Not as grand as it sounds: India’s historic performance at the Chess Olympics, explained

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india first participation in the final of the Chess Olympiad is certainly a testament to its rising stature at the international level. But warnings accompany the glory. The feat is certainly historic, but India is still far from matching the performance of chess superpowers like Russia, China or the United States.

What is the relevance of the Chess Olympiad?

The Biennial Chess Olympiad, the preeminent world team tournament, is to play what the Davis Cup is to tennis, a celebration of team spirit.

But like its tennis counterpart, the Chess Olympiad is not seen as the pinnacle of greatness in the game. Rather, it is an attestation of a country’s depth of talent – it is an irony that Norway is hardly a force despite world champion Magnus Carlsen.

World No.5 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave from France or Anish Giri from the Netherlands did not reach the knockout stages. Also missing were the American duo Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura, ranked No. 2 and No. 18 respectively in the world.

In the past, Viswanathan Anand has skipped the Olympiad to focus on the World Championship.

For these reasons – chess, like tennis, is above all an individual pursuit – the Olympiad does not have the same luster as a world championship or the candidates. In the past, the chess greats have given priority to Linares and Tata Steel at the Chess Olympics.

With 163 teams competing, it’s the biggest chess tournament in the world, but not the biggest. The game itself inherently celebrated individual glory more than team triumphs. The only time the Chess Olympiad was closely watched was during the height of the Cold War. Unsurprisingly, the USSR won it most often (18 times), and even after it broke up, Russia won the gold medal six times. Former Soviet states like Armenia and Ukraine have managed to break Russia’s monopoly in recent years.

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What is the format of the Olympiad?

The large number of participants in an Olympiad only makes the fast format viable. The classic format will be too long, while the blitz seems insufficient for a tournament labeled “Olympiad”.

The format has reduced this term further due to the online participation mode – it is played over 15 minutes and with an increment of five seconds per move, compared to 25 plus 10 in previous editions.

He also made structural changes – such as the standards that at least half of the squad should consist of female players and juniors. Until this year, they were generally the top four players plus a reserve. The rationale for FIDE is that it brought more diversity, even though it upset several teams that had disproportionate gender ratios like the US and Iran. So, in effect, the Olympiad juxtaposed the usual Olympiad, a Women’s Olympiad and a Youth Olympiad, which, according to the chess world, diluted the skill level of the tournament.

The addition of the junior segment benefited India when they met China. The ultra-tough competitions between senior men and women ended in draws. But India’s juniors proved to be better than China’s, as R Praggnanandhaa dominated Yan Liu and Divya Deshmukh snuck past Jiner Zhu to give India a 4-2 victory.

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How to put India’s dream race into perspective?

Now is the perfect time for a reality check. Although five-time world champion Anand sparked a chess boom in the country throughout the 90s and 2000s, no Indian player has looked good enough to be called a suitable successor. There have been glimpses of talent, but none with the potential to beat Anand’s world – which only widens the halo around him.

WGMs Koneru Humpy and Harika Dronavalli endured mixed tournaments – they were strong against China but broke under relentless aggression from the Armenians. There, however, there is hope for the future, as Praggnanandhaa (who has only lost one of their matches) and Deshmukh put in strong performances. Nihal Sarin too, who has been in great shape this year.

India were also lucky – for example, in the quarterfinals against a formidable Armenia. Haik Martirosyan lost connection to the Net and wasted time when he was due to make his 69th move against Nihal Sarin. FIDE sternly states that if a player’s internet connection is lost, for two minutes or less, they will not only lose the match, but will also be banned from the tournament. Armenia appealed to FIDE over Sarin’s victory, but this was rejected.

By the time Martirosyan lost the connection, the game was on the edge of the knife. An angry Levon Aronian tweeted, “In our match against India, Haik Martirosyan lost in time due to http://chess.com being disconnected. We have proven that our connection is stable. It was a problem accessing http://chess.com, not on our end. All we asked was to continue this game from the same position and at the same time. Is that too much to ask? “

So, rather than seeing success as a definitive sign of India’s emergence as a chess powerhouse, it would be helpful to see it as an indicator of the potential it has to be a powerhouse. The result could thus be a catalyst for the end result.


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