Close on the heels of Rio Olympic Games comes another Olympiad. But it will only have the game of chess. Unlike the quadrennial Games, Chess Olympiad is a biennial event and the 2016 edition will be the 42nd edition. Also unlike Rio, where India performed poorly with just two medals; one silver and one bronze; a lot is expected from 5 women and 5 Indian men at Baku. It is the year’s biggest chess show and it begins in less than 24 hours from now. The event will have participation by 2245 men and women from 176 countries. Indian men’s team is seeded 11th and women are seeded 5th. The Indian contingent lacks the presence of the legendary Vishy Anand in men’s team and Koneru Humpy among women. It may be recalled that in the last Chess Olympiad in the Norwegian city of Tromso in 2014, Indian men’s team won a bronze and women finished 10th. But more heartening than that was the performance of Padmini Rout, who won women’s individual gold.
Performance of Indian men and women in 2014 Tromso Chess Olympiad still brings joy for Indian chess fans. For the first time in history of Chess Olympiad, Indian men’s team won a bronze and Padmini Rout took gold in women’s individual event. Chess may not have made its debut in Summer Olympics, but Chess Olympiad has its own beauty and charm. This year, the Indian men’s contingent is represented by five GMs; P Harikrishna, Vidit Gujrathi, B Adhiban, SP Sethuraman and Murali Karthikeyan. Their coach is the vastly experienced RB Ramesh. Women’s coach is International Master Vishal Sareen and the team comprises of Harika Dronavalli, Padmini Rout, Soumya Swaminathan, Tania Sachdev and Pratyusha Bodda. At Baku, Indian women have a much better chances of bringing a medal than men because they have been seeded 5th after China, Russia, Ukraine and Georgia. Among men, the top seeded team is from Russia followed by USA and China. As mentioned earlier, Indian men have been ranked 11th.
For Indian men’s team, Harikrishna’s inclusion is great new. He has an ELO rating of 2752 and beaten many big players. If India runs into Russia, America, China, Azerbaijan or Ukraine, Harikrishna may play with guys like; Kramnik, Caruana, Ding Liren and Mamedyarov. Harikrishna has the capability of beating them because he knows about the intricacies of team events. One needs to take risks, when the team is trailing. Harikrishna is capable of launching assault in such cases. Vidit Gujrathi is a solid player and he has brought a killer’s instinct in his game lately. He has reached an ELO rating of 2669 by defeating some big names in world chess. Amazingly, Vidit has beaten players like Wei Yi, Morozevich and Rapport with Black pieces. The third Indian men, Adhiban hasn’t played in a big tournament in last three months but his performance in Abu Dhabi Open last week yielded a score of 7.0 out of 9. That included three victories against players with ELO rating of over 2600. At Tromso in 2014, Adhiban landed himself in trouble on many occasions but each time, he bounced back. At this point, Adhiban is just 16 short of the magical figure of 2700 ELO points, and hopefully he will reach that landmark at Baku. The fourth Indian Sethuraman scored 7.5 out of 10 at 2014 Tromso Olympiad. He is a big fighter and a lot is expected from him at Baku. 2015 national champion, Murali Karthikeyan is the last man in Baku’s Indian Murali is known for his calculating skills and he is vastly talented.
Among women, Harika Dronavalli is the backbone of the team. She plays with tremendous focus and is capable of beating big names just as Harikrishna can do among men. Harika is very experienced and she played her first Olympiad in 2004. Harika’s teammate Padmini Rout was India’s golden girl at Tromso and a lot will be expected from her at Baku. The fearless Padmini began 2016 by beating 2750-rated Ukrainian Grand-Master Pavel Eljanov in rapids. Padmini may not emulate her Tromso performance but she will not be found wanting in doing her best. The third women in the contingent Soumya Swaminathan is an extremist. She is a big risk taker that has seen her win against some top players but she has also lost to unknowns. With an uncompromising attitude to the game, she can make a big difference at Baku. The fourth woman Tania Sachdev eked out a great performance in 2016 Reykjavik Open, where she beat many men stars above 2600. In addition, Tania recently won the Commonwealth women’s title and her presence will be an asset to the Indian team. The fifth member of Indian women’s team for Baku, the 19-year Pratyusha Bodda is a positional player with great solidity. She is sure to compliment the skills of her teammates in her Olympiad debut.
Though it is difficult to make predictions, both men and women’s team from India are going to Baku with high hopes. There will be several capable players from around the world and India’s men and women must ensure that they keep their levels high in all matches. The city of Baku hosts the Olympiad between September 1-14, 2016 but the real action will start on September 2. The matches will be held in the stunning Crystal Hall, where 2012 Eurovision Song Contest was held. Later in 2012, Jennifer Lopez, Shakira, and Rihanna also performed there. During 2015 European Games, it also hosted boxing, karate, taekwondo, fencing and volleyball.
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