It’s Chess Olympiad time and I can feel the buzz, not just in my home State but everywhere I’ve travelled during the past month.
Organising an event of this magnitude, that too at such a short notice, is simply incredible. All credit to the steps taken by the Tamil Nadu Government and the All India Chess Federation.
It is obvious for the Indian fans to be excited about the prospects of our teams. In my view, it’s highly desirable to minimise errors. I mean, every match here or there that goes awry will have a stress on you. It’s also part of the normal tournament calendar format. But, hopefully, we’ll have a smooth ride in the sense that even if we have a 2.5-1.5 win, and we have a lot of them, then we’re steadily scoring points. I’m happy that with all the fresh faces we have, may be, they will be able to win games so that even the odd defeat does not hurt the team. They all seem to push and take a fair amount of risk. So it’ll be choppy. If they’re winning games, that’s all that counts. I think in most matches, we should go in with a sense of danger, but not be pessimistic, either.
I, as a mentor of the teams, will be in touch with them. Hopefully, they will feel free to reach out to me, if they have work here or there. I have noticed, though, that most people — and this is true for me as well — that when we are there, we have our own preparation, our own notes. And mostly we’re trying to get familiar with this stuff. So, I don’t expect they’ll have the energy or the time to keep asking people for help. If I help them, they will have to absorb that and so on. But, may be, more to cheer up the team as well. I’ll be there in case the trainers have any problems that they want to work with.
Some of the players feel free to confide in me. But you know, during the Olympiad, most of the time they will be busy in their own thoughts.
Everyone is looking at the U.S. as the rating favourite, which it is.
When India plays the U.S., I won’t have any particular word of advice. I mean, everyone knows what a strong opponent it will be on every board. They’ve faced them before, so it’s nothing special. Again U.S. being the favourite by rating doesn’t mean anything in the end. You have to collect your points, you have to win games. And the advantage the U.S. has is, it’s likely to happen on at least one of the four boards in every match, because there’s such a strong team. I think we’ve got good players on every board who can pose a threat to anyone. So just go with confidence and enjoy that match.
Now that it is confirmed that India will field three teams in the Open section, it adds to the home interest. In terms of pure strength, the youngsters (in Team B) are quite strong. I would only say that Team A has more experienced people. In Team A, we know which are the boards that are not going to cause any drama and then we have the dangerous guys.
Whereas in Team B there might be too much drama, but that’s not a bad thing. I can’t say what experience counts for in an Olympiad — may be knowing what crunch moments are or what to do when your team is doing badly. These experiences shape you, but honestly, you figure this out pretty fast. So I think Team B will have more drama every day. Among the women, our Team A is stronger with Koneru Humpy, Dronavalli Harika, R. Vaishali, Tania Sachdeva and Bhakti Kulkarni. The second team has a lot of experience and I noticed during the camp (in Chennai) that they all were training very hard. Everyone is very motivated.
I think the main hope is that they shine. It’s great that many more of them will get a chance to play in this Olympiad because of the extended number of teams. I hope that many of them will be inspired by the setting. We have Divya Deshmukh, Vantika Agrawal... and Padmini Rout is coming. They’re all experienced, they all have been playing and training everywhere.
We have to note that Divya and Vantika are still young. Nonetheless, Tania and a few others are quite experienced, they play in a lot of tournaments. And I’m hoping that the occasion gets something out of them. And we have a nice surprise there.
We all know (mother-to-be) Harika is very strong. If she is able to play, then it’s nice. Then the whole team can relax a bit more, and it takes some pressure off. It would be quite important to see how much she is actually able to play. I don’t know if she’s just very motivated or slightly deluding herself now, because this is quite a life-changing phase. I don’t know in what stage she’ll be at play. Amid all the rising expectations, I would counsel the players that mileage can vary. It would bother me a lot if people around are kind of euphoric, more than just talking about medals and so on, which is hopelessly unrealistic at this stage. It’s hopelessly unrealistic even during the tournament. It’s only during the last two or three rounds when we even permit ourselves the luxury.
You can’t control what others say. I would advise players to just ignore this. But this is a social media generation. So I don’t even know how to tell them not to take all these things. Let me put it this way. I would not pay attention to people cheering for medals and all because you know, that’s what fans do, right? But a player should not be thinking about that, because it’s way too premature for that. I think if you can ignore that, lower your expectations and not go into this Olympiad thinking it’s great, then actually playing in your home country is a huge advantage. If you start thinking that you’re much stronger than you are, and that you have to perform much higher than it’s reasonable to expect, then you can end up putting a lot of pressure on yourself. So even when I’m there, I’ll hopefully remind them. I’ll have to find a way to put it, but it’s quite annoying that people just say only medal… only gold. I would find it very distracting.