Five-time world champion Viswanathan Anand is expectedly rested for the opening tie as the fifth seed Indian men take on El Salvador in the 43rd Chess Olympiad here Tuesday. After a glittering and probably the best ever opening ceremony in any Olympiad that was a mix of performances by the local stars, its time now to set the clock rolling and start the biggest biennial chess event.
Anand, being one of the most respected player in the competition was called for the ceremonial draw of lots that gave top seeded United States and India white colour on the top board in the first round. Each match will be played over four boards and the team scoring 2.5 points in all will be declared the winner. The points awarded are called Match points which means two points are awarded for every win, one for a drawn 2-2 result and none if a team scores less than two.
Like India, defending champions USA also rested top rated Fabiano Caruana in the first round clash against Panama and as if on cue, Russians gave a day off to their biggest star Vladimir Kramnik. The biggest absentee in the Olympiad this year is reigning world champion Magnus Carlsen and Norwegians, who finished a creditable sixth last year. The other notable absence is that of Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria but that is because Bulgarian team is not playing this time.
The first round looks like a walk in the park for the Indian men with over 400 rating points separating each member from their respective opponents. While the going is expected to get tougher after each round, the real challenge may not come till the fourth round when some relatively big clashes are expected to take place.
Apart from the fancied, United States, Russia, China and Azerbaijan, a young Iranian team might just come knocking on the doors and can trouble the best. The team is headed by recently crowned world junior champion Parham Maghsoodloo on the top board and has an average age of less than twenty years with all players already attaining the Grandmaster title.
Meanwhile, in the women’s section the Indian eves can also fancy for a 4-0 opening round rout against New Zealand. Out of action for almost two years, Koneru Humpy has been given the chance to get back in competitive mode and the other Indian Grandmaster D Harika has taken a drop instead. Humpy’s form will be crucial if Indian women have to win a medal here.
Russian women start as the top seed this time as top Chinese player Yifan Hou is not playing for her team. Ukraine is seeded second ahead of China and the local favourite Georgia is seeded fourth. While there could be individual upsets on some boards, it is unlikely that any top team will go down in the opening round.