Having drawn against the second seed of the tournament, Russia, in the sixth round, the Indian team was paired to play against Egypt in the seventh round of the World Chess Olympiad in Batumi, Georgia. Egypt is a much weaker team in comparison to India but with two strong grandmasters on the top two boards, the Egyptian team was well capable of putting up strong resistance.
Anand was paired to play against GM Bassem Amin. Besides being the best chess player in Egypt, Amin is also known for being the first player from the African continent to cross the 2700 rating threshold.
In the game, Bassem had the black pieces. He countered Anand’s king’s pawn opening with the Ruy Lopez and drifted into the Breyer variation of the opening. From the very start, Bassem looked confident and as the game progressed, it was clear that the Egyptian had thoroughly prepared the line.
On his 16th turn, Bassem came up with a novelty that unsettled Anand. After the game, the coach and non-playing captain of the Indian open team, GM RB Ramesh pointed out that Bassem’s 15th and 16th moves were noteworthy as he had slightly changed the move order to achieve a thematic pawn break in the centre. GM Ramesh also mentioned that this slight change in the move order had open several possibilities and it was difficult to calculate everything, especially if one was unprepared.
Vishy, therefore, chose to keep complete equality by trading his bishop for the black knight. A few tactics were in the air after this but both players were well in quite comfortable with their position. Several pieces were traded off soon after this and a draw was agreed between the players after 35 moves of play.
On the second board, Pentala Harikrishna was pitted against the second experienced Egyptian Grandmaster, GM Ahmed Adly. For Adly, unlike his colleague on the top board, the opening phase of the game turned out to be disastrous. In less than 15 moves in an Open Catalan, he was a whole piece down.
In fact, Adly had a perfectly playable position when he made a one move blunder on his 14th turn, while trading off a bunch of minor pieces. But although Harikrishna was a full piece up, his extra piece — the knight — was trapped in enemy territory. Harikrishna had the knight defended but it seemed unlikely that it would make it out of the trap. At the same time, Adly had to restrict his rook to the first rank of the board to keep the enemy knight trapped.
Harikrishna made the most of the situation by improving his position as much as he could while Adly rounded up the trapped knight. When the time was right, the Indian number two simply gave up his extra piece for a couple of pawns and got a winning position. The remainder of the game was simply a mopping up operation for Harikrishna, who forced resignation by the 42nd move.
In the lower half of the match-ups, India had a clear advantage. Many believed that Indians were sure to rake points on boards three and four. Quite shockingly, the biggest upsets of the match came from one of these boards.
On board three, Vidit Gujrathi had the white pieces against Adham Fawzy. The 19-year-old Fawzy, with a rating of 2431 was clearly the underdog in this matchup. Vidit not only has more experience but is also rated around 300 points higher.
The game had begun with a Queen’s Gambit. Vidit had the white pieces in the game but, because of the opening he had chosen, was unable to get anything much out of the opening. Queens were traded on the seventh move and a slow, positional battle became the theme of the middle game.
This style of play is right up Vidit’s alley. Little by little, he began to improve his position and acquired a pleasant edge. On his 30th turn, however, Vidit missed a tactical shot that could have retained his advantage. While the position was still equal, Fawzy got decent play with his knights. Somehow, Vidit began to lose focus around this point and had ended up in a lost position by the time the first time control was reached.
A trade of rooks and knights that followed after this gave Fawzy a strong passed pawn on the queenside. Soon after this, Fawzy won another pawn and forced resignation on the 56th move.
This was a big shock for India — not only because Vidit had suffered a huge upset but also since now the Egyptian team had caught up in terms of score. Sasikiran, who was playing on board four against Hesham Abdelrahman, was now in a must-win situation if India were to win the match.
With the black pieces, Sasikiran had also not achieved much out of the opening in terms of an advantage but had definitely managed to equalise. In a Symmetrical English Opening, he had a space advantage and that was enough for him to keep pushing.
Combining his space advantage with a pawn storm on the kingside, Sasikiran acquired a serious edge by move 20. Abdelrahman managed to force a queen trade by the 34th move but it was already too late; his pieces were in a complete bind.
Sasikiran won a pawn a couple of moves later and continued his initiative on the kingside with his rook and knights. By the 50th move, Abdelrahman was forced to give up a piece in order to avoid mate; four moves later, he decided to throw in the towel.
In the women’s segment, India’s unbeaten run so far had brought them face to face against the fourth seed of the tournament, Georgia 1. This was a closely-matched contest, even on paper. While India had higher-rated players on the top two boards, Georgia 1 had the edge on the bottom two.
The most dangerous board of all, from the Indian perspective, was board 4 where Padmini Rout was pitted against Bela Khotenashvili, who outrated her opponent by a good 130 points. However, In the game, Padmini was able to hold her ground pretty well. In the rook endgame that ensued, Khotenashvili tried to put pressure on her opponent but Padmini found all the right moves to hold on to a draw.
The top board encounter between Koneru Humpy and Nana Dzagnidze ended in a tepid draw. Humpy had the white pieces but was unable to find anything concrete out of the opening. She had a slight edge in the middle game but Dzagnidze managed to keep things under control. In the end, a draw was agreed on the 32nd move.
Harika Dronavalli had a nice initiative in the middle game against Lela Javakhishvili. The two had discussed a Symmetrical English wherein Harika managed to win a pawn on her 21st turn. However, as play progressed, the Indian number two struggled to find her way through the variations. As play progressed, Javakhishvili generated some chances by creating passed pawns in the rook endgame the players had reached. Harika kept things under control by creating a passed pawn of her own on the queen’s wing. Once the haze had cleared, all the pawns were traded off and a draw was agreed.
Tania Sachdev played the longest game of the day on board three against Nino Batsiashvili. Out of the opening, Tania seemed to be in a bit of pressure, although the position was objectively equal. An interesting moment came on the 19th move when the black knight was trapped in the centre of the board. Unfortunately for Tania, her opponent managed to save the piece by exploiting a pin in the position. There were ups and downs in the remainder of the game but neither side was seriously worse at any point. Batsiashvili tried to press in the minor piece endgame that had been reached but, unable to make progress, agreed to a draw on the 65th move.
In Round 8, India will play Hungary in the women’s group. This time, the Indian team will be a clear favourite on paper. However, all teams are highly motivated at the Olympiad and nothing can be guaranteed.
In the open segment, after their win over Egypt, India have climbed up to the fifth spot on the leaderboard. In round eight, India will face Czech Republic. Seeded fifteenth in the event, the Czech team consists of strong grandmasters like David Navara and Victor Laznicka and holds decent potential of putting up a strong fight.
Aditya Pai is an editor at ChessBase India
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Updated Date: Oct 02, 2018 11:14:08 IST