Nations Cup: China starts favourite, India underdog

The richest online team tournament begins with the FIDE online Nations Cup, with the leading men's and women's players on view.

Viswanathan Anand will lead the Indian contingent at the Online Nations Cup   -  K.V.S. Giri

Even as sports activities await resumption post-COVID-19 pandemic, chess is the only discipline where all the leading players continue to make their moves in online prize-money events.

The much-followed $250,000 Magnus Carlsen Invitational ended on Sunday with the World champion winning his signature event and collecting $70,000 in the richest prize-money online competition.

From Tuesday, the richest online team tournament begins with the FIDE online Nations Cup. Barring Carlsen, almost all the leading men and women players from four countries, one continent and a “Rest of the World” combination will be on view.

Read: Viswanathan Anand: I am proud of the last few years that I’m able to fight

India, seeded five, will be a rank outsider despite fielding its strongest possible combination of Viswanathan Anand, Vidit Gujrathi, P. Harikrishna, B. Adhiban, K. Humpy and D. Harika. The presence of
former World champion Vladimir Kramnik as an advisor to the Indian camp brings in some added interest in the team’s progress.

In the words of Vidit, “When the world of sports has stopped, it’s great that an event of such a magnitude is taking place. I have immense respect for Kramnik, and it will be great to work together!
The field is extremely strong so it’s not going to be easy at all. We could be the underdogs.”

China is an obvious favourite but given the format, any team looks capable of upstaging higher seeded rivals.

The event follows the double round-robin format, with the two leading teams battling for the title in the “Superfinal.”

All matches involve four boards - represented by three men and a women player. The rapid time-control is 25-minutes plus 10-second increment per move.

China, the rating favourite, with Ding Liren, Wang Hao and Wei Yi, also gains from the presence of Hou Yifan, the strongest woman player in the world. With Yu Yangyi and Women world champion Ju Wenjun as reserves, China clearly has the strength to go all the way.

Second seed Europe has Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Levon Aronian and Anish Giri as the three leading men along with Anna Muzychuk on the fourth board. Garry Kasparov is back in the mix as the captain. Aronian returns to his first competition after the death of wife Arianne Caoili in a car crash in March.

Vachier said, “I'm very excited for the tournament and to lead team Europe. Obviously, I’m also very happy to see Levon return to play and hope we put a great performance.”

Russia will rely on the flamboyance of Ian Nepomniachtchi, the speed-chess skills of Vladislav Artemiev and the experience of Sergey Karjakin, with Aleksandra Goryachkina being the top woman.

But USA begins as the proverbial “dark horse” with Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura, Wesley So and Irina Krush forming an intimidating combination.

The Rest of the World has the potential to slow down any serious title-contender. Teimour Radjabov, 16-year-old sensation Alireza Firouzja, Baseem Amin along with former World women champion Mariya
Muzychuk can be expected to cause a few upsets.

As Radjabov said, “It’s a try, an opportunity for online chess. Certainly, it’s different than over-the-board chess. But in this situation, we have to try our best and have some chess events online, of this scale. See how it plays out. Generally, it’s very exciting.”

The squads

India: Viswanathan Anand, Vidit Gujrathi, P. Hari Krishna, K. Humpy; Reserves: B. Adhiban, D. Harika. Advisor: Vladimir Kramnik.

China: Ding Liren, Wang Hao, Wei Yi, Hou Yifan; Reserves: Yu Yangyi and Ju Wenjun. Captain: Ye Jiangchuan.

Europe: Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Levon Aronian, Anish Giri, Anna Muzychuk. Reserves: Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Nana Dzagnidze. Captain: Garry Kasparov

Russia: Ian Nepomniachtchi, Vladislav Artemiev, Sergey Karjakin, Aleksandra Goryachkina; Reserves: Dmitry Andreikin and Olga Girya. Captain: Alexander Motylev.

USA: Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura, Wesley So, Irina Krush; Reserves: Leinier Dominguez Perez and Anna Zatonskih. Captain: John Donaldson

Rest of the World: Teimour Radjabov, Alireza Firouzja, Bassem Amin, Mariya Muzychuk; Reserves: Jorge Cori and Dinara Saduakassova. Captain: Arkady Dvorkovich.

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