There was this moment at the National Library on Thursday evening when just about everyone at the press conference laughed aloud.
Viswanathan Anand, who has effortlessly stepped into his role of a commentator-cum-journalist, said he had one question for all the players: “How do you look forward to the blitz tournament (of the Tata Steel Chess India tournament)?”
After Arjun Erigaisi gave his answer, Anand, who is also the tournament ambassador, turned to Nihal Sarin and said, “Well, you don’t have to answer that.”
That brought the house down.
Nihal, who had just won the rapid section of the tournament, relishes the blitz format. And he is mighty good at it. The 18-year-old indeed starts as one of the favourites in the blitz tournament, which opens on Saturday. After winning the rapid event, which he termed as his best-ever performance, he should be keen to continue his great run.
But he will find plenty of tough competition over the next couple of days in what is a very strong field. Top seed Hikaru Nakamura, fellow-American Wesley So and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov of Azerbaijan are big stars in international chess and there is of course a formidable Indian contingent as well. R. Praggnananandhaa’s arrival - he replaces S.P. Sethuraman - makes the much-admired teenaged Indian quartet complete (Nihal, Arjun and D. Gukesh being the others).
The women’s event should also produce some exciting action. Anna Ushenina (Ukraine) and Nana Dzagnidze (Georgia), who was the champion and the runner-up, respectively, at the rapid event, are the in-form players. The Muzychuk sisters from Ukraine, Anna and Mariya, are another pair of strong players from overseas.
Dronavalli Harika had finished third in the rapid event and that had brought some cheer for India. Koneru Humpy had looked solid for much of the tournament before faltering on the final day. She must be hoping to put that behind her. Bhakti Kulkarni has replaced Vantika Agrawal.