The lone rest day could not come at a better time for the home teams.
After a tough sixth round that left the top two Indian combinations winless for the first time in the Open section, Thursday’s break provided time to review, assess and plan ahead.
With five rounds left, all three teams - on 10 points - have theoretical chances of being on the podium. For those who believe that the past is sometimes a very fair indication of the future, an 11-round aggregate of 18 match-points or more usually ensures the gold medal. On some occasions, even 17 is good enough for lesser medals.
A decisive result in the India 1-India 3 face-off on Friday could hurt the medal prospects of the losing team. D. Gukesh-led India 2, seeded 11, is expected to end 32nd seed Cuba’s unbeaten run.
Gukesh, holding a career-high World No. 26th spot in live rankings, has so far won all six games by performing at a whopping 3329-level against his live rating of 2719. No wonder, India 2 has lived up to the build-up to occupy the third spot. India 1 is sixth, and India 3 ninth.
Second-placed USA, the overwhelming favourite for gold, appears a tad casual. In fact, in the last three rounds, a draw against Uzbekistan and 2.5-1.5 victories over Israel and Iran have not done USA’s reputation any good since it managed to win just a game every day.
So far, all five members - Fabiano Caruana, Levon Aronian, Wesley So, Dominguez Perez Leinier and Sam Shankland - are losing rating points here. This slow and unimpressive first half could well wake up the giants in the coming days.
Against an in-form leader Armenia, USA could come out firing on more than one board on Friday. After all, in the Swiss league format, doing well in the last three rounds can never be over-emphasised.
Magnus Carlsen-led Norway has hardly played like a team seeded three. As a result of its ordinary showings, including two defeats and a draw, Norway will be out of Hall No. 1, which accommodates the top 27 matches. Against North Macedonia, a team with a starting rank of 61, Norway will play Match No. 28 in the make-shift Hall No. 2.
Among the women, India 1 looks well on course to the podium. Wednesday’s resounding victory over Georgia has brightened India’s prospects of justifying its top seeding. After sixth-seed Azerbaijan on Friday, India 1 looks ready for second-seed Ukraine, fourth-seed Poland and an in-form Romania, seeded 20.
K. Humpy, D. Harika, R. Vaishali and Tania Sachdev look settled to perform their respective roles. Harika has been rock-solid, while the other three have struck timely.
India 2 and India 3, seeded 11 and 16, have not looked capable of bringing down higher-ranked teams. On Friday, armed with nine match-points, India 2 will be the favourite against 27th seed Greece, like India 3 against Switzerland, seeded 29.