insatiable hunger for success. The triumph also reinforced his place as the second strongest Indian chess player in the world. With India seeded to be among the medals, the 2720-rated Harikrishna could realise his dream of being a member of a medal-winning team in this home edition.

Vidit Gujrathi

Vidit Gujrathi | Photo Credit: RAJEEV BHATT

Vidit Gujrathi — This 26-year old is the face of modern Indian chess players. Vidit has proved that managing performance and popularity is not such a difficult challenge. He is articulate, streams online regularly, and interacts with his growing number of fans like no other male chess player in the country. Captain of the Indian team that shared the gold medal with Russia in the 2020 Online Chess Olympiad, Vidit has maintained his rating with some consistent play. His skills in the shorter duration of the game, too, have found a steady stream of admirers. The current chess lovers of the country find it easy to connect with this Nashik-based Grandmaster. Playing his third Olympiad, Vidit will be keen to make amends for an ordinary show in 2018. He also needs no reminding that much rides on his form as India eyes another podium finish. Over the past few years, Vidit has faced some of the elite players of the world in both over-the-board and online competitions. Since the last Olympiad in 2018, Vidit won the 2019 Biel International title, was runner-up in 2020 Prague Chess Festival and was a quarterfinalist of the 2021 World Cup. Given his positional understanding, Vidit can prove equal to any player in the world. The nation will be looking to him to play a crucial role in India’s campaign.

Arjun Erigaisi

Arjun Erigaisi | Photo Credit: Debasish Bhaduri

Arjun Erigaisi — Seldom has an Indian talent done so much so soon to catch the attention of the chess elite. This 18-year-old has gate-crashed into the elite of the country’s rating list to be part of the India ‘A’ team with some awe-inspiring performances in the past year. With the Covid restrictions in place, Arjun used the time to sharpen his skills. When the action resumed, he was ready to take on the world. Imagine a player jumping from 2567 to 2689 in 12 months! Arjun did it just from July 1, 2021. He not only broke into the top-100 of the world but also went further into the top-50! He maintained a fine balance between the online competitions and the classical tournaments. He faced the best in rapid and blitz competitions like the Tata Steel in Kolkata and finished ahead of Levon Aronian in rapid and was second best in blitz. Came the Tata Steel Challengers in Wijk aan Zee and Arjun justified his top billing with a jaw-dropping score of 10.5/13 and earned praise from Magnus Carlsen. He carried on by winning the National championship and the Delhi International Open. He returned to the Champions Chess Tour’s event where he finished second in the FTX Road to Miami prelims but lost to Aronian in the quarterfinals. Given Arjun’s fine form across formats, one expects him to save his best for the Olympiad. With two positional players like Harikrishna and Vidit in the team, the skill-sets of Arjun could well come handy on the third board, in making that winning difference to India’s fortunes.

S. L. Narayanan

S. L. Narayanan | Photo Credit: B. JOTHI RAMALINGAM

S. L. Narayanan — At a time when Indian chess is witnessing a sea of teen talents grabbing attention with some sterling performances, this 25-year-old from Thiruvananthapuram quietly sneaked into the top-six bracket, ahead of the more followed teen-duo of Nihal Sarin and R. Praggnanandhaa. He has rightfully earned his place in the team after a series of consistent performances in the second half of 2021. Coached in his younger years by veteran International Master Varugeese Koshy, Narayanan has blossomed into a player with sound fundamentals and has an eye for astute execution of plans. It is easy to underestimate his prospects in a tournament but make no mistake, he is far more eager to make every opportunity count. He has had a tough journey so far as a chess player and his street-fighter instincts are proof of how be battles to convert half-chances into a winning result. In his first Olympiad, Narayanan can be expected to go full throttle for the sake of the team. He knows the team management could be tempted to field the squad’s most experienced member — K. Sasikiran — in his place in the key encounters. Armed with a rating of 2659, Narayanan has a well-rounded game and one can expect him to rise to the occasion.

K. Sasikiran

K. Sasikiran | Photo Credit: Arvind Aaron

K. Sasikiran — At 41, he is the team’s most experienced and bankable player. No wonder then, he also gets to play a record-extending 11th Olympiad. With over 100 games in the Olympiad, Sasikiran is back to serving the interests of the Indian team. In fact, in India’s only medal-winning campaign, in 2014, Sasikiran claimed an individual silver to make the occasion even more memorable. Though Sasikiran is no longer as active a player as he once was, he is hugely admired for his positional understanding. His passion for the game comes through each time he plays in tournaments. He remains fiercely competitive and a student of the game. In fact, when Sasikiran played as the fifth player in the team in the 2018 Olympiad, he emerged as the only Indian with five victories and contributed six points from eight games on the fourth board. Last year, Sasikiran won the Rilton Winners’ Cup and this April, displayed the fire of old in winning the Fagerness International chess title. Given his form, Sasikiran looks set to give it all as he realistically aims to become the first Indian to win two Olympiad team medals.

N. Srinath (coach): When the average age of the squad is 29 and the age of the coach is 28, it does appear amusing. But, in the case of Srinath, he has the credentials to fit into the role rather well. After playing his part to perfection in the 2020 Online Chess Olympiad, Srinath is seen as an integral part of All India Chess Federation’s scheme of things. Having coached Nihal Sarin, besides the current National champions Arjun Erigaisi and Divya Deshmukh — all members of the Indian Olympiad teams — Srinath has truly earned his stripes.

India ‘B’

Nihal Sarin

Nihal Sarin | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Nihal Sarin — One from the new generation of teen champions who has played his part in giving India a new identity as a growing chess power. Nihal is part of the pack that includes Arjun Erigaisi, D. Gukesh, R. Praggnanandhaa, Raunak Sadhwani and few more who have made the chess world sit up and take notice of the quality of talent produced in India in the past few years. Nihal, like the few named above, did not take long to complete the stipulations required to become a Grandmaster and continued to make steady progress. As Anand once mentioned, “someone told me that when I play practice games with these youngsters, I am actually playing some very tough opposition.” That’s some tribute from the legend to the high quality of chess these talents produce so regularly. In the 2018 Tata Steel rapid event in Kolkata, Nihal made heads turn when he drew with Viswanathan Anand, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Sergey Karjakin, P. Harikrishna, Vidit Gujrathi and Surya Shekhar Ganguly. As Anand later said, “He’s a huge talent from what I’ve seen of him.” Rated 2651, Nihal is already among the top-100 and all set to take giant strides in emulating the path laid down by Gukesh and Arjun. He has the game and the temperament to scale greater heights. Given his focus, he could well bring out something special during the Olympiad. Moreover, the composition of the team is such that four teen-members are sure to feed off each other’s energy and enthusiasm. Clearly,Nihal is part of a team that most chess lovers are looking at, with anticipation of some sensational results.

G. Gukesh

G. Gukesh | Photo Credit: B. JOTHI RAMALINGAM

D. Gukesh — The country’s youngest Grandmaster is now the youngest in the live ratings of those over 2700. Given his title-winning form this year, Gukesh is going to be one among the key players on whom the India ‘B’ team will rely in the Olympiad. His uncluttered approach and clarity of thought stands out in the way he carries himself. At 16, with a published rating of 2684 as of July 1, Gukesh promises much more in the coming months. He is obviously keen to make his Olympiad debut count. Much like the new generation talents, Gukesh is not happy with quick draws. He is keen to explore the possibility of a win, irrespective of the colour of his pieces. After finishing second best to Arjun in the National championship and the Delhi International in quick succession, and the heartbreak in Reykjavik (losing the final round from a winning position against Praggnanandhaa, the eventual champion), Gukesh won four tournaments in Spain. One must acknowledge his steely resolve and sense of purpose. Clearly, all the hard work done during the pandemic is now bearing fruit. But he is not the one to sit on his laurels of being the third youngest ever to touch the 2700 mark. He has certainly set sights on 2750 and beyond. Surely, players like Gukesh and some equally talented team-mates are promising exciting times of Indian chess.

B. Adhiban

B. Adhiban | Photo Credit: BISWARANJAN ROUT

B. Adhiban — It is hard to believe that at 29, Adhiban finds himself as the oldest man and the lowest-rated player in India ‘B’. Nicknamed ‘the beast’ for his flamboyance and devil-may-care attitude, Adhiban is all set to rediscover himself in the Olympiad. There will be no dearth of motivation as he remains among the handful of Indians who have once touched 2700-mark in rating. His poor form saw him tumble from being 2672 in November last year to 2598 at present. It all started with his poor health and form during the Grand Swiss Tournament. He landed in Kolkata but soon withdrew from the elite Tata Steel rapid and blitz event. Thereafter, the National championship, Reykjavik Open, Sharjah Masters and Lim Kok Ann Invitational proved to be huge disappointments for this performer. Adhiban is too good a player not to get his form back. The Olympiad could well be that stage where Adhiban will reboot and enthral the chess lovers with over-the-board ideas that puts him in a different league from his peers. Make no mistake, in team events, rating alone does not count for much. Pulling off key games makes the difference. This is where Adhiban can be such a great asset. Once he regains his winning touch and confidence in the initial rounds, one can expect Adhiban to play his part to perfection in the bigger battles ahead.

R. Praggnanandhaa

R. Praggnanandhaa | Photo Credit: SHIV KUMAR PUSHPAKAR

R. Praggnanandhaa — He is the one making waves like no other. His recent twin-wins over Magnus Carlsen in online events caught the imagination of this cricket-loving nation. Since he was busy playing more online events in the past year and did not play as many classical over-the-board tournaments as some of his teammates, his rating did not see a major surge though he has been gaining points since late last year. Rated at 2648 and having gained a few more from winning the Paracin Open in Serbia, Praggnanandhaa has already become the talking point when many casual chess lovers discuss the sport. Growing in confidence, Praggnanandhaa is set to enjoy his first Olympiad, that too, in the company of teammates of his age-group. His all-round game that helps in changing gears, if required, can be a huge asset in team events where, sometimes, a player has to push the limits in search of a win. The team can expect Praggnanandhaa to step up during the match by pushing his personal goals aside for the sake of the team. With coach R. B. Ramesh around, Praggnanandhaa should find it easier to deal with the challenges. As Ramesh says, “over the years, I have seen on several occasions that I don’t have to explain many things to Praggnanandhaa. On his own, he understands what I expect of him.” Surely, during the Olympiad, Praggnanandhaa can be expected to be in a great mind-space.

Raunak Sadhwani

Raunak Sadhwani | Photo Credit: John Saunders

Raunak Sadhwani — Another rising star whose progress often gets clouded by the presence of more famous peers, Raunak has gradually worked his way for a place among the country’s awe-inspiring teen brigade. A third 16-year-old in the team, Raunak had a very fruitful 2021 — gaining 47 rating points in 79 days in Europe — but thereafter things did not go as per his liking. On the brighter side, he struck form during the Benasque International Open and tied for first place before being adjudged third, behind champion Aravindh Chithambaram and second-placed Robert Hovhannisyan. Grandmaster from the age of 13 years, 9 months and 26 days, Raunak caught the attention of the chess world when he gained a winning position against Viswanathan Anand in the 2018 Isle of Man tournament but eventually lost. Anand was lavish in the praise of his young rival. Since then, Ranuak has done increasingly well and his climb has been steady. During the Olympiad, Raunak’s role could well be to strike on the lower board. Given the team combination that raises visions of plenty of dramatic games, Raunak’s presence on the lower board could well be a blessing in disguise for India. Since Raunak’s skills in blitz and bullet are well known, these qualities could come handy in crunch situations.

R. B. Ramesh

R. B. Ramesh | Photo Credit: Debasish Bhaduri

R. B. Ramesh (coach): The country’s best known coach, Ramesh preferred to be with this young team and the AICF agreed. Having groomed a number of champions, including Praggnanandhaa and his sister R. Vaishali, Ramesh is set for his biggest challenge. With everyone’s attention, including that of Anand, firmly on the progress of Team B, it needed a man of Ramesh’s experience to keep the team away from any conversation revolving around the team’s medal-winning prospects. Though the team is seeded 11 on average rating of the players, expectations are on the rise with Gukesh and Praggnanandhaa doing well in recent tournaments. Ramesh is happy to deal with the younger lot. This seasoned Grandmaster knows how to keep expectations low and bring out high-level performances.

India ‘C’

Surya Shekhar Ganguly

Surya Shekhar Ganguly | Photo Credit: BISWARANJAN ROUT

Surya Shekhar Ganguly is one of the strongest and most experienced players in Indian chess. This will be his seventh Olympiad. He had won the bronze medal at the World Under-10 championship in 1991, before the Indian kids began to sweep the medals at age-group competitions. He won the National premier title for a record six times in a row.

S. P. Sethuraman (centre)

S. P. Sethuraman (centre) | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

S. P. Sethuraman was part of the team that won the historic bronze medal for India at the 2014 Chess Olympiad. He had lifted the World Under-16 title in 2009. He won the Asian championship in 2016; before him, only four Indians had won it.

Karthikeyan Murali is a two-time World champion in age-group chess. He won the World Under-12 title in 2011 and the Under-16 title in 2013. He is also a two-time National premier champion (2015 and 2016). Outside the country he is perhaps best known for the stunning queen sacrifice he made against the current World No. 3 Alireza Firouza in the 2019 Asian championship, where he was the runner-up.

Abhijeet Gupta won the World junior championship in 2008. Only Viswanathan Anand and Harikrishna had won the prestigious title before him. In 2012, he won an individual silver medal at the Chess Olympiad. He is also a five-time Commonwealth champion.

Abhimanyu Puranik is one of India’s strongest young players. His FIDE rating of 2612 proves that. He was the runner-up at the World junior championship in 2018.


India ‘A’:

Koneru Humpy

Koneru Humpy | Photo Credit: B. JOTHI RAMALINGAM

K. Humpy: The strongest woman player in India’s chess history rightly leads the country’s strongest bid for its first Olympiad gold. Playing only her fourth Olympiad since 2004, Humpy holds the key to India’s fortunes. Though she has not played a single rated game since February 2020, given her experience and class, Humpy can be expected to add to India’s game-points every time she plays. For the first time, India is seeded to win the gold and Humpy spearheads the team that has the resources to justify the top billing. On her return to competitive chess after two years, following the birth of her first daughter Ahana, in 2017, Humpy impressed one and all by winning the 2019 women rapid title. Even during the 2018 Olympiad, she reproduced her magic by scoring five points from six rounds. However, between the eighth and 10th rounds — against Hungary, Italy and Peru — Humpy managed only half a point and did not play the final round. Clearly, this time, Humpy will be looking to cap her run on a brighter note. Rated 2586, Humpy will be the strongest player on view in the women’s section. Humpy is still good enough to have a few more cracks at the elusive world title, but for now, she can focus on scripting the country’s first medal winning chapter in this Olympiad.

D. Harika

D. Harika | Photo Credit: V. V. SUBRAHMANYAM

D. Harika — Complementing Humpy’s presence on the top board, Harika proves a perfect foil on the second board for India. Very few teams in the world have such performers on the top two boards. Notwithstanding the fact that her first baby is due late in August, Harika has spared no effort in preparing for her ninth Olympiad. “I did not want to miss playing the Olympiad at home and when my doctor assured me that it was fine to play in July and early August, I was so happy. I have done everything within my means to stay healthy, train as hard as I could and left the rest to the wishes of God.” These words from Harika reflect what this opportunity — playing the Olympiad before home fans — means to this three-time World championship medallist. She joined other team-mates online during the preparatory camps held in Chennai. She has remained in constant touch with not just her team-mates and coaches but also with the official costume designer for the Indian contingent. Such has been Harika’s involvement. Now much depends on how her body holds up during the event. In any case, Harika’s services are likely to be invited only during the key matches. Given the playing strength of the top-seeded team, Harika will not be required to play in the initial rounds against lower-rated opposition. Everyone in the squad agrees that Harika’s mere presence as a team member is very reassuring.

R. Vaishali

R. Vaishali | Photo Credit: SHIV KUMAR PUSHPAKAR

R. Vaishali — The youngest member of the team, at 21, Vaishali is the potent cutting edge the team needed. Groomed under the watchful eyes of coach R. B. Ramesh, Vaishali has the game to pull off key encounters in team events. Unlike most members of the team whose positional play stands out, Vaishali has a more dynamic style. Expect her to be involved in more decisive games than most others against rivals of matching strengths. Playing her first Olympiad, that too, as the third player, is a new challenge for Vaishali. Thankfully, the presence of Ramesh and her younger sibling Praggnanandhaa should help her nerves. In the key encounters, where Humpy and Harika are expected to stay undefeated, India will expect to strike on lower boards, especially the one with white pieces. This is where Vaishali’s role could prove very crucial. Though she lacks the experience of her teammates, Vaishali possesses a sound understanding of the positions and manages her time well. Going by her recent form, when she gained her second Grandmaster norm on her way to the eighth Fischer memorial title in Heraklion, Greece, Vaishali should be quite a force as Indian women eye their greatest hour. No wonder then, the coaching staff expects a lot from her.

Tania Sachdev

Tania Sachdev | Photo Credit: B. JOTHI RAMALINGAM

Tania Sachdev — The most widely seen and heard Indian chess player during the pandemic and beyond, Tania is back for her seventh Olympiad. Being part of the commentary team on the cash-rich Champions Chess Tour and the World championship match, Tania has worked hard to play her part in India’s campaign. Irrespective of the fact that Tania is the most followed female chess player from India in the social media space, her understanding of the game makes her worthy of being seen with the best names in the business. During the run-up to the Olympiad, she claimed the women’s title in Reykjavik where Praggnanandhaa was the overall champion. Being part of the broadcast team for over two years has surely helped Tania stay in touch with the new ideas in the game like no other in the Indian team. Discussing the game with the best of players and analysts including past masters like Peter Leko and Peter Svidler, has polished Tania’s skills, given depth to her positional understanding and also brought fresh insights into the game. In the preparatory camps, Tania has worked hard to prepare for the role she is expected to play in the campaign. An ex-Asian women champion and a former Olympiad medallist, Tania knows it is a huge opportunity to strike gold at home.

Bhakti Kulkarni

Bhakti Kulkarni | Photo Credit: B. JOTHI RAMALINGAM

Bhakti Kulkarni — An understated warrior in the Indian team, Bhakti, too, is a former Asian women champion. This Olympiad debutant has the game to score when summoned to fill the fourth board. An International Master, Bhakti is articulate and has a more holistic view of the game. As a fierce fighter over the board, she has enjoyed a fair amount of success. After twice missing the National crown in 2016 and 2017, Bhakti finally made it in the following year after a dramatic four-way tie for the top spot. What more, she went on to regain the crown. Coached by Raghunandan Gokhale and mentored by his wife, five-time National champion Anupama Gokhale, Bhakti has goals of performing at the highest level. Her progress appears to have slowed down mainly due to the situation triggered by the pandemic, but Bhakti has it in her to beat the odds. After the pandemic, Bhakti has played only a few tournaments. Though she performed marginally above her rating in the recent Maharashtra Open, Bhakti has the strength to be far more effective in the women-only field. Her never-say-die approach and positive attitude could well be on view in this Olympiad.

Abhijit Kunte

Abhijit Kunte | Photo Credit: RAMESH KURUP

Abhijit Kunte (coach): Having guided the team to the World championship silver medal last October, Abhijit once again earned the right to coach the team. Expertise and guile apart, this Pune-based Grandmaster knows the psychology of the Indian players better and feels strongly about it. With India being the top-seeded side at home, the pressure on the players is going to be of a different kind. Abhijit has a way of keeping the morale of the team high and that quality could come into play at the business end of the event. Given the composition of the team, Abhijit knows that the team members are not looking up to him for coaching. His role is to ensure all players feel as equals and the spirit within the team remains at an all-time high. Abhijit’s management skills should prove adequate in bringing the best out of this team.

India ‘B’

Vantika Agrawal

Vantika Agrawal | Photo Credit: B. JOTHI RAMALINGAM

Vantika Agrawal — Almost unnoticed, this Delhi-girl has made rapid strides and even won the National online women’s title ahead of many seasoned names last July. As part of the gold-winning Online Chess Olympiad team in 2020, Vantika experienced how it felt to be part of the National team. Since then, she has worked very hard to stay in the mix for the Olympiad. With the host getting to field two teams, India ‘B’ could accommodate many seasoned campaigns with two debutants. Vantika makes her debut as the second highest-rated player in the team. So far, she has managed to find a balance between chess and academics. In fact, during the preparatory camp in Chennai, Vantika was seen juggling between her college books and chess studies. But this bespectacled girl is too focussed on chess and shows the willingness to work hard for success. Having gained from the coaching experience of the country’s oldest GM, Pravin Thipsay, who is also the head of the India’s Chess Olympiad players’ delegation, Vantika looks prepared for the tougher battles ahead. Given her rating, she should be playing almost all the games unless coach Swapnil Dhopade and senior team members have a reason to the contrary.

Padmini Rout

Padmini Rout | Photo Credit: BISWARANJAN ROUT

Padmini Rout — Padmini, the only female player to win an Olympiad gold as a board prize, is raring to go. Being the highest ranked player in the team, she has more responsibility than in any of her previous three outings. She was in Serbia recently for tournaments and looked prepared to take up the challenge. Padmini says her gold-winning performance in 2014 was followed by her worst in 2016 before she made up with a decent 5/7 on the fourth board as a reserve player in 2018. Unlike her previous appearances where she was required to play on the lower boards, Padmini could well be on the top-two boards. This means facing stronger opposition and soaking in more pressure. Her experience should help the team, but Padmini is expected to be a live wire on the board, looking to score at every opportunity. In any case, much will depend on the board-order finalised for the campaign. Will the team management go with the two strongest players at the top or juggle the combination around for greater benefits, remains to be seen. Whatever be the approach, Padmini’s role is bound to be very important. Expect her to play aggressively and look for points irrespective of the match-situation.

Mary Ann Gomes

Mary Ann Gomes | Photo Credit: K. V. SRINIVASAN

Mary Ann Gomes — Another seasoned campaigner returning for her fifth Olympiad, Mary is the other board-prize winner in the team. Her vast experience could be handy on the lower boards. Her flexible style of play allows her to go for an all-out attack or simply hold the position for the benefit of the team. Mary is not the one to abandon all caution and go for broke. Her current form does not inspire much confidence but expect her to play at a different level among women players. Her vast experience and comfort level with both colours could be a huge asset to the coach when deciding the board-order for key encounters. As a team player, Mary has managed to win quite a few key games when they mattered. On the lower boards, the difference in the playing strengths of the two Indian teams is almost negligible, though the rating presents a different picture. Given Mary’s experience, it should not come as a surprise if there is steady scoring on boards three and four, especially in the initial rounds.

Soumya Swaminathan

Soumya Swaminathan | Photo Credit: B. JOTHI RAMALINGAM

Soumya Swaminathan — An Indian Oil colleague of Padmini and Mary, former World junior girls’ champion Soumya is the other player expected to punch way above her weight. After making her debut in 2012, Soumya will be playing her third Olympiad. She has worked hard during the training camp, under Boris Gelfand, as well as in the second camp, and it remains to be seen how all the training translates into good results. However, like Mary, Soumya’s form of the past year is a worry. She struggled in the National championship in February-March and again in the Maharashtra Open in June. Despite the reasons to be low on confidence, Soumya has ways of picking herself up and meeting the challenges head on. It remains to be seen whether the team’s think-tank goes by rating in finalising the board-order or prefers Soumya to move a rung down the order. In any case, Soumya could be more effective on the lower boards. Again, the initial rounds could see the players selecting themselves for the crucial battles ahead. This team has the capabilities to soften up quite a few higher seeds and that’s what makes this combination an exciting one.

Divya Deshmukh

Divya Deshmukh | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Divya Deshmukh — In March, when this 16-year-old won the National championship ahead of contenders with far more illustrious careers, there was a wave of delight. After a long time, a teenager won the women’s National title. Being candid, Divya Deshmukh was quick to acknowledge the guidance provided by Arjun Erigaisi, who, within 24 hours, won the National title in Kanpur. Divya’s quality of play during the National championship was exceptional. A consistent performer at age-group competitions at all levels, Divya suddenly emerged as an exciting prospect among the seniors. She gave a good count of herself in the Maharashtra Open where she not only held Azerbaijani GM Azer Murzoev but also stunned International Master Mohammad Nubaishah Shaikh, rated 2433. As a result, Divya’s current form could tilt the scales in her favour in the earlier rounds. She brings with her the confidence gained from playing her part well in the 2020 Online Chess Olympiad where India shared the gold with Russia. This experience of playing the Olympiad at home could serve as a huge motivation for a debutant and Divya is no different. Being the lowest-rated and the youngest in the squad, Divya has no pressure of expectations to deal with.

Swapnil Dhopade

Swapnil Dhopade | Photo Credit: BISWARANJAN ROUT

Swapnil Dhopade (coach): This Amravati-based Grandmaster has been with the women’s team in the 2019 World team championship. He is back with India ‘B’ and expects the team to perform above its 12th seeding. He has the team which includes three former and a current National champion. Three experienced players in the company of Vantika and Divya gives Swapnil a few exciting options. Swapnil knows all eyes are on India ‘A’ teams in both sections but hopes his team catches the eye with a series of good performances. He hopes Padmini to continue her encouraging form while Vantika plays to her rating. The solidity provided by Soumya and Mary alone will not be enough for the team to progress. This experienced duo will have to strike at every opportunity. Divya can step in, as and when any senior player needs a break or is in search of form.

India ‘C’

Eesha Karavade

Eesha Karavade | Photo Credit: Biswaranjan Rout

Eesha Karavade Is an experienced campaigner. This is going to be the fourth Olympiad for the 34-year-old Woman Grandmaster from Pune. She played in the 2010, 2012 and 2014 Olympiads. She was the bronze medallist at the Asian women’s championship in 2011.

Varshini Sahithi (File)

Varshini Sahithi (File) | Photo Credit: C.V. Subrahmanyam

M. Varshini Sahithi is among the most improved players in Indian women’s chess. The 14-year-old from Visakhapatnam is ranked 11 th among Indian women; she is a couple of younger than the players placed above her.

Pratyusha Bodda (File)

Pratyusha Bodda (File) | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Pratyusha Bodda returned to competitive chess only very recently after taking a break. But coaching had kept her busy during the pandemic, so she never was away from the chessboard. The 25-year-old Woman Grandmaster from Hyderabad could not have timed her return to tournament chess better; for the mind sport, there aren’t too many bigger stages than the Olympiad.

P.V. Nandhidhaa (File)

P.V. Nandhidhaa (File) | Photo Credit: P.K. Ajith Kumar

P.V. Nandhidhaa was the runner-up at a strong World junior girls’ championship at Bhubaneshwar in 2016. The 26-year-old Woman Grandmaster from Tamil Nadu was part of the Indian team that won the Online Asian Nations Cup in 2020.

Vishwa Vasnawala

Vishwa Vasnawala | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The coronavirus may have upset her plans for the Woman International Master title, but  Vishwa Vasnawala eventually completed the requirements last March after securing back-to-back norms last. Four months later, the 15-year-old from Ahmedabad finds herself part of an Indian team for the Olympiad, because the host could field a third team in the women’s section too.

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