With just a solitary Round left in the 2016 Baku Chess Olympiad, Indian men and women are ever so close to the podium finishes. All through the tournament, they have come up with solid performances and generally stayed within the top 10 teams in the world in both Open and women’s categories. In their round-10 encounter with the mighty Russians, Indian men’s team forked out a 2-2 draw and India’s women did the same against Uzbekistan. After 10 Rounds, Indian men are placed fifth behind USA, Ukraine, Russia and Canada. The women’s team is also on fifth spot behind China, Russia, Poland and Ukraine. In the last Round on Tuesday, Indian men will play against Norway with World Champion Magnus Carlsen on top board with P Harikrishna. The women’s team will take on the USA.
In Round-10 on Monday, India’s world no.15 Harikrishna played with Whites against World Championship challenger Sergey Karjakin. The Indian opened with 1.e4 in a Giuoco Piano variation and built a good position against his strong Russian opponent. In move 27, Harikrishna went for a smart exchange, in which he sacrificed his knight to take Karjakin’s rook. Once the Russian world no.9 was forced into defending himself, Harikrishna played a game of controlled precision and defeated the famous Russian. But the one-point advantage was immediately lost when B Adhiban was defeated by world no.4 Vladimir Kramnik. Adhiban began with the handicap of Black pieces and Kramnik soon pushed him into a corner. Towards the end, Adhiban had two knights on the board against Kramnik’s two rooks. It was clear that Adhiban’s resistance had already become a lost cause. However, the Indian hung around for as long as he could, with the hope that the Russian chess legend might commit some error. However, Kramnik’s experience prevailed and the Indian resigned after the 45th move and the two teams came level at 1-1.
On the third board India’s Vidit Gujrathi played with Whites against Ian Nepomniachtchi but the Russian countered very well and for long; the position remained equal. With stalemate persisting until the 38th move, the two players agreed for a draw. The same result came in the last board between SP Sethuraman and Alexander Grischuk. Though the Russian was better placed with Whites, Sethuraman defended himself admirably and avoided any traps laid by the Russian. In the end, a draw was agreed upon. With one victory, one loss and two draws India finished 2-2 against the Russian men and now look forward to the last round of the Olympiad against Norway on Tuesday.
In women’s category, India’s match against Uzbekistan was identical to their male counterparts’ against Russia. While Tania Sachdev won her board against Natalia Zhukova, Soumya Swaminathan suffered the defeat playing with Anna Ushenina. In two other games, Harika Dronavalli drew with Anna Muzychuk and Padmini Rout also ended in a drawn fixture with Mariya Muzychuk. The 2-2 draw against Uzbekistan has kept India’s women afloat.
Going into the last rounds on Tuesday, both men and women from India have 15 points each and they are also on fifth place in their respective categories. In men’s tournament, USA and Ukraine are both guaranteed a medal since they both have 18 points. Russia have 16 points and if India could score a big win against Norway, they can push Russia down. Among women, China leads with 18 points while Russia are second with 16. India are among six teams with 15 points and therefore Indian women’s last match against USA on Tuesday will be crucial.