Olympiad: Promising show by India

In the last edition in 2014, India returned with a historic first bronze medal in the open section. This year, India fell short of retaining the medal and finished fourth, after being seeded ninth. Among the ladies, the fifth-seeded Indians justified their pre-event expectations.

P. Harikrishna performed at a playing strength of 2831, way over his rating of 2752.   -  V. V. SUBRAHMANYAM

Vidit Gujrathi scored eight points, including six victories, in 11 rounds.

Over a quarter of a century, Viswanathan Anand remains among the chess elite and stands out as India’s best brand ambassador for this cerebral sport.

Ironical as it may sound, twice in the last three years, Indian chess teams — without Anand — created a flutter in the Chess Olympiad. As a growing chess power, both among men and women, India is fast gaining the respect of the chess world.

The Chess Olympiad, held in every even-numbered year, is a congregation of five men and five ladies each from over 175 countries, in what is the equivalent of Olympics.

As it should be, all the leading players turn out for their country and take pride in their performances. This year, in the Open section, eight out of the top-10 men were around. The only names missing from the list were Armenia’s Levon Aronian and our own Anand. Aronian, a regular in the Olympiad, had to miss out this time since the event was held in Baku, Azerbaijan. Armenia did not participate owing to the discord with Azerbaijan.

Anand, who has never made secret of his reluctance to play in the Olympiad, stayed away, as expected. The Indian superstar maintains that he is not comfortable with the playing conditions of the Olympiad, in addition to the fact that the format is a “lottery.” As he once told Sportstar, “It is not about how well you play in the first 10 rounds, if you mess up the final three rounds, you will not be on the podium.”

In the last edition in 2014, India returned with a historic first bronze medal in the open section. This year, India fell short of retaining the medal and finished fourth, after being seeded ninth. Among the ladies, the fifth-seeded Indians justified their pre-event expectations.

P. Harikrishna, who is on the threshold of becoming only the second Indian to break into the top-10 list of world rankings, was the man to lead the nation’s challenge. The World No. 15 performed at a playing strength of 2831, way over his rating of 2752. Though Harikrishna won only two games out of nine, he drew with World champion and No. 1 Magnus Carlsen (Norway), and World No. 3 Fabiano Caruana (USA) besides beating Russia’s Sergey Karjakin, the challenger to the World title later this year. Harikrishna is expected to gain 10 rating points in the next ranking list.

Vidit Gujrathi, playing on the third board, was expected to strike and he did the job very well. He scored eight points, including six victories, in 11 rounds. B. Adhiban, steady as ever, won three and lost two during his 10-game campaign on the second board. Given the quality of opposition he faced, Adhiban also performed above his rating.

 

S. P. Sethuraman, on the fourth board, enjoyed his best moment of the event when he scored an emphatic victory over Nigel Short as India overcame England, seeded six. It is interesting to note that Sethuraman was born in 1993, the year Short challenged Garry Kasparov for the World title.

Among the Indian ladies, the performances were far less impressive. India’s 2-2 results against 18th-seeded Israel and 19th-seeded Vietnam, in successive rounds, proved costly. The draw with second-seeded Ukraine was the only time when India faced a higher ranked opponent.

As a result, D. Harika, who broke into the World top-10 this year, and Padmini Rout, who won the individual gold in the 2014 edition, lost rating points after falling short of performing to their playing strength. Tania Sachdev, the former Asian champion, won the first four and the last three rounds. In between, her three successive defeats did hurt India. Statistically, Tania played to her rating.

On the brighter side, Soumya Swaminathan — the only Indian girl to play all 11 rounds — performed the best. For nine rounds, she remained unbeaten scoring 7.5 points, including six victories. In the penultimate round, Soumya lost to Ukraine’s Anna Ushenina, the 2012 World champion. She signed off with a draw against USA’s Katerina Nemcova. Her performance was the feature of the Indian campaign.

Looking back at the Indian performances, one cannot help but wonder how well the teams could have done only if numero uno Anand and K. Humpy were part of the squad.

Among the medal-winning nations, there was a certain similarity in both sections. The Open section saw second-seeded USA take the gold while top-seeded Russia slipped to claim the bronze. Fifth-seeded Ukraine proved the surprise by taking the silver after being tied with Russia.

In the women’s section, top-seeded China took the gold while second-seeded Ukraine settled for bronze. Poland, seeded seven, exceeded expectations to take the silver after being tied with China.

Leading Standings

Open: 1-2. USA and Ukraine (20 match points), 3. Russia (18), 4-10. India, Norway, Turkey, Poland, France, England and Peru (16).

Women: 1. China (20 match points); 2-3. Poland and Ukraine (17); 4-9. Russia, India, USA, Vietnam, Azerbaijan 1 and Israel (16).

Indian performance

(round-wise)

Open: Beat Bolivia 4-0; beat Costa Rica 4-0; beat Azerbaijan 2 3-1; beat The Netherlands 2.5-1.5; lost to USA 0.5-3.5; beat England 2.5-1.5; lost to Ukraine 1.5-2.5; drew with Russia 2-2; drew with Norway 2-2.

Women: Beat Macedonia 4-0; beat Brazil 3-1; drew with Israel 2-2; drew with Vietnam 2-2; beat Latvia 2.5-1.5; lost to Azerbaijan 1 1.5-2.5; beat Uzbekistan 2.5-1.5; beat The Netherlands 3-1; drew with Ukraine 2-2; drew with USA 2-2.

Indian performers

Men: P. Harikrishna 5.5/9; B. Adhiban 6.5/11; Vidit Gujrathi 8/11; S.P. Sethuraman 5.5/11; Murali Karthikeyan 2/2.

Women: D. Harika 6/10; Padmini Rout 4.5/10; Tania Sachdev 7/10; Soumya Swaminathan 8/11; Pratyusha Bodda 2.5/3.