With the Chess Olympiad around the corner, the Indian team members are working individually, and collectively, to give their best ever. As part of the preparation, a few key members of the women’s teams got busy sharpening their skills in Chennai recently in a camp under the 2012 World Championship runner-up Boris Gelfand.

K. Humpy, Tania Sachdev, Soumya Swaminathan, Bhakti Kulkarni, R. Vaishali and Vantika Agarwal spoke to Sportstar on how it was to prepare with Gelfand and their expectations from the Olympiad.

Humpy, what difference do you feel between returning to the Olympiad squad in 2018 and now?

Humpy: Well, when I came back to chess in 2018, for two years prior to that, I did not follow chess much. Therefore, I was completely fresh to the board. This time, after the pandemic, I’m still in touch with the game. Though I have not played many tournaments, I’m following everything. So it’s completely different. But yes, I do lack some tournament practice for the last one-and-a-half years, but definitely, these camps will help us get back to form.

Tania, unlike many other players, you have been away from tournament-play due to your commitments as part of the broadcasting team for some elite online events. How does it feel to return to competitive chess?

Tania: I think it’s been different for me because even though I wasn’t able to play because of the pandemic, I was always in touch (with the game)… commenting and so chess still remained a big part of my everyday routine. But I don’t think it’s been an added pressure of any sort, because I’ve always really loved and enjoyed what I’ve done there. Now, coming back to playing competitive chess, this has been there for me from the start. So, I am really looking forward to it.

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Coming to you, Soumya, talk us through your experience at the camp?

Soumya: It’s been awesome. Boris Gelfand is one of my heroes in chess. His book, Positional Decision Making in Chess , is a classic. I mentioned to him how much I love this book. To actually train under him was a dream and I really enjoyed the experience. He’s so honest in sharing his thoughts. We had some individual sessions with him and I got to show one of my games. He was so interested in analysing and helping me improve for my next tournament. It’s amazing.

Bhakti, your take on playing the Olympiad at home?

Bhakti: I’m very happy that the over-the-board Olympiad is going to take place in India. It’s a dream come true for all of us. My first Olympiad was online in 2020 when we shared the gold with Russia. It was an amazing experience to play alongside Humpy didi which is why I’m really looking forward to playing over the board. Also, these camps are amazing, working with Vishy (Viswanathan Anand) sir and Gelfand Sir besides Indian GMs Abhijit (Kunte) dada and others. I’m certain it will help us improve.


Eye on the prize: Koneru Humpy says training with Boris Gelfand was a “great experience” and helped her brace up for the Olympiad. “I do lack some tournament practice for the last one-and-a-half years, but definitely, these camps will help us get back to form,” she says.


Vaishali, your first Olympiad and that too at home. Have you also kept an eye on your third GM norm and chasing the required rating to get the GM title?

Vaishali: I’m super excited to play in the Olympiad and I’m looking forward to it. I have plans to play some tournaments before that. Also, thanks to the All India Chess Federation (AICF) for conducting such camps with Gelfand sir and Vishy sir. Going forward, I just want to improve my game. If I do that, I think, my norm and rating will follow.

Now on another first-timer, Vantika… your views on the Olympiad?

Vantika: I’m very excited to be part of the team. During the camp, with Gelfand sir and Vishy sir, I realised that to train online was so different from training together with the team, face to face. It’s a completely different feeling. The insights I gained are very useful. For instance, Anand sir shared how to convert advantages, his feelings during the game, etc.

Individually training with Gelfand sir was great. He analysed my games and gave some tips on how to improve. Now I want to just give my best in the Olympiad.

Humpy, what were your gains from camp of this kind?

Humpy: Well, this is the first time I’ve attended with Gelfand sir. Definitely, it was a great experience because he has played many matches and very high-level tournaments, where scoring even half-a-point becomes crucial to achieving something. His experiences are not only about the game but also about the psychological aspect. I believe players have their personal trainers and training methods but to have this camp was an added advantage.

How does the team plan to cope with the expectations of playing at home and chase the elusive medal?

Tania: I know we have come close to winning medals, and we are definitely close. We finished fourth and fifth many times. I know where these expectations are coming from. It’s actually just about improving our overall strength. I think, if we do that and work hard, then good things will happen.

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Soumya: I actually like this quote from the movie, 83 . Before the final, the captain tells his team it doesn’t matter whether we win or lose. Of course, we want to win. But the main thing is, we should try the most and harder than anyone else. So, I think that’s the aim. We will give our best. We will try the hardest and then…let’s see.

Bhakti: It’s important to give our best and not worry about the results. But definitely I would like to win medals and I’m very optimistic about it. My focus will be to play good chess and not think about the result during the game. But, I will definitely be dreaming of a medal.

Vantika: I want to train a lot on my own and give my best. I just want to be very confident and be able to give my best so that we can win a medal.

With the team members aware of the expectations and clearly focussed on giving off their best, an unprecedented medal-winning outing should not come as a surprise.