World No. 16 Grand Master (GM) P. Harikrishna has improved India's seeding at next month’s World Chess Olympiad. The 11-round tournament, to be held at Azerbaijan’s capital Baku, will start on September 2 and conclude on September 13.
“The presence of Harikrishna in the team is a good morale-booster for youngsters like me,” said GM Vidit Santosh Gujrathi. “He mingles well with us. His presence in the team is an added strength,” added GM S. P. Sethuraman.
This will be Harikrishna’s eighth chess Olympiad after debuting in the premier event in 2000 when he was only 14. He skipped the 2014 Olympiad, where India won bronze for the first time.
“As usual, we had asked for his availability for the tournament to represent the country and he agreed,” All India Chess Federation (AICF) CEO Bharat Singh Chauhan told IANS.
Seeded 11, the team for the open category comprises GMs Harikrishna (ELO rating 2752), Gujrathi (2669) B. Adhiban (2671), Sethuraman (2649) and national champion Karthikeyan Murali (2514).
With the Indian team’s average ELO rating at 2651 points, its seeding went up several notches this time as compared to 18th seeding with 2617 points during the 2014 chess Olympiad at Tromso, Norway.
“The seeding is done based on the team’s average ELO points,” Sethuraman explained.
Interestingly, on the average ELO ratings of its top 10 players, India is rated at number five in the world after Russia, China, the US and the Ukraine.
India’s top 10 chess-player club includes World No.8 and former World champion GM V. Anand; India’s third highest-rated player GM Surya Shekhar Ganguly (2676); and seasoned GM K. Sasikiran (2658) who also won a board prize at the last Olympiad. But these players are not part of the team.
The absence of other top-rated players in the Indian team is also due to the selection process adopted by the AICF.
The federation selects the Indian team for top tournaments like the Asian and World championships and the Olympiad based on the players’ FIDE rating. The national champion becomes the default member of the team.
Those who have played the nationals get an additional 75 points. As a result, a lower-rated player, by virtue of getting the bonus points, can get selected ahead of others. But many players believe 75 points is too much.
They also point out that some of the top professional players avoid the nationals because they run the risk of losing ELO points if they drop a game at the event.
“Losing ELO points is not a simple thing for a professional chess player as several other aspects are linked to the rating. A player is invited to participate in international tournaments based on his or her ELO ratings. Further a player’s appearance fee and other facilities are also dependent on the rating,” a GM told IANS, preferring anonymity.
“The selection issue has been discussed several times and we found only the current system workable. The current Indian team is strong. It is a youthful team with a good performance to show under its belt. There is again a fair chance of a podium finish this time,” Chauhan reiterated.
If one takes out Anand and Harikrishna, the ELO rating difference between the country’s remaining top players is very small, a chess player said.
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