One among the country’s most seasoned campaigners, World No. 25 Pentala 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.
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.
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
At a time when Indian chess is witnessing a sea of teen talents grabbing attention with some sterling performances, Sunilduth Lyna Narayanan 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.
At 41, Krishnan Sasikiran 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.
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.
Dommaraju 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.
It is hard to believe that at 29, Adhiban Baskaran 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.
Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa 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.
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.
Surya Shekhar Ganguly
He 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 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.
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