Stiff tests await P. Harikrishna on Chess Tour debut

Hari, the first Indian on the Tour, is part of a 12-player field that includes the top six on the classical format ranking list.

Since the format offers a mix of rapid and blitz formats, not surprisingly, Hari finds himself at the end of the list, on both counts.   -  FILE PHOTO/ RAJEEV BHATT

The presence of Grandmaster P. Harikrishna is sure to see a major spike in Indian interest when the million-dollar Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour continues with the USD 150,000 Chessable Masters on Saturday.

Hari, the first Indian on the Tour, is part of a 12-player field that includes the world’s top six - Magnus Carlsen (Norway), Fabiano Caruana (USA), Ling Diren (China), Ian Nepomniachtchi (Russia), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France) and Alexander Grishcuk (Russia) - on the classical format ranking list.

Following the decision to tweak the league phase of the Tour’s third leg, by dividing the field into two groups of six players each, Hari finds himself in the tougher one.

On Saturday, Hari starts with black pieces against Vladislav Artemiev (Russia) and follows alternate colours against Carlsen, Daniil Dubov (Russia), Nakamura and Alexander Grischuk (Russia). After Sunday’s rest, Hari plays the same rivals with opposite colours on Monday.

Here, it is pertinent to remember that Carlsen and Dubov won the first two legs at the expense of Nakamura.

The other group includes Caruana, Liren, Nepomniachtchi, Lagrave, Teimour Radjabov and Anish Giri. The top four players from each group advance to the quarterfinals.

Since the format offers a mix of rapid and blitz formats, not surprisingly, Hari finds himself at the end of the list, on both counts.

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Striking a note of optimism, Hari told Sportstar, “My approach remains the same whether I start as the favourite or an underdog. Pressure is a good motivation to have. In fact, I have not played as many rapid and blitz events as the other guys [in the field]. In the sense, many events on the Grand Chess Tour were rapid and blitz. Luckily, I played the Kolkata event the last two years, and the World rapid and blitz championship, which gave me a lot of confidence to play against these guys.

“Yes. My rating is lower in rapid but I think I am better than my rating in rapid, in general, than blitz. Also, it’s quite different playing online than over-the-board events.”

Good form

Reflecting on his current form, following a runner-up finish in the strong World Stars Sharjah Online event earlier this week, Hari said, “I didn’t start well but scored four-and-a-half points out of five from Rounds 5 to 9. I lost the last round that was crucial. I’m quite happy I could win so many games in a row in a strong event. Since Chessable.com is sponsoring this event, I am very happy because lots of people from Chessable are supporting me. It is a good feeling and gives me more confidence. I hope to do well.”

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A closer look at the groups reveal that Group ‘A’ has all three finalists from the two legs so far while Group ‘B’ has five ‘Candidates’ who are aiming to be the challenger to Carlsen in the next World title match.

If Carlsen, Dubov and Nakamura have figured in the finals of the first two legs, Grischuk is a three-time World blitz champion. Artemiev, 22, is a multiple Russian rapid and blitz winner. That leaves Hari with the task of causing a few upsets, like the ones seen in the Lindores Abbey Rapid Challenge, the previous leg of the Tour.

Without doubt, Hari faces a tough task ahead but then, he sees it as an opportunity to test his skills against the best.

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