Profitable outing

MEMBERS OF THE INDIAN MEN'S TEAM celebrate their bronze medal winning moment at the Chess Olympiad in Norway.-

After 11 rounds of consistent showing, like never before, India was tied for the second place behind China and finished with the bronze ahead of chess superpowers like Russia and defending champion Armenia.

August turned out to be a month of medals for India. From Commonwealth Games to World Cup archery to Chess Olympiad, Indians found themselves on the podium. The first two mentioned events were considered fertile for the Indians to harvest a good number of medals, but the team bronze from the Olympiad was a huge surprise.

With a field of 177 nations — the biggest congregation in chess every two years — the Olympiad remains the most followed team event in chess. As always, all the leading players of the world turned out for their countries in Tromso, Norway. This time, too, barring Viswanathan Anand, all from the world’s top-10 bracket were on view.

India, without Anand and P. Hari Krishna started the event as the 19th seed, based on the average rating of its players. After 11 rounds of consistent showing, like never before, India was tied for the second place behind China and finished with the bronze ahead of chess superpowers like Russia and defending champion Armenia.

K. Sasikiran, the most experienced member of the team, collected his first ever individual Olympiad medal, a silver, on the third board, to provide an added reason for celebration in the Indian camp.

The Indian women’s team that finished fourth in 2012 and started as the fifth seed this time, slipped to the 10th spot. Tania Sachdev, who returned with an individual medal after helping India to its best finish two years ago, struggled with form and that probably made the difference.

On the brighter side, debutant Padmini Rout, 20, produced a gold-winning performance as the reserve player. She scored 7.5 points from eight games to emerge as the surprise packet of the squad.

Considering that India finished 35th in the last edition in Istanbul in 2012, this year’s performance — winning 19 and losing just two games out of the 44 played — was truly stupendous.

The men’s team comprising Parimarjan Negi, S. P. Sethuraman, K. Sasikiran, B. Adhiban and reserve player M. R. Lalith Babu won seven matches and drew three, including the big match against Armenia.

Victories in the last two rounds — against Germany and Uzbekistan — helped India jump eight places to reach the podium. The decision to play Sasikiran, who completed 100 Olympiad games in this edition, on the third board proved a vital one. Negi, after escaping with a draw against Syria’s lowly-rated Iyti Basher in the opener, produced a series of good performances, including draws against World No. 2 Levon Aronian of Armenia and the German spearhead Arkadij Naiditsch before scoring over the 2004 World champion, Rustam Kasimdzhanov of Uzbekistan.

The other two youngsters, Sethuraman and Adhiban stayed undefeated on the second and fourth boards to set up India’s incredible showing.

In terms of individual gains, Sethuraman collected 22.5 rating points after performing like a player with a rating of 2757 against his actual rating of 2590. Negi gained 13 points for his display of 2730, way above his rating of 2645. Sasikiran, too, gained in double digits. He picked up 11 points after performing at 2753 against his present rating of 2669.

It must also be said India was not required to play any of the top-five finishers — China, Hungary, Russia, Azerbaijan and Ukraine. And its only loss came against the seventh-placed Cuba.

Indeed it was truly a team effort with coach R. B. Ramesh proving a perfect guiding force to a bunch of inspired individuals. Overall, it was a deserving reward for the team’s never-say-die spirit.

Rakesh Rao