Batumi Chess Olympiad 2018: With Viswanathan Anand rested, India claim dominating wins in open and women's groups
Batumi Chess Olympiad: With Viswanathan Anand rested, India kick off with dominating wins in both groups
The 43rd edition of the World Chess Olympiad went underway in Batumi, Georgia on Monday. From the Indian perspective, this is quite a special year given that the country had sent its strongest teams in both Open and Women’s categories. Moreover, the team was to see Viswanathan Anand return to the team after a 12 year hiatus. Koneru Humpy has also come back to the board after a two-year long layoff and will be seen playing on board one in the women’s group.
In both groups, the Indian team is seeded fifth. In a tournament where 189 countries had participated, such a high seeding meant easy opposition for the Indian side. In the inaugural round, the Open team faced El Salvador while the Women’s team was pitted against a modestly rated New Zealand.
While it is mostly a good thing to be the stronger team, the stronger players could also become targets in the early rounds. In the open group, all of the Indian players were rated more than 400 points higher than their opponents. While wins were scored on the first three boards, the second most experienced member of the Indian team after Anand, GM Krishnan Sasikiran was held to a draw by Burgos Figueroa.
Rated only 2222, Figueroa was 450 points below the Indian No 5. Sasikiran had even managed to get a better position from the black side of an English Opening. Post the opening, white’s king was stuck in the centre and prospects of an attack on this king had given black a considerable edge in the position. On the 22nd move of the game, Figueroa offered an exchange of queens which Sasikiran, quite surprisingly, accepted.
The queen exchange had rendered the position almost equal. Although black did keep a small edge in the position after this, the queen exchange had simply erased any hopes of an attack on the white king. Sasikiran tried hard and even gave up a pawn to generate some chances but white’s position turned out to be too solid to crack. After 52 moves of play, Sasikiran decided to split the point.
The team had decided to rest Anand in the opening round and the top board was, therefore, occupied by Pentala Harikrishna. Hari had the white pieces against Jorge Giron and hardly had to break a sweat to win. Giron essayed the French Defence with the black pieces but made a few anti-positional moves in the early stages. Consequently, Harikrishna had secured a material advantage within the first 15 moves. The rest of the game was merely a mopping up operation for the Indian No 2 which he accomplished comfortably.
On board two, Vidit Gujrathi played a sharp Sicilian Najdorf only to be faced with an enterprising but thematic sacrifice from his opponent, Ricardo Chavez. But showing some top notch calculation, Vidit took the offered piece stood strong against the subsequent attack. Vidit had to make some awkward king moves in the middle game but Chavez’s play soon turned from audacious to overambitious. In the razor sharp position that had ensued, he miscalculated and lost in 23 moves.
Adhiban Baskaran chose to go off-road in the opening against Daniel Arias. With the white pieces, he went for the rarely played Alapin variation of the Sicilian Defence. Arias was, perhaps, unprepared for this and was soon in an inferior position. On his 23rd turn, Adhiban plunged into the enemy camp with a strong knight sacrifice which eventually gave Adhiban a lead in material. Just seven moves later, Arias decided to throw in the towel.
In the women’s group, too, the team scored rather easy wins on boards one three and four. However, on the second board, where IM Tania Sachdev had replaced GM Harika Dronavalli, who had been rested for the round, the Indian team had almost come to the brink of defeat.
Tania was rated almost 500 points over her opponent Vyanla Punsalan. However, things went badly wrong for the Indian number three quite early in the game. Kicking off with a Leningrad Dutch, Punsalan got into a dominating position after finding a knight sacrifice that left her a pawn ahead. Sachdev, on the other hand, had a very passive position and was about to lose another pawn. ‘
Despite the grim situation, Sachdev chose to fight until the end. With great determination and a bit of misplay on her opponent’s part, Tania managed to limp on to an equal rook endgame. And here again, she gave her team – and the Indian fans – a big scare by grabbing a pawn on her 41st turn. Had Punsalan found the right sequence, it would have been lights out for the Indian. But Punsalan failed to find the best moves yet again. In the remainder of the game, Punsalan’s position went from equal to worse and, by the 67th move, Tania had managed to bring home the full point!
With Tania’s victory, the women’s team managed to score a clean 4-0 sweep. In round 2, India will play Austria in the Open group while the women play against Venezuela. While India would again be the favourite to win in both groups, the Austrian team, with its three grandmasters can pose a threat to the Open team.
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