Coming back after a day of rest, the Indian contingent had a tough task to accomplish in the sixth round of the World Chess Olympiad in Batumi, Georgia. The team was facing stiff opposition in both open and the women’s segments. In the open group, the team was pitted against the second seed of the tournament, Russia. The women were playing the tournament leaders, the United States of America.
Even though Russia were the on-paper favourites, they could not have underestimated the Indian team. With three grandmasters rated above Elo 2700, India were very capable of scoring an upset. The Russians were well aware of this and came up with an interesting match strategy — they rested their top board player, Sergey Karjakin.
The idea behind was, perhaps, to pit Anand against Nepomniachtchi. This was because Anand has a bad record against Nepomniachtchi. In classical chess, the two have played each other six times. While three of those games were drawn, Anand had won once and Nepomniachtchi had two victories to his name. In comparison, Karjakin’s record against Anand wasn’t this impressive. In the 20 games they have played, 15 have been drawn. Anand has won four times while Karjakin has just beaten Anand once. It was obvious that India would not have dropped Anand in an important match like this, so dropping Karjakin guaranteed a Neponiachtchi-Anand bout.
Nepomniachtchi had the white pieces in the game and had completely out-prepared Anand in the opening. In the Mikenas variation of the English Opening, Nepomniachtchi uncorked a novelty on the 11th move that had clearly caught Anand off-guard. Breaking open in the centre, the Russian grandmaster got a strong position out of the opening. Anand wasn’t too badly off but was clearly caught in preparation.
On his 17th turn, Anand gave up his castling right by moving his king up the board. Although castling would have been a completely sensible move at this point, Anand’s decision may have been inspired by his wish to sidestep his opponent’s preparation.
Around the 20th move, Anand subtly offered a draw by repeating the position twice. In doing this, however, he landed in a clearly worse position. Nepomniachtchi did not find the right way to exploit this but he did break the repetition to avoid an immediate draw and kept an edge in the position.
As play progressed, Anand was almost on the brink of a loss but some bad choices by Nepomniachtchi allowed Anand to come back in the game. Queens and rooks were traded-off soon afterward, and the consequent position was just equal. The game went on until the 43rd move but neither player was in any trouble in the ensuing endgame.
The game between Vidit Gujrathi and Nikita Vitiugov was the first to finish in the match. Playing against Vitiugov’s king’s pawn opening, Vidit put his faith in the Open variation of the Ruy Lopez yet again. Both players were perfectly comfortable with their position out of the opening. Vitiugov came up with a novelty in the game but this did not make much of a difference. After some minor skirmishes on the queenside and the centre, players agreed to a draw in 31 moves.
With these two games drawn, India had a slight advantage as Indian players had the black pieces in both of the games. However, Vladimir Kramnik, despite having black against Harikrishna, a grandmaster rated well above Elo 2700, was playing very ambitiously. Essaying a rare line of the Nimzo Indian Defence, Kramnik had flung his kingside pawns forward. This looked extremely risky given that black’s king had castled on the same wing.
Harikrishna’s position did not look any less precarious either. He had his caught in the centre and if Kramnik could have managed to open up the position in time, Harkrishna would have been in deep trouble. On the 22nd move, however, the Indian number two forced a liquidation of the position that left the players in an equal endgame. Kramnik tried all the tricks up his sleeve but Harikrishna parried all threats perfectly. After trying one last trick on his 44th turn, Kramnik agreed to a draw.
Adhiban Baskaran, or the beast, as he likes to call himself, went after his opponent from the word ‘go’ in the sixth round. Very early in the game, Adhiban gave up a pawn. His 10th move, 10.h4 was a novelty in the line of the Queen’s Gambit that was on the board. The position, although equal, was much easier for Adhiban to play. But Jakovenko also did well in finding his way out of the woods. Returning his extra material at the right moment, Jakovenko liquidated into an endgame where both sides had two rooks and a light squared bishop. More pieces were exchanged as play progressed and a draw was agreed upon on the 48th move.
In the women’s group, India came very close to defeating the tournament leaders, the United States of America, in the sixth round. About three and a half hours into the round, Koneru Humpy and Tania Sachdev had put India in a 2-0 lead scoring back to back victories. In the remaining two games, all India needed was one draw to win the match. But that looked a bit difficult given the situation in the remaining games.
For the second game in a row, Harika Dronavalli was in a losing position. The big difference this time was that her opponent was a strong and experienced Grandmaster —Irina Krush — who was not going to let her off the hook as easily. In the rook and pawn endgame, Krush had the better pawn structure as well as piece activity. Making the most of her trumps, she won several of Harika’s pawns and forced a resignation after 57 moves of play.
All eyes were now on the game between 16-year-old Jennifer Yu and IM Eesha Karavade. If Karavade managed to hold to a draw, India would have taken the match; if Yu pulled out a win, the match would end in a draw. Yu was a pawn up in the endgame but a win was far from sight. The presence of bishops of opposite colours made it even more difficult for Yu to win.
However, Yu kept pushing, trying to create chances. Once the kingside had been liquidated, Yu’s chances began to look bright. In addition, Karavade had made some inaccuracies that had won Yu another pawn. On her 48th turn, Yu found a strong exchange sacrifice that finished the game on the spot. Karavade limed on for a few more moves but decided to resign after losing her last pawn on the 55th move.
While USA kept its lead with this draw, it is no longer the sole leader in the tournament. Georgia 1, after a win in the sixth round over Georgia 2 has joined the USA in the lead. India is currently fifth on the leaderboard and will play the tournament co-leader Georgia 1 in the next round.
In the open group, the Indian team is in 14th place at the moment. In the next round, India will play Egypt. Egypt is the 40th seed in the tournament but despite their low seeding, the team has decent potential to score an upset. Nevertheless, India are still heavy favourites in terms of rating and should manage to carve out a win.
Aditya Pai is an editor at ChessBase India
Updated Date: Oct 01, 2018 12:45:52 IST