By Venkatachari Jagannathan
Chennai– The presence of World No.16 Grandmaster (GM) P. Harikrishna in the Indian chess team at next month’s World Chess Olympiad has not only boosted the morale of the younger players in the squad but also improved its seeding.
“The presence of Harikrishna in the team is a good morale-booster for youngsters like me,” GM Vidit Santosh Gujrathi, a team member, told IANS. “He mingles well with us. His presence in the team is an added strength,” another team member, GM S.P. Sethuraman, added.
This will be Harikrishna’s eighth chess Olympiad after debuting in the premier event in 2000 when he was only 14. Owing to his other professional commitments, he skipped the 2014 Olympiad, where India won a bronze for the first time.
“As usual, we had asked for his availability for the tournament to represent the country and he agreed,” All India Chess Federation (AICF) CEO Bharat Singh Chauhan told IANS.
The 11th seeded Indian team for the open category comprises GMs Harikrishna (ELO rating 2752), Gujrathi (2669) B. Adhiban (2671), Sethuraman (2649) and national champion Karthikeyan Murali (2514).
With the Indian team’s average ELO rating at 2651 points, its seeding went up several notches this time as compared to 18th seeding with 2617 points during the 2014 chess Olympiad at Tromso, Norway.
“The seeding is done based on the team’s average ELO points,” Sethuraman explained.
Interestingly, on the average ELO ratings of its top 10 players, India is rated at number five in the world after Russia, China, the US and the Ukraine.
India’s top 10 chess-player club includes World No.8 and former World champion GM V. Anand; India’s third highest-rated player GM Surya Shekhar Ganguly (2676); and seasoned GM K. Sasikiran (2658) who also won a board prize at the last Olympiad. But these players are not part of the team.
The absence of other top-rated players in the Indian team is also due to the selection process adopted by the AICF.
The federation selects the Indian team for top tournaments like the Asian and World championships and the Olympiad based on the players’ FIDE rating. The national champion becomes the default member of the team.
Those who have played the nationals get an additional 75 points. As a result, a lower-rated player, by virtue of getting the bonus points, can get selected ahead of others.
While accepting the AICF view that the bonus is granted so as to attract participation of top players in the nationals, many players believe 75 points too high a bonus to give away.
They also point out that some of the top professional players avoid the nationals because they run the risk of losing ELO points if they drop a game at the event.
“Losing ELO points is not a simple thing for a professional chess player as several other aspects are linked to the rating. A player is invited to participate in international tournaments based on his or her ELO ratings. Further a player’s appearance fee and other facilities are also dependent on the rating,” a GM told IANS, preferring anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the issue.
According to several chess players, top-seeded teams will draw lower-rated teams during the initial rounds, and a win in the initial rounds will be crucial for any team.
Pointing out that Anand has not been part of the Indian team for the Olympiad for a long time, Chauhan said the team is strong and youthful and has fair chances of a podium finish.
“No player is averse to representing the nation. The AICF should select only the top-rated players for prestigious events like Olympiad and others. A country’s prestige is more important,” was the sense one got after speaking to a couple of GMs and chess coaches.
They also said the competition at the global level is becoming very severe and a player’s prime time is getting lower. A player has to earn a sufficient kitty by 30-35 so that his later life is taken care of.
“The selection issue has been discussed several times and we found only the current system workable. The current Indian team is strong. It is a youthful team with a good performance to show under its belt. There is again a fair chance of a podium finish this time,” Chauhan reiterated.
If one takes out Anand and Harikrishna, the ELO rating difference between the country’s remaining top players is very small, a chess player said.
The 11-round tournament, to be held at Azerbaijan’s capital Baku, will start on September 2 and conclude on September 13. (IANS)