India’s Pentala Harikrishnan caused a major upset by defeating Azerbaijan’s no.1 player and that too with Blacks! Following in Harikrishna’s footsteps, Vidit Gujrathi also cornered a victory with Blacks. The other two Indians B Adhiban and SP Sethuraman had the advantage of playing with Whites but all they could manage were drawn games. Regardless, India came through creditably against the higher-ranked Azerbaijan in the fifth round with a 3.0-1.0 win and jumped to third place in men’s rankings behind Netherlands and Ukraine. India’s women were held to a 2.0-2.0 draw by Vietnam and slipped to the no.9 ranking after 5 rounds. However, Indian teams are aware about the dramatic changes in the rankings in the 11-round team event designed on the Swiss League format as they move ahead for tougher battles. The most heartening thing for India is the performance of Vidit Gujrathi, who has won all his 5 matches so far. Besides Vidit, there are only three other players at Baku, who have a 5.0/5 record at this stage.
In the Open section of Baku Chess Olympiad, India is moving very well. In Round-5 on September 6, they faced host Azerbaijan, who had the 2016 Shamkir chess champion Shakriyar Mamedyarov in their ranks. The Azeri had the White pieces against India’s P Harikrishna and playing the Pirc Defence, Mamedyarov thought of complicating the game for the Indian. The Azeri’s tricky opening of 1…d6 was answered by 1.e4 by Harikrishna and the Indian continued with his ultra-positional moves so as not to allow any sharp positions to arise. It was a rock solid response from Harikrishna in a simple set-up. Yet, in reality, it was a venomous trap that outfoxed Mamedyarov. In the end, the Azeri blundered with 31…Rd8 and after 33.Rb8, the game was over with Harikrishna outwitting his opponent.
In the second match, B Adhiban played with whites against Teimour Rajdabov but couldn’t beat him. After that drawn game, it was the turn of Vidit Gujrathi, who too had Blacks just as Harikrishna against Mamedyarov. Vidit faced Naiditsch Arkadij but remained cool throughout. After Naiditsch committed a mistake, Vidit finished him off after the 37th move. In the fourth fixture, SP Sethuraman had a winning opportunity against Safarli Eltaj but the Indian allowed Safarli to escape and their match also ended as a draw. But 3 points from the match took India’s tally to 16.5 and they are comfortably placed behind the Netherlands and Ukraine. In Round 6 on Thursday, India take on top-ranked Netherlands after a day’s rest.
India’s women couldn’t emulate the performance of their men’s team and drew another game. They had ended at 2.0-2.0 against China and they could only eke out the same 2.0-2.0 result against Vietnam. Indian women could have lost the match if Padmini Rout had not scored a win against Hoang Thi Bao Tram. Harika Dronavalli has yet to win a single match at Baku and she finished with a draw against Pham Le Thao Nguyen. Soumya Swaminathan also played a drawn game against Nguyen Thi Thanh An. But the worst result came from Tania Sachdev, who had previously won all her four matches. Against the Vietnamese GM Nguyen Thị Mai Hung, Tania suffered her first defeat of the tournament. Despite the 2.0-2.0 draw, Indian women are still no.9 in the ranking and they have to do much better in the next rounds. Harika, Tania and Padmini must strike form if Indian women want to improve their current status.
Overall, the performance from both Indian teams has been fabulous. Vidit Gujrathi has added a colorful feather in India’s cap with a perfect record so far. He has won all his 5 matches and he is only the fourth man in the tournament with a 5.0/5 score. The other three are; Poland’s Jan-Krzysztof Duda, Iceland’s Steinn Gretarsson Hjorvar and Russia’s Ian Nepomniachtchi. There are 14 others with a perfect winning record but none of them have played 5 matches so far.