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World Youth Olympiad: India win their second straight silver with inspiring show from GM Arjun Erigaisi and Sankalp Gupta

The World Youth Under-16 Championship came to a close on Sunday evening in Konya, Turkey with Uzbekistan taking the title prize. The Indian team finished second after scoring back-to-back wins in the final three rounds while China bagged the third spot. The event had attracted forty-six teams from 39 countries that included four Grandmasters and fifteen International Masters.

 World Youth Olympiad: India win their second straight silver with inspiring show from GM Arjun Erigaisi and Sankalp Gupta

The Indian team with its non-playing captain, GM Narayanan Srinath (extreme left). Image courtesy: wyco2018.tsf.org.tr

Seeded third, the Indian team comprised of GM Arjun Erigaisi, IM P Iniyan, Sankalp Gupta, Koustav Chatterjee and WIM Divya Deshmukh. Erigaisi, the only Grandmaster in the team, was clearly the ‘MVP’ of the squad. Scoring an undefeated 7/9 with five wins and four draws, he bagged an individual silver for his performance on board one. Gupta, who played on board three, also took home a bronze medal for his 5/8 performance.

Although India were one of the favourites in the tournament, the road to the top wasn’t quite as easy. After revving up with three straight victories in the beginning, the team suffered its first setback by losing to the much lower-ranked Belarusian team in the fourth round. While quick draws were seen on the top three boards (where the Indian players were higher rated), the Belarusian team struck on board four as Deshmukh lost with white against Maksim Tsaruk in a complicated 2.Bg5 Dutch.

Two rounds later, the team suffered a second loss at the hands of the top-seeded Uzbekistan. But this time, it wasn’t a close call with three draws and a loss. The Uzbeks won with a commanding 3-1 margin. The only silver lining was Erigaisi’s win over Nodirbek Abdusattorov on the top board.

Abdusattorov, as black, went for the solid lines of the Berlin Defence in response to Erigaisi’s 1.e4. As is routine in the Berlin, an equal position was reached out of the opening and a mass exchange of pieces followed. At the end of the sequence, however, Erigaisi had a slight pull on the position because of the passivity of black’s dark squared bishop.

A crucial moment came on the 26th move when the Uzbek Grandmaster made an inaccuracy that eventually cost him his bishop. Abdusattorov tried hard to remain in the game by exchanging as many pawns as possible but by the 51st move, Erigaisi had clarified the situation and forced resignation.

On board two, Iniyan was thoroughly out-prepared by Nodirbek Yakubboev. In a 3.g3 King’s Indian, Iniyan was caught off guard by an opening novelty by the Uzbek International Master and ended up shedding a piece very early in the game. The position, almost immediately liquidated into an endgame after this. Iniyan had two pawns as compensation but after 55 moves of play, Yakubboev managed to prove the superiority of his extra piece.

Javokir Sindarov, the 12-year-old Uzbek sensation, stormed Gupta’s King in a Ruy Lopez Steinitz on the third board while Chatterjee lost with black in a French Defence game after making some errors in the endgame on the fourth.

Despite their humbling loss in the sixth round, the Indians came back strongly beating some very strong teams in the final three rounds. In round seven, India scored a commanding 3-1 win over the second seeded Russian team and then again in the penultimate round, they won against Azerbaijan, the fourth seeds of the tournament.

In the final round, India were pitted against Iran. Being the fifth ranked team by rating average, the Iranians were no pushovers. On the top board, Erigaisi was to take on Alireza Firouzja. Some months ago, GM Ivan Sokolov had dubbed Firouzja to be the next Viswanathan Anand and the lad was proving the truth in his tutor’s words. By this point in the tournament, Firouzja had scored 7.5 points out of a possible 8 and was in top form.

Erigaisi, on the other hand, was also having a good event. He hadn’t lost a single game thus far and had a decent 6.5/8 by the penultimate round. In the game, however, none of the players seemed to be in the mood for a full-blooded battle. A Gruenfeld Defence was essayed by Firouzja and after just 16 moves of play, a draw was agreed.

The games on boards two and three also did not produce any decisive results either. Iniyan drew against Amirreza while Gupta held Gholami Orimi Mehdi. India were tied at the third place with Iran after the penultimate round and since Iran had a better tiebreak score, a draw could have meant losing out on a podium finish.

On the fourth board, Deshmukh had the white pieces against Mohtare Asadi. As black, Deshmukh had played the Scheveningen Sicilian and had reached a better position out of the opening. In the middle game, the Indian fourth boarder sacrificed a couple of pawns to get an attack going on the kingside. While this looked dangerous, the computers gave her opponent an edge after this. Deshmukh went on with her attack, nevertheless, and managed to induce mistakes from her opponent. On her 34th turn, Asadi made a grave error that gave Deshmukh a mating attack and by the 40th move, Deshmukh had brought home the bacon.

This is India’s second straight silver at the World Youth (U-16). Last year, the team had finished behind Russia, having scored seven wins, one draw and a loss. An important difference this time, however, was that the team was missing two of its biggest stars, R Praggnanandhaa and Nihal Sarin.

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Aditya Pai is an editor at ChessBase India

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Updated Date: Dec 03, 2018 22:22:12 IST

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