Batumi Chess Olympiad 2018: India cruise to emphatic win over Canada in Open category, women held to 2-2 draw by Serbia
India continued their strong showing at the Batumi Chess Olympiad, winning in the Open category and drawing in the women's section.
The Indian team continued their phenomenal run at the 43rd World Chess Olympiad in Batumi, Georgia, by beating Canada with a convincing 3.5-0.5 score. Compared to Austria, India’s previous round opponent, the Canadian team was slightly stronger and had a rather peculiar board order.
While most teams — at least conventionally — prefer having their strongest player on the top boards, the highest rated Canadian, GM Evgeny Bareev, played on the third board. This might have been done to enable team’s strongest player score more points against the relatively weaker opposition. GM Eric Hansen, who is Canada’s third strongest player by rating, was playing on the first board and was, thereby, pitted against Viswanathan Anand.
Hansen, as he admitted after the game, had some mental consternations playing Anand. "I’ve been away for a while from the game and playing Vishy, who is the highest rated player I have played… definitely had some nerves going into the game,” Hansen said in a post-game interview.
Hansen also mentioned that he had prepared several lines against Anand but the former five-time world champion surprised Hansen. In a Spanish Opening, Anand essayed the 3…g6 line with black pieces, which has come into vogue at the top level very recently.
Hansen was clearly unfamiliar with the opening and went astray quite early in the game. A few passive moves from Hansen was all it took for Anand to gain the initiative and invade with his pieces. Anand’s position had become overwhelmingly strong within the first 25 moves. By move 33, Hansen’s knight was caught in a terrible pin and was about to be hacked off the board by force. Hansen decided to throw in the towel at this point.
Anand mentioned after the game that Hansen’s 19th move, 19.Rd1, was the cause of all his problems. While Hansen agreed with Anand’s evaluation, he also felt that his unfamiliarity with the opening also played a role. "I got into time trouble; I was pretty unfamiliar with the opening. He caught me a bit off guard there. And once I started playing passively, everything went downhill from there. So, I am a little unhappy it was almost too easy at the end,” Hansen said.
Pentala Harikrishna, who was playing on board two, won his game almost immediately after Anand's win. Hari had the white pieces against the 2513-rated Razvan Preotu. While the players followed the line played in one of Hari’s earlier games against David Navara, it did not take too long before the Indian number two carved out an edge exploiting some very minor fumbles of his opponent.
White, however, was only slightly better until the 20th move when a serious mistake by Preotu left him worse. Hari pounced immediately with a knight sacrifice. Preotu did not accept the offered material but his position was already hopeless. Desperately trying to hold on, he gave up his queen for a rook and a minor piece a couple of moves later, but this hardly helped his case. Continuing energetically, Hari forced resignation by the 33rd move.
GM Krishnan Sasikiran scored the third win of the day against GM Aman Hableton on board 4. Although Sasi won in only 28 moves, the game was marred by sloppy play from both sides.
Sasikiran had managed to get a slight edge out of a Sicilian Taimanov with the white pieces. Hambleton, however, made a serious error on his 22nd turn, walking into a queen trap. But quite surprisingly, Sasikiran did not find the right move and allowed his opponent to get away.
The tale still doesn’t end, though. Both players were completely unaware of the queen trap in the position all through the game while the evaluation of the position changed from equal to winning for white and back. On his 27th turn, Hambleton erred again and got his bishop caught in a deadly pin. This time Sasikiran did not miss his chance. Hambleton resigned immediately after this.
On board three, Vidit Gujrathi was pitted against Canada’s top player, GM Evgeny Bareev. Talking strictly in terms of rating, Vidit was the favourite. But Bareev is a very experienced veteran and definitely no easy nut to crack. The two discussed a Queen’s Indian Defence in which Vidit came up with a novelty on his 18th turn with the black pieces. But soon after this, the Indian number three found himself in an inferior position and lost a piece in the ensuing middle game.
Vidit, however, had three pawns as compensation and defended tenaciously. Bareev, too, was pressing hard to find a win. The players roughed out for more than five hours, trying to get the better of the other.
On his 51st turn, Vidit found a nice exchange sacrifice to keep get his queenside pawn mass rolling. But since Vidit was already a piece down, this entailed him being down a full rook. Bareev, however, returned the piece immediately to check the pawns. After 72 moves of play, players had reached an impasse. Bareev’s rook was tied down to stopping Vidit’s passer from advancing. Vidit, too, was unable to make any further progress due to the hindrance created by the enemy rook. Players repeated the position to sign peace at this point.
In the women’s segment, the Indian team was unable to keep up the momentum of the first two rounds. The first decisive game of the round went in favour of Serbia when IM Eesha Karavade lost to Adela Velikic. Koneru Humpy then evened the score, defeating Jovana Rapport in an unusual queen’s pawn opening, but Serbia went back in the lead when IM Padmini Rout was beaten by Teodora Injac.
Winning the match was simply out of question at this point. The best India could do was to hold on to a draw. But for that to happen, Harika Dronavali had to win her game against Jovana Eric. By this point, Harika had managed to gain the initiative. In an attempt to simplify, Eric rushed into a queen exchange on her 28th turn and this allowed Harika to push her opponent into passivity.
In the ensuing position, Harika quickly created a strong passed pawn. While Eric tried to keep Harika’s passer in check, the Indian number two plucked two pawns off the black camp. Black seemed to be in no position to defend at this point due to the passivity of her pieces and Eric decided to throw in the towel one move after the first time control.
While India managed to avoid a loss in the women’s group, they did fall off their pole position on the leaderboard. With 5 match points out of a possible 6, the team shares second place and will play the seventh-seeded Polish team in the fourth round.
In the Open group, India will play on board one against the top seed of the tournament, the United States. With three of their players among the world’s top 10, the USA will pose a very tough challenge to India but, at the same time, this pairing also gives India the opportunity to overtake the strongest team in the fray.
Aditya Pai is an editor at ChessBase India