The Indian teams, without the services of Viswanathan Anand and Koneru Humpy, will be looking to play above their seeding in the biennial Chess Olympiad that opens at the Wow Convention Centre, Istanbul, Turkey, on Tuesday.
The chances of the Indian men’s team making it to the podium are rather slim. The squad, comprising K. Sasikiran, P. Hari Krishna, Parimarjan Negi, Abhijeet Gupta and G.N. Gopal, is seeded 13th in a field of 162 countries, the highest so far in the competition.
In the ladies section, the Indians have a better chance of a medal. The team consisting of D. Harika, Mary Ann Gomes, Tania Sachdev, Eesha Karavade and Soumya Swaminathan is seeded six.
According to the AICF secretary Bharat Singh Chauhan, Humpy had posed a pre-condition to her participation. “She insisted that the expense of her father-coach K. Ashok in Istanbul be paid by the Federation. That was too much for us.”
Anand, who last appeared in the Olympiad in Turin in 2006, has never made a secret of his “unhappiness” of being in the Olympiad. “I don’t have any expectation from such a format. So, I would say it is difficult to have expectations from any country, including Russia and Ukraine. It is so random,” the World champion told The Hindu last month.
“The Swiss format plays a role here. You can put in a lot of effort but it’s the effort in the last two rounds that matters.”
Interestingly, one of the early influences on Anand’s career, Asia’s first Grandmaster Eugene Torre, will be making a record 21st appearance in the Olympiad for the Philippines.
Torre, 60, lost his mother last Saturday but responded to the country’s call despite the personal tragedy. He will surpass the record of 20 appearances that stands in the name of Hungarian Lajos Portisch.
For once, even the World No. 1 Magnus Carlsen has chosen to skip this event. But the rest of the players among the elite — World No. 2 Levon Aronian (Armenia), Vladimir Kramnik (Russia), Teimour Radjabov (Azerbaijan), Hikaru Nakamura (USA), Fabiano Caruana (Italy) and veteran Vassily Ivanchuk (Ukraine) will be turning up for their countries. Former World No. 1 Veselin Topalov will be leading Bulgaria’s challenge.
Russia is No. 1 seed
Russia, the top seed, will be looking to win back the title it last won in 2002. Kramnik, Sergey Karjakin, Alexander Grischuk, Evgeny Tomashevsky (a replacement for an indisposed Alexander Morozevich) and Dmitry Jakovenko form a strong squad.
Defending champion Ukraine and two-time winner Armenia (2006 and 2008) will once again be among the serious contenders for the gold. In the ladies category, China — headed by World champion Hou Yifan — will be the firm favourite.
The top-15 seeds (based on a team’s average rating):
Open: 1. Russia (2769); 2. Ukraine (2730), 3. Armenia (2724), 4. Azerbaijan (2719), 5. Hungary (2708), 6. USA (2702), 7. China (2694), 8. France (2684), 9. Netherlands (2682), 10. Bulgaria (2678), 11. England (2677), 12. Israel (2676), 13. India (2673), 14. Germany (2667) and 15. Cuba (2661).
Women: 1. China (2531), 2. Russia (2513), 3. Georgia (2490), 4. Ukraine (2471), 5. USA (2419), 6. India (2412), 7. Poland (2408), 8. Armenia (2404), 9. Germany (2391), 10. Romania (2377), 11. Spain (2374), 12. Hungary (2364), 13. Bulgaria (2358), 14. France (2350) and 15. Cuba (2335).
Keywords: biennial Chess Olympiad