Indian men suffered a huge loss against USA in Round-7 and slipped from the top spot in rankings to no.5. However, a narrow victory against England in Round-8 helped them rebound to no.2. In Round-9 on Sunday, India lost again to Ukraine and slipped to the 6th place in tournament standings with just 2 Rounds left. Their next Round is against the Russians on Monday and the result of those games should decide India’s podium finish at Baku. Indian men had ended third in the 2014 Tromso Olympiad and they would be eying for the podium once again. Despite early setbacks, India’s women have also kept themselves in fray and they occupy the 5th place after 9 Rounds. With the whole world participating at the Olympiad, the performance of both Indian teams is still quite creditworthy, whether or not they finish with any medals.
After they rose to the top spot at the end of Round-6, Indian men suffered a heavy 0.5-3.5 loss against USA in Round-7. P Harikishna was the only man to manage a draw against Fabiano Caruana as B Adhiban lost to Hikaru Nakamura, Vidit Gujrathi went down against Wesley So and SP Sethuraman was beaten by Samuel Shankland. That loss took India down to the 5th place in just one day. In Round-8 on the next day, India’s opponents were another powerful combo from England, consisting of the legendary Nigel Short, Michael Adams, David Howell and Gawain Jones. Harikrishna drew with Adams, B Adhiban achieved the same result against Howell and Vidit Gujrathi also played a drawn game with Jones. After these three draws, SP Sethuraman scored a brilliant win over the 51-year old Sir Nigel. Playing Whites, the Indian began with the Scotch Opening and enjoyed an upper hand from the early stages. Sir Nigel sacrificed a pawn to mount an attack against the White King. Both players engaged themselves in fearless chess with some bold moves. It wasn’t a perfect middle game but when Sethuraman played 31.f5, the move opened up the Black’s kingside. The situation also drove Sir Nigel to playing some substandard moves before resigning on the 41st move. The 2.5-1.5 victory gave India something to cheer about after the heavy loss against USA.
In Round-9, India suffered another defeat against a strong Ukraine team. The trend was similar to their match against England on Saturday except, Sethuraman lost the fourth game and Ukraine emerged as 2.5-1.5 winners. In the first three drawn games, Harikrishna played against Pavel Eljanov, Adhiban took on Ruslan Ponomariov and Vidit squared off with Yuriy Kryvoruchko. That made Sethuraman’s last match against Anton Korobov very crucial. Sethu played with Whites and held the fort until the 32nd move. Then for some inexplicable reasons, he missed a chance to gain a decisive advantage, when he didn’t accept an exchange sacrifice on moves 32 and 33. Had he accepted that, he could have avoided a losing position. After that, Korobov dominated and won the match as India lost 1.5-2.5. With that loss, India dropped to 6th place and compromised their podium finish at Baku. In the 10th Round, India’s opponents will be a strong Russian foursome and the dice is loaded unfavorably against India.
In women’s category, India took on the Netherlands in Round-9 on Sunday. After India lost 1.5-2.5 against Azerbaijan 1 in Round-7, their rankings slipped to no.13 but they won the Round 8 by beating Uzbekistan 2.5-1.5 and improved to the 7th spot. However, a big 3.0-1.0 win to India came against the Dutch women and they now occupy the 5th place. Harika Dronavalli defeated Zhaoqin Peng, Tania Sachdev beat Anna-Maja Kazarian and Soumya Swaminathan got the better of Maaike Keetman. However, Padmini Rout lost her game with Black Pieces to Anne Haast. The 3.0-1.0 win has taken India to 5th place. Now their Round-10 opponents on Monday are the women from Ukraine. That will be a crucial game for India’s women from the viewpoint of their podium finish on Tuesday.