World Youth Chess Championship: Indians eye lion’s share of medals

Players from 64 countries, totalling a whopping 465, will play over 11 rounds to decide the world champion in U-14, U-16 and U-18 age-groups.

All eyes will be on R. Praggnanandhaa.   -  R. Ragu

India’s much-acclaimed teen talent in chess awaits stern tests in the two World championships the country hosts this month.

The World junior (under-20), to be staged in New Delhi in the second fortnight, will be preceded by a logistically-challenging World Youth championship that opens at the Renaissance Hotel here on Wednesday.

Players from 64 countries, totalling a whopping 465, will play over 11 rounds here to decide the world champion in under-14, under-16 and under-18 age-groups, separately in open and girls’ sections.

India is hosting this prestigious event for the first time and seems set to do a great job of it.

With the focus on performance, India is keen to erase the horrors of its last year’s showing. India claimed two bronze medals, one more than its worst showing since 2011 when Debashis Das earned the only bronze in the under-18 section.

READ: All eyes on Praggnanandhaa

This year, in spite of the absence of sensations like D. Gukesh and Nihal Sarin, India is optimistic of a good medal-haul. Indeed, inconsistency of players in these age-groups often makes it tough to predict. But going by ratings, top seed M. Sreeshwan (under-14), the top two seeds Divya Deshmukh, Rakshitta Ravi (girls under-14), third seed Mrudul Dehankar (girls’ under-16) and second seed R. Praggnanandhaa (under-18) are seeded for a podium-finish.

Divya Deshmukh is one of India's strong medal contenders.   -  special arrangement

 

Since the prodigious Praggnanandhaa, 14, will be testing his skills in a higher age-group, it will be interesting to see how he deals with a different kind of pressure. The presence of coach and mentor R. B. Ramesh should help the youngster in more ways than one.

Praggnanandhaa is seeded second behind the in-form Armenian talent Shant Sargsyan.

Sargsyan, rated 2463 in October last, won the World under-16 last October, is looking for the under-18 title. Armed with a rating of 2580, Sargysan is looking in great form having collected 18 rating points from the recent 1st league of the Armenian championship. In the fact in the last four monthly lists, Sargsyan has gained a staggering 68 points - an indication of his continuing form.

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This group also has another home-grown GM P. Iniyan, besides seven Indians rated over 2400, including six International Masters. Therefore, a strong Indian presence on the podium is anticipated.

India expects a sure gold in the girls’ under-14 section where twice age-group world champion Divya and Rakshitta, the 2015 World girl’s under-10 champion, are rated way higher. In the open section, top seed Sreeshwan faces serious threats from Russians Volodar Murzin, Andrey Tsvetkov and Azerbaijan’s Aydin Suleymali.

Though not much is expected from India in the under-16 section, it should not come as a surprise if Aronyak Ghosh, R. Raja Rithwik and Sankalp Gupta, besides Saina Salonika, Nityata Jain and B. Mounika Akshaya punch above their weight.