Enjoyed the Olympic Games in Rio? Now watch the Olympic Games of chess — the 42nd Chess Olympiad, to be held at Baku, Azerbaijan from September 1-14.
While India went into the Olympics Games at Rio de Janeiro with high hopes and returned with only a silver and bronze medal, the Indian chess teams board the flight for Baku with modest hopes, despite bagging the country’s first-ever medal — a bronze — in Tromso, Norway, two years ago.
The Chess Olympiad is the third biggest sports event in the World, going by the number of participating nations, after the Summer Olympics and the FIFA World Cup as it involves around 170 countries.
It has a close connection with the Olympics too as it started in the same city that hosted the 1924 Games, though unlike the Olympics, the Olympiad is a biennial event. There was an attempt to get chess into the Paris Games of 1924 but that move was aborted over a disagreement on procedure to identify amateur players from professionals. Thus, chess was excluded from the Paris Olympics and the Olympiad was organised separately, in the same city. On the last day of the first “unofficial” Olympiad was born the Federation Internationale des Echecs (FIDE) or the world chess federation, which hosted the 1st official edition of chess’ Olympic Games in 1927.
This year’s Chess Olympiad, the 42nd edition, coming within few weeks of the Rio Olympics, will have a total of 182 teams lining up in Open section in which both men and women players can play. The women’s section will have 141 teams in the fray. The Olympiad will be played over 11 rounds of Swiss League competition at the end of which the team with most points will claim the gold medal. Teams will play over four boards in each round.
Besides, the 170-odd countries, hosts Azerbaijan will put up two extra teams while there is a place reserved for teams put up by the International Braille Chess Association, International Physically Disabled Chess Association and International Chess Committee of the Deaf.
Indian fans will have lot of hopes in both the Open and Women’s sections as teams have been given a seeding of 11 and five respectively. India was ranked 19th two years ago and bagged bronze medal in Open category and took 10th place in women’s tournament.
The team of Pentala Harikrishna, Vidit Santosh Gujrathi, B Adhiban, SP Sethuraman and Karthikeyan Murali that will take part in the Open category looks quite strong while the team of Harika Dronavalli, Padmini Rout, Soumya Swaminathan, Tania Sachdev and Pratyusha Bodda will be a contender for medal in the women’s section if they manage to play up to their rating.
Missing from action will be India’s top Grandmasters Viswanathan Anand and Koneru Humpy, both of whom like in previous years decided not to take part in the Olympiad.
The men’s team will also be without senior players K Sasikiran and Parimarjan Negi, who were part of the bronze medal winning effort. While Sasi could not make it to the team that was selected on the basis of international rating, Negi has taken a sabbatical for studies. From the 2014 team, only Sethuraman and Adhiban have retained their place in Open section team while Harika, Padmini and Tania did so in the women’s team.
With such issues in his sight, coach and non-playing captain RB Ramesh has set modest target for the team in Open section and said they are not looking at a medal. “We have not set any targets for us; we don’t want to focus on results, we want to the team to put up a good performance in each round. We are not going there to defend the bronze medal, we just want to perform to our best capabilities,” Ramesh told HT over phone from Chennai.
Ramesh has a young and inexperienced team on his hands and therefore a bit cautious of hyping up expectations though the teams are better off from two years ago going by their higher seeding.
“We won a medal in Norway because we lost only two games in 11 rounds. That’s what we want to do in Baku, don’t lose many matches. If we do that, we will be satisfied with our results,” Ramesh added. “We have to realize that there are 10 teams ranked higher than us. We have to do our best to overcome their challenge.”
Asked about the absence of senior players, Ramesh said: “You are never going to get a perfect team. We have a young team and these players are there in the team because of their rating.”
While Ramesh is captain of the team in Open section, Delhi’s Vishal Sareen will be leading out the women’s team as coach and non-playing captain.
With Harika, who recently won the FIDE Grand Prix in Chengdu, China, last month, playing on the top board, the women’s team has an average rating of 2410 and looks quite strong. Padmini Rout had won a medal for the best performance among the reserve players in Norwar. Now she is likely to play on the second board and a repeat show from her will likely put India in medal contention.