Going into the penultimate round of the 43rd Chess Olympiad in Batumi, Georgia, the Indian team was walking on thin ice. After the team’s loss to Armenia in the previous round, it is clear that the Indian team will no longer be gunning for gold. There is still a chance for a podium finish but that too is pretty slim.
A draw or a loss in the last two rounds would, without a doubt, mean end of the road for India, but if the team manages to win both of its last two games, it might make the cut for a medal. The chance is still slim. India might need a few results to go its way even after winning both of its games.
But no matter how slim the chance, the Indians showed that they would fight tooth and nail. In the penultimate round, the team took on the Netherlands in the open group and won the match with an impressive 3-1 score.
Since the last few rounds, India have been shuffling their board order quite well, making it difficult for their opponents to prepare in the openings. In round 10, India came out with another one of their board order surprises — Anand had been rested. In a match so important, against a team like the Netherlands which has a world-class player like Anish Giri on the top board, predicting Anand’s exclusion was almost impossible.
Harikrishna, therefore, played on the top board against Giri. With the black pieces, Harikrishna came up with a novelty on his 10th move in the Ragozin variation of the Queen’s Gambit Declined. Giri still retained a slight edge out of the opening but a mass exchange of pieces ensured Harikrishna comfortable play.
Giri managed to get a slightly better position around move 30. However, a slight misplay on the Dutchman’s part restored positional equality. More pieces were traded subsequently and by move 50, the position was completely equal. Around seven moves later, the players agreed to a draw by repeating moves.
The game between Vidit Gujrathi and Erwin L’ami was another draw. But unlike the Giri-Harikrishna game, Vidit had a strong advantage in this one. The Open variation of the Catalan had led to an equal position out of the opening but after some misplay by L’ami, Vidit was clearly on the front foot. Vidit managed to win a couple of pawns in the middle game and even liquidated the game into a heavy-peace endgame where both sides had a queen and a rook.
Soon, the rooks were also exchanged and Vidit had a decisive advantage. There was absolutely no reason for Vidit not to win this game. But the Indian number three seemed to have lost his way in the queen endgame and began to make errors. L’ami had no other options than giving checks and Vidit failed to find a way to put an end to these perpetual checks. The game went on for 140 moves but, in the end, Vidit had failed to stop his opponent from constantly checking his king and had to concede half a point.
After two draws on the top two boards, India absolutely outshined the Netherlands on the bottom two. Adhiban Baskaran was playing veteran grandmaster Loek van Wely on board three. The game began as an Old Indian Defence but eventually transposed into the King’s Indian. Given Adhiban’s style of play, this was a perfect opening for him. On his 16th turn, Adhiban uncorked a strong piece sacrifice to create wild complications. Van Wely defended well, however. At the end of the sequence, Van Vely had two minor pieces against Adhiban’s rook and two pawns. Materially, the position might have been equal but Adhiban, with his extra pawns began to generate some very strong chances. After the last of white’s pawns was traded off, Adhiban’s pawns rolled down the board decisively. On the 66th move, van Wely was forced to give up one of his minor pieces to stop one of Adhiban’s advancing passers. White’s material deficit after this had made his position indefensible. Just a move after this, van Wely decided to throw in the towel.
On board 4, Krishnan Sasikiran had the white pieces against Jorden van Foreest. In the Spanish opening that was played in the game, van Foreest essayed a rare line which involved a bishop fianchetto on the kingside from black. While van Foreest had played the opening fairly well, he was thoroughly outplayed by Sasikiran in the middle game. By the 30th move, Sasikiran had not only won a pawn in the centre but had also got his queenside pawn majority rolling. After a trade of rooks on the 44th move, Sasikiran’s advancing pawns forced van Foreest to give up a piece. Van Foreest tried to seek counterplay against the white king but, in the end, Sasikiran’s material advantage made itself count.
With this win, India have climbed up to the sixth place on the leaderboard. In the final round, India will be facing Poland. India will be the rating favourites in this encounter. If India are able to score a win in this game, there could be strong chances of India making a podium finish. A few results would still need to go India’s way, though.
In the women’s group, the team is already out of contention for a podium finish. Nevertheless, the team fought spiritedly against Peru in the penultimate round and won with a convincing 3-1 score. Wins were scored by Harika Dronavalli, Tania Sachdev and Padmini Rout while Koneru Humpy suffered an upset with the white pieces against WGM Deysi Cori.
Aditya Pai is an editor at ChessBase India
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Updated Date: Oct 05, 2018 09:43:39 IST