Meet the Indian team members for the Chess Olympiad

As the host, India gets to field two teams each in the Open and the women section. Here is a quick take on the members of the Indian teams.

Viswanathan Anand will mentor the Indian team. - DAVID LLADA

The announcement of India’s squad for the upcoming Chess Olympiad in Chennai has evoked huge excitement in the country's chess circles, but not without a tinge of sadness surrounding Viswanathan Anand’s decision to opt for the role of a mentor, instead of a spearhead.

Without doubt, Anand’s presence as a coach-cum-mentor in the preparatory camp for the Asian Games helped the members immensely. It will be a continuation of the role for the five-time World champion who has happily let a younger member take his spot in the Olympiad squad.

Being the host, India gets to field two teams each in the Open and the women section. Should there be an odd-number of entries, India will field a third team to make it even.

As things stand, the teams in both sections appear formidable. Though India will not be among the favourites for the title, the host has the combinations to go all the way.

To prepare the teams for the mega team event beginning on July 29, each team has been assigned a Grandmaster, with the experience of having worked with the past National teams.

Country’s oldest GM Pravin Thipsay will be the Head of the Indian contingent. N. Srinath and R. B. Ramesh will coach the men’s 'A' and 'B' teams, respectively. Similarly, Abhijit Kunte and Swapnil Dhopade will serve the women's teams.

Here is a quick take on the members of the Indian teams.

Men:

India ‘A’:

Vidit Gujrathi. - RAJEEV BHATT

 

Vidit Gujrathi: Ranked second in the country, Vidit offers a cutting edge to the team that has a fine mix of experience and youth. This 27-year old from Nashik led India to the Online Chess Olympiad gold (won jointly with Russia) in 2020. His wide range of opening choices with both colours and consistency remains a standout factor across formats. His early coaching stint under Israeli Grandmaster Alon Greenfield proved crucial in shaping his career. Briefly, Vidit served as the second for Dutch GM Anish Giri.

P. Harikrishna. - RAKESH RAO

 

P. Harikrishna: A veteran of seven Chess Olympiads, 35-year-old Hari was the second strongest Indian behind Viswanathan Anand for a long time before Vidit displaced him. He remains only the second Indian to break into the world’s top-10 list having occupied the ninth spot in November 2016. The country’s youngest GM in 2001, Hari went on to win the Commonwealth title (Winner of Commonwealth title (2001), World junior (2004) and the Asian championship in 2011.

Arjun Erigaisi.   -  Debasish Bhaduri



Arjun Erigaisi: At 18, Arjun is currently in the middle of an astonishing run towards the 2700-rating mark. Winner of the Tata Steel Challengers’ section in Wijk aan Zee, the National title and the Delhi International Open this year, Arjun is currently ranked fourth in the country. Looking at his uncompromising style and single-minded approach, Arjun is considered the next Indian in ‘Club-2700’. Clearly the one to watch out for.

S. L. Narayanan. - RAKESH RAO

S. L. Narayanan: This tireless 24-year-old has seen more challenges than any other member in the Indian Olympiad squad. Having scored 1200/1200 in his Class XII exams, this bright kid has broken new grounds supported entirely by his family. Sacrifices of the family and indifference of the prospective sponsor or employers have steeled his resolve to prove his mettle. Financially supported by his mother and sister, Narayanan has silently overcome numerous challenges to earn his place in the National Olympiad squad.

K. Sasikiran. - THE HINDU ARCHIVES



K. Sasikiran: At 41, the oldest member of the squad is also the only one surviving member from the Olympiad bronze medal-winning team of 2014. Sasikiran scored 7.5 points from 10 rounds to play his part splendidly on the third board, where he also won an individual silver. Ranked 21st in the world in 2005, he has since slipped to 99th. His experience could well be a factor in some of the key encounters.

India ‘B’:

Nihal Sarin. - SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

 

Nihal Sarin: One of the finest among the bunch of talented teens in the country, Nihal has proved his worth across formats. The 17-year-old is the reigning World under-18 champion in the online rapid format to go with the world under-10 title he won in 2014. Known for his amazing skills in the blitz format, Nihal has had a victory in this format over none other than World No. 1 Magnus Carlsen.

D. Gukesh. - M. VEDHAN

 

D. Gukesh: Fresh from winning two back-to-back titles to break into the world’s top 100, 15-year-old Gukesh is chasing his good friend Arjun in their race to breach the 2700-mark in rating. The country’s youngest Grandmaster is also the National runner-up. Blessed with amazing skill sets, Gukesh promises to break fresh grounds in times to come. Clearly one among the country's most talented teens ready for the bigger battles.

B. Adhiban. - SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

 

B. Adhiban: Nicknamed ‘The Beast’ for his flamboyant style over the board, Adhiban is currently going through a rough patch. He is among the most exciting players in the team and holds the potential to provide the decisive edge in must-win matches. His amazing attitude to the cerebral sport and life is a welcome change from the stereotype image of the chess players.

R. Praggnanandhaa. - SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT



R. Praggnanandhaa: Clearly the Brand Ambassador of India’s rising new generation of talented children, Praggnanandhaa caught the imagination of the nation by stunning Magnus Carlsen in an online 15-minute rapid game in February this year. At 16, Pragg is showing the maturity of a seasoned campaigner as he crosses swords with some of the finest names in the game.

Raunak Sadhwani. - SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

 

Raunak Sadhwani: Best remembered for making Viswanathan Anand sweat in the 2018 Isle of Man tournament by holding a winning position before losing his way, this 16-year-old Nagpur-boy was rated ahead of Gukesh and Praggnanandhaa last year. Part of the rising teen-brigade, Raunak is a serious challenger in the shorter time formats. It remains to be seen how his services are utilized in the Olympiad.

Women:

India ‘A’:

Koneru Humpy. - K. V. S. GIRI

 

K. Humpy: The Indian spearhead for more than a decade, Humpy lends the team the assurance like no other player. After attaining motherhood, she has returned to top-flight chess and her results have been impressive. She possesses the experience and the expertise to beat any challenger. The form of the World No. 3 holds the key to India’s fortunes in the Olympiad.

D. Harika. - V. V. SUBRAHMANYAM

 

D. Harika: Another consistent performer in the squad, Harika is expected to provide solidity on the second board. Given her record of pulling out at least half a point against any rival, she is an asset in any team competition. If she can raise her winning percentage, India can emerge as a serious contender for the gold medal.

R. Vaishali. - SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT



R. Vaishali: An exciting talent, Vaishali will have to deal with the pressure of pulling off a few victories on the lower boards. The least experienced of the lot, the 20-year-old sister of Praggnanandhaa could well provide the winning margins in a few matches. With coach R. B. Ramesh around, Vaishali could be expected to be more assured in a familiar environment and confident of her skills.

Tania Sachdev. - SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT



Tania Sachdev: One among the more seasoned players in the mix, Tania recently emerged as the best woman player in the Reykjavik Open, won by Praggnanandhaa. Having done well as a chess broadcaster over the last two years, Tania is back to play her part in yet another Olympiad. The former Asian women’s champion could use all her experience of commentating on the games of all the elite players to pull off some exciting results.

Bhakti Kulkarni. - SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

 

Bhakti Kulkarni: A two-time former National champion, Bhakti is another campaigner who has the game to play a crucial role in India’s campaign. Fiercely determined, 29-year-old Bhakti can prove quite a handful on the fourth board. To have a player of her standing on a lower board reflects the strength of the team.

India ‘B’:

Vantika Agarwal. - SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

 

Vantika Agarwal: This studious-looking girl from Noida (UP) has made rapid strides to emerge as the winner of the inaugural National online championship ahead of many seasoned contenders last year. A student of Pravin Thipsay, Vantika has improved by leaps and bounds. After focusing on her academics for the better part of the past year, Vantika returns more hungry to prove a point or two.

Mary Ann Gomes (left) and Soumya Swaminathan.   -  Biswaranjan Rout

Soumya Swaminathan: The 2009 World junior girls champion and a former National champion is among the experienced players who have stood firm in the face of the barrage of teen-talents. At 33, Soumya has the experience to play a stellar role in India’s campaign. A bronze medallist on the reserve board in the 2013 World team championship, Soumya has an all-round game needed to pull off key games.

Padmini Rout. - RAKESH RAO

Mary Ann Gomes: A former three-time National champion, Mary is one of the pillars of this team. Known to be a tremendous team player, she has the ability to switch gears and take risks in search of victory in the interest of the team. Though against stronger players, her consistency needs to get better, Mary can be uncompromising in pursuit of a win.

Divya Deshmukh.   -  Special Arrangement

Padmini Rout: Winner of the Asian title in 2018, Padmini could play a crucial role in the bigger battles. Winner of the National title for four years in succession, this 28-year-old could well play every round in the upcoming Olympiad. Given her skill-sets in this team comprising three seasoned campaigners, expect Padmini to stretch for wins.

Divya Deshmukh: The reigning National champion is another relentless campaigner. At 16, Divya makes her debut and it remains to be seen how the team management uses her services. In March, Divya stunned a very strong field to win the National title only on her second attempt. A tremendous prospect who promises to serve the country with distinctions for years to come.

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