India’s men’s team maintained its unbeaten run at Baku Chess Olympiad as the quartet of Harikrishna, B Adhiban, Vidit Gujrathi and SP Sethuraman combined to defeat the Netherlands 2.5-1.5 in Round-6 and rose to the top in men’s ranking at the current stage. For India, the lone disappointment was Vidit not repeating his winning performance in his 6th match and settled for a draw against Loek Van Wely. Regardless, at 5.5/6, Vidit is still among the top players in the tournament. India’s women also maintained their unbeaten performance. After defeating Latvia 2.5-1.5 in Round-6, they came back from 9th ranking to 5th. For their next games, Indian men take on the mighty USA, who defeated Ukraine in Round 6, while India’s women will face Azerbaijan 1.
In the Open draw, Indian men’s is the only unbeaten team in the ongoing chess Olympiad out of 176 participating countries. With a 6-0 score in six Rounds and 19 points, Indian men have soared to the top of the ranking table. However, they will need to keep their performance on the same keel in order to avoid any disappointment in the last 5 rounds. On Thursday, India played against a strong team from the Netherlands and the top board had the best players from either nation. Dutch GM and world no.12 Anish Giri played against India’s world no.15 P Harikrishna, who had the advantage of playing with Whites. But Giri pushed Harikrishna and led by a pawn on the board. After 33 moves Black looked like winning and Harikrishna was in trouble. However, the Indian kept his nerve and equalized the position. The Indian even threatened Giri with some smart moves in the endgame before finishing with a draw after 49 moves. A little earlier, Vidit Gujrathi played with Whites against Loek Van Wely but his 5-match winning sequence was halted with a quick 15-move draw against the Dutch. SP Sethuraman played with Black pieces against Benjamin Bok and held on for 33 moves before drawing the game.
With 3 drawn games, the fourth between B Adhiban’s match against his Dutch counterpart Erwin L’Ami held the key. Adhiban began with a handicap of Black pieces but he didn’t allow L’Ami the upper hand. The battle was even in the middle-game but Adhiban was careful not to lose focus, when L’Ami traded his rook for Adhiban’s knight and lost a pawn. Thereafter, the Dutch made two crucial errors in the 36th and 42nd moves and came to a point, when he began defending his position. The Indian was brilliant in the endgame and forced the Dutch to give up in the 66th move. Adhiban’s win meant India collected 2.5 points to 1.5 by the Netherlands and the victory took them to the top of the rankings after Round 6.
India’s women managed to reverse their trend of the last two rounds by beating Latvia 2.5-1.5. India’s top player Harika Dronavalli scored her first victory of the Baku Olympiad. Harika played with White pieces against Latvia’s Finance Minister and woman GM Dana Reizniece-Ozola, who had caused a sensation by defeating world no.1 Chinese Hou Yifan in Round-4. But the Indian played her part well and defeated Reizniece-Ozola in 26 moves. Harika’s first tournament win was soured with the second successive defeat of Tania Sachdev, who had a great beginning at Baku with four straight wins. However, against Ilze Berzina on Thursday, Tania was lured into a piece sacrifice and lost in 39 moves. Indian women’s best performance of the day came from Soumya Swaminathan. She played with a handicap of Black pieces but knew a lot depended on her after Tania’s loss. Her opponent Inguna Erneste began well too, but Soumya defended well and kept herself in the fray with clean moves. The match lasted for 81 moves and Soumya inflicted the defeat on Berzina to add 1 crucial point for India. Next was Padmini Rout, who faced Laura Rogule. All Padmini needed to avoid was a loss. She had Black pieces but she wouldn’t allow the Latvian to dominate her. It was an incredibly long game that went to 140 moves before the two players settled for a draw. With that, India scored a 2.5-1.5 victory and kept their unbeaten streak intact.
With both men and women’s team remaining unbeaten so far and men sitting on top of the table, this is perhaps the only time in the history of Chess Olympiads that Indian men and women have kept their unbeaten record until 6 Rounds. On top of that, women’s team, which slipped to the 9th place in the ranking have bounced back to no.5. Indian men face a tough battle in Round 7 with team USA, studded with the likes of Fabiano Caruna, Hikaru Nakamura, Wesley So and Samuel Shanland. On the contrary Indian women have a great chance to improve their position as they play Azerbaijan 1, which do boast of many top-ranked players. But hope alone is no guarantee of positive results and performances on the day of the match matters most.