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Chess Olympiad: R Praggananandhaa stars as India storm into quarter-finals

The world under-18 champion wins all of five games at the FIDE Online Chess Olympiad, and India beats China 4-2 to top the table and reach the quarter-finals

Members of the Indian team at the FIDE Online Chess Olympiad. (Photo: twitter/Chesscom)
Members of the Indian team at the FIDE Online Chess Olympiad. (Photo: twitter/Chesscom)

At the post-match analysis of the ongoing FIDE Online Chess Olympiad, grandmaster (GM) Srinath Narayanan, the vice-captain of the Indian team, revealed what their strategy: the adult players would hold off their opponents in their respective games, the juniors would swoop in and score wins in theirs.

“We always had enormous confidence in them," he said at a discussion on ChessBase India’s YouTube channel. “We have four fantastic juniors. It’s a pity we have only two boards to play."

If the nine rounds played over the last three days are of any indication, the plan seems to have worked out splendidly. Of the 16 games between them, India’s teenage prodigies—R Praggananandhaa, Nihal Sarin, Divya Deshmukh and Vaishali R—have notched up a whopping 12 points, helping India finish on top of the table with 39.5 points. Leading the pack is Praggananandhaa, world under-18 chess champion, who's won all of five games he’s played.

The highlight was of India's first set of matches was the ninth-round win against China. India, seeded seventh, beat China, seeded second, by 4-2.

India's total score would’ve been higher had the team not lost two matches due to faulty internet connections and electricity blackouts. “In the crucial moments of Mongolia-India, in a won game there was a power failure in my area costing us the match," Vidit Gujrathi, Indian team captain, tweeted after the match on 22 August. “Same happened in Humpy's game. It's a pity to lose due to issues which are out of our control."

In an interview with Mint before the Olympiad, Gujrathi had said the Indian government and the All India Chess Federation (AICF) had all but left the players to fend for themselves. But after the loss to Mongolia, Humpy told Sportstar that the AICF had reached out to them. “They had informed Vidit and me that arrangements have been made to play our remaining matches from a five star hotel if we want to."

“Today, I’m just in awe," said GM Bhaskaran Adhiban, who was part of India’s only podium finish in the Olympiad to date—a bronze in 2014. “Given their team strength, a draw against China would’ve been more than enough. But all the players are in top form."

Except for Vishwanathan Anand. Of the four games he’s played, the former world champion drew three and lost one. Adhiban isn’t too worried though. “The score hasn’t been in his favour so far. But the more games you play, the more you get used to it," he said, referring the tournament's online-only format.

India will play its next set of matches on 27 August. While the line-up hasn’t been decided yet, games against Russia, considered the tournament favourites, would be a highly anticipated contest.

Do they have a strategy for quarterfinals yet, a panellist at the ChessBase India asked Gujrathi in the post-match interaction. Gujrathi had a pithy, if honest, response: “[We’ll] breathe for a few minutes."

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