Riding on Sethuraman's brilliant comeback victory, India bounced back to defeat higher seeded England to share the lead, at the end of the eighth round of the Chess Olympiad at Baku, Azerbaijan.
India won by the thinnest 2.5 – 1.5 point margin, holding the draw in other three boards. With three more rounds to go, this victory puts India in the striking distance of a podium finish, as they share the lead with USA and Ukraine with 14 match points, trailed by Russia, Azerbaijan and Norway with 13 match points.
The Indian women too scored an identical 2.5 – 1.5 comeback, against the twenty second seeded Uzbekistan, and now figure in a tie from fifth to twelfth places.
Once again, Harikrishna faced a heavyweight on the top board, the experienced English Grandmaster Michael Adams, known for his solid strategical brand of chess. Expectedly, he refused to enter a theoretical duel against Harikrishna's Sicilian defence, preferring the offbeat Rossolimo variation instead. Adams unexpectedly changed the script of the game to come up with a very interesting exchange sacrifice on the 13th move, thus showing his willingness to take risks even in such a crucial game. Though ahead by material, Hari had to defend patiently and sacrificed back a piece himself, thus reaching a draw-ish ending where he had two rooks against Adams' rook and two minor pieces, neither side having any winning chance.
Adhiban's handling of the opening emphasised the progress of technology in chess preparation in parallel to the increasing analytical ability of the computers. Modern masters not only study tournament games of their pet openings, but from Email chess (though it is still referred as Correspondence chess) and even those between computer programs as well
Thus, Adhiban's '10.Bg5' was a new move for over the board chess, but already employed in correspondence chess. He deserved the resultant advantage he received from the game, both in clock and position, as David Howell consumed large amounts of time with a pawn deficit by the sixteenth move. However, Adhiban's imprecise handling of the late middlegame ensured that the game was never going to be more than a draw.
After a streak of five wins in the initial rounds and then indifferent play in the last two rounds, Vidit Gujrathi's play was probably under the scanner. He too came up with a plan played in correspondence chess with '14...Re8', from the Black side of an English Opening. Risky play by Gawain Jones with an exchange sacrifice on the 18th move ensured White a dangerous looking initiative. Vidit kept his cool and defended accurately to restore parity in the endgame.
So, even though the first three boards had early promise, precise defence ensured that the advantageous sides could never convert. But it was a different script on the fourth board, in a topsy-turvy game between Sethuraman and Short.
Nigel Short is a living legend who challenged Kasparov for the title of world champion way back in 1993, precisely the year when his opponent was born. Even at the age of 51, he shows amazing longevity being a consistent tournament winner producing lively chess. He was one of the architects of England's giant-killing act against formidable China in the previous round, defeating much higher rated Li Chao in a wild game. Playing against such a colourful and formidable opponent, Sethuraman rose to the occasion to score a memorable victory.
Employing the Scotch Opening with the White pieces, Sethu enjoyed a healthy advantage from the early stages of the game. Sacrificing a pawn, Short tried his best to mount an attack against White's King. Though far from perfect, both played fearless chess, at many moments preferring challenging and adventurous continuations rather than sedate and best moves. Finally, Sethuraman's '31.f5' seemed to open up Black's kingside and crack Short's tenacity, as he played substandard moves and resigned on the forty first move when Sethu was en route to checkmate the Black king.
For this gutsy comeback, Sethuraman was showered with compliments from his opponent from the previous round, the American GM Sam Shankland who was lucky to win against the Indian:
“What truly makes a champion is not their weakest moments, but how they respond to their weakest moments. Sethu...came through with a beautiful win today over a former world championship challenger. Many strtong players would have self-destructed here, and this kind of psychological toughness is a sign that he has a very bright future ahead of him”.
The ninth seeded Indians now face another tough challenge on Sunday, as they play the fifth seeded Ukraine on the top table.
Comparatively, Indian women scored a clinical win over Uzbekistan on Saturday, though the winning margin of 2.5 – 1.5 wasn't very impressive comparing the strength of the players of both the teams.
IM Tania Sachdev who had consecutive losses in the past three rounds was rested, enabling WIM Bodda Pratyusha to play on the fourth board after being rested for five consecutive games. The only decisive result of the match came on the top board, as Dronavalli Harika showed difference in class to slowly outplay WGM Nafisa Muminova (rated 2324) from the Black side of a Sicilian Defence. The rest of the games ended in draws.
Even though she enjoyed a space advantage throughout her game against Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova from the White side of a Guico Piano, Padmini Rout could not find a breakthrough to convert her advantage.
Soumya Swaminathan equalised comfortably from the Black side of a Queens Gambit Declined, but her opponent managed to trade pieces steadily throughout the game to force a draw in a King and Pawn ending.
Pratyusha played a fighting draw against untitled Nodira Nadirjanova which lasted a mammoth 102 moves! Though both the players enjoyed a considerable advantage at some point in the game, they both could not play precisely to convert their advantage.
Indian women face another lower seeded team in Netherlands in the ninth round on Sunday.