The year was 2014 when an Indian chess team had last won a medal at a chess Olympiad. Back then, India was seeded 19th and caused quite an upset by snatching a medal under extraordinary circumstances.
The biennial event is one of the most prestigious chess competitions in the entire world. So, to win an award at this competition is nothing short of a dream come true for all professional chess players.
This year, the 44th edition of the chess Olympiad is being held in Mamallapuram, near Chennai city, to the joy and delight of millions of chess fans across India. This is sort of a homecoming of an international chess event after the fateful chess championship bout between then champion Vishwanathan Anand and current champion Magnus Carlsen was decided in the same venue back in 2013.
The return of a global chess tournament to the so-called ‘chess capital of India’, Chennai, is making headlines all over the country. With every significant competition comes the question of winners’ predictions. In this year’s premium chess event, over 180 countries are participating.
The Indian squad, consisting of 30 professionals, has been divided into six teams with five players. Three groups will contain men, while the other three will have only women. Per Olympiad rules, the men’s teams will compete in the ‘Open’ category. On the other hand, the women’s teams will have a separate category solely for women players. The Indian men’s team ‘A’ has been set up with the players Pentala Harikrishna, Vidit Gujrathi, K. Sasikiran, S. L. Narayanan, and Arjun Erigaisi.
Usually, all first teams include the strongest and most well-known players in any Olympiad. However, the trend has changed since the Indian men’s group ‘B’ contains the rising star of Indian chess – Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa.
Due to his presence on the B team, expectations are rising that the team would go on to win medals by the end of the competition. Even though this team has been seeded in the 11th position, many chess observers believe that the Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa-led team can beat all odds and secure the gold standard.
Not far from the men’s B team stands the women’s ‘A’ team, having the likes of Koneru Humpy and Harika Dronavalli. This fine women’s team has been seeded first in their draw, and they have already made a winning start in round 1.
At this year’s event, India has come under the spotlight for being the host nation and being able to field one of the most talented Indian squads in memory. Because of all its strength, the organising committee has marked India as the second seed/favourites to win gold at the competition. Only the United States has a relatively more robust team, having been historically a powerful chess-playing nation.
By adding five-time world chess champion Vishwanathan Anand as the squad mentor, the Indian sports authorities have done wonders to raise the morale of the individual players. Anand’s vast experience will surely come into play when the players begin their quest on July 29. Apart from Anand, the squad will gain a lot from a capable coaching staff comprising former grandmasters and international masters.