The second round of the Batumi Chess Olympiad was a very special one for the Indian team as it marked the comeback of Viswanathan Anand. The last time Anand played for the Indian team at an Olympiad was in 2006.
India played Austria in the Open segment. While India were favourites on paper, Austria, with their three 2500+ rated grandmasters were very capable of scoring some upsets. Anand, playing on the top board, was pitted against the top-rated Austrian, GM Markus Ragger.
For Anand, this was no surprise. “When I saw that we were playing Austria, I knew that I was going to play Markus. There was no way they could drop Markus when they play a strong team,” Anand said after the game. What did come as a surprise to him, though, was the fact that he was to have the white pieces in the game.
“Yesterday night itself, I knew who my opponent was. The only mistake I initially made was I thought I was black and then it turned out we got double white,” Anand told IM Sagar Shah.
In the initial phases of the game, Anand hardly had an advantage. The Italian had left the players in an equal middle game. Until the 24th turn, Anand himself admitted that he felt his opponent had nothing to worry about. But at that exact moment, Ragger rushed to trade queens which gave Anand some play.
“I think he went 24…Qf6 thinking it’s an easy draw, but exactly here I have my chances,” Anand said. GM Surya Shekhar Ganguly, one of Anand’s longtime seconds, also criticised Ragger’s move, calling it a strategical error which allowed Anand to open up the game and make progress.
Anand had given up the right to castle and had moved his king to the centre in the game. Due to this, opening up the position was risky as Anand’s king would have been in danger. But a trade of queens expelled any possibility of an attack on the king and allowed Anand a free hand in the centre and queenside.
Once he had the advantage, Anand maintained his stranglehold on the position till the very end. Although both sides had equal material, Anand’s pieces were simply a lot superior to their black counterparts. After 47 moves, Anand produced a positional masterpiece. Players had reached a knight endgame where Ragger was about to lose a pawn by force and decided to call it a day. Anand, however, thought that although he was winning, the position wasn’t trivial and perhaps Ragger’s resignation had come a bit too early.
Vidit Gujrathi was the quickest to win his game. Playing on board three, he had the white pieces against Andreas Diermair. The two discussed the Breyer variation of the Spanish Opening. Vidit had managed to get a clear edge in the middle game when Diermair fell into a trap set by Vidit on the 24th move. After this, the game was a cakewalk for the Indian number three.
Austrian players had the white pieces on boards two and four. Harikrishna, who was playing on the second board, was pitted against 19-year-old GM Valentin Dragnev. Dragnev opened with the Queen’s pawn and soon a Queen’s Gambit was on the board. Queens were traded on the eleventh move and the game had drifted towards a draw very early.
The queenless middle game that ensued was rather uneventful and so was the endgame that was reached, several shuffles and trades later. Dragnev had succeeded in reaching a sedate position and was heading strongly towards holding an elite grandmaster to a draw. But Hari was in no mood to give up. He fought tooth and nail to generate chances in the endgame that was reached with a rook and two bishops for both sides.
Flinging his ‘h’ pawn down the board, Hari found something that resembled an initiative, about five hours into the game. By the 57th move, he had managed to provoke his opponent into making an inaccuracy. Posing one threat after another, finished the game off with a strong exchange sacrifice that won him a full rook and, with it, the game.
The game between IM Peter Schreiner and GM Adhiban Baskaran had also begun with a Queen’s pawn opening but had eventually drifted into the lines of the Catalan. Here again, an equal position was reached out of the opening. After the queens were traded on the 20th move, the almost symmetrical pawn structure left little hope for either side. Thirty-seven moves into the game, the players repeated moves twice before mutually agreeing to a draw.
While the wonderful win in the open group was slightly blemished by the fourth board draw, Indian women’s team scored their second perfect 4-0 victory against Venezuela.
IM Eesha Karavade was the first to finish her game on board three against Manuela Rovira Contrera. In a King’s Indian Defence game, Contrera tried hard to generate an attack on the white king but her efforts backfired when the Pune-based International Master found a pawn break on the kingside that liquidated the entire kingside.
In the resulting position, Contrera had several pawn weaknesses and was also lagging in piece development. Exploiting this, Karavade gained a material edge of three pawns and eventually gave up one of her pawns to liquidate into a rook endgame. Contrera had little hope at this point and resigned a couple of moves after the rook endgame was reached.
The rest of the games were also won fairly comfortably. Every Indian player was rated at least 300 points higher than her opponent and none of the players really had to break a sweat to win their game.
The third round will pit India against Canada in the open group and against Serbia in the women’s. India will once again be the rating favourites in both groups but this time, the challenge will be a bit tougher than it was in the second round.
Aditya Pai is an editor at ChessBase India
Updated Date: Sep 26, 2018 12:24:05 IST