Anand to be mentor as AICF names biggest-ever Indian squad for 44th Chess Olympiad

Vidit Gujarati and Koneru Humpy will lead the main men’s and women’s teams at the 44th Chess Olympiad to be held in Chennai from July 28-August 18 this year.

The All India Chess Federation (AICF) on Monday announced a 20-member squad, the country’s biggest-ever, for the mega event that India is hosting for the first time.

India being the host is entitled to field two teams each in the Open category as well as the women’s section for the first time.

With two teams in the fray in each section, it has obviously bolstered the medal chances for the hosts at the 14-day event which is expected to attract top chess players from more than 150 countries.

Gujrathi, who led India to gold medal in the 2020 Chess Olympiad, held virtually, will have the seasoned Grandmasters Pentala Harikrishna and Krishnan Sasikiran besides youngsters, Arjun Erigaisi, 19, and SL Narayanan representing India’s main team in the Open section.

While Harikrishna and Sasikiran have represented India on numerous occasions, Erigaisi will be making his debut at the Olympiad along with SL Narayanan and will be the ones to watch out for. Erigaisi has been impressive in the last year while Narayanan too has impressed because of his solid style.

On the other hand, the second team will comprise young talents, who have been making headlines with their consistent performances in the last couple of years, including Praggnanandhaa R, Nihal Sarin, Gukesh D and Raunak Sadhwani. They will be making their debuts at the Chess Olympiad. The team will also have experienced player Adbhiban B, who was a part of the Indian side which won the bronze medal in 2014.

“Opportunity to field two teams at the Chess Olympiad opens the door for many young Indian talents to showcase their game at the biggest stage which otherwise would have been possible after a wait of probably another couple of years. It’s a huge opportunity for them so early in their careers. Teams look strong and have a good mix of experience as well as young talents and I’m confident that they will make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I wish all the members the best luck for the event and their preparations,” AICF Secretary Bharat Singh Chauhan was quoted as saying in a release on Monday.

The Indian women’s teams will have the experienced duo of Koneru Humpy and World No. 10 Harika Dronavalli along with the prolific Tania Sachdev and youngsters R Vaishali and Bhakti Kulkarni, who will be making their debuts.

The second team in the women’s section will consist of three national champions — Soumya Swaminathan, Mary Ann Gomes and Padmini Rout along with Vantika Agarwal and 15-year-old Divya Deshmukh.

The five-time World Champion Viswanathan Anand, who decided against playing the upcoming Chess Olympiad, will be the mentor of the Indian teams, the AICF announced.

“I am playing very few events these days and after playing many Olympiads, I thought it was time for the younger ones to play. India has many talented youngsters like Nihal, Praggnanandhaa, Gukesh, Arjun and a few more,” said Anand, who will be playing a couple of rapid and blitz events on the Grand Chess Tour, including Superbet Rapid and Blitz Poland (May 17-24) and Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz (August 24-31) among others this year.

Interestingly, Praggnanandhaa and Vaishali will be the second set of siblings to represent the country at the same Olympiad after N Saritha and N Sudhakar Babu, who played in 1988’s edition held in Greece.

GM Pravin Thipsay will be the Head of the delegation while GM Srinath and GM RB Ramesh will be the coach for the first team and second team in the Open section respectively. GM Abhijit Kunte will be the coach of the Women’s first team and GM Swapnil Dhopade for the second team.

India won a bronze medal at the Tromso Chess Olympiad in 2014. While in the two virtual Olympiads, India won gold jointly with Russia in 2020 and the women’s team won bronze in 2021.

Many Indians have won individual medals on various boards in the Olympiad.




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