Buoyed by a fine performance from B Adhiban, the Indian men will take on local hopefuls Kazakhstan in the sixth round of the World Teams Chess Championship underway in Astana.
In second place past the half-way stage, the team as a whole has done remarkably well despite the absence of top stars – V Anand, P Harikrishna and Vidit Gujrathi.
While Adhiban has been the mainstay scoring four points out of his five games, Surya Shekhar Ganguly and S P Sethuraman have chipped in with important victories that helped India draw level with teams like China and England.
Top seeds Russia are firmly in front on nine match points out of a possible ten and they are now followed by India and England with seven points each. The United States are not too far behind on six points, a point clear of defending champion China and Iran.
Kazakhstan and Sweden share the seventh spot on four points each while Azerbaijan, is on three.
While it has been a good going for team India, the tougher part comes now. A victory against Kazakhstan will probably happen and then in the last three rounds, Azerbaijan, USA and Russia are the tougher matches left.
The Russians seems to be running away this year with a brilliant start. The victory over China was especially sweet for the Russians and they have the strongest claim to the gold medal at this stage.
The English team is back in the world teams after a long time and the balance on all four boards have helped them stay in contention.
If India is without three of its best players, then USA is in fact without five of its best players. Yet the Americans have done well thus far to be within striking range.
In the women’s section being organised simultaneously, the Indian eves are in joint fourth spot. Highly depleted due the non-participation of Koneru Humpy and D Harika, it seems like a daunting task for the ladies to figure amongst medals at this stage with many tough matches still remaining.
While they defeated Egypt and Armenia and drew with Georgia and Kazakhstan, the loss against Russia by 3.5-0.5 was a bit depressing and the next round will be most important as they will take on leaders China.
China on a perfect ten is two points ahead of Russia in this section. Ukraine holds the third spot with seven points while Georgia and India share the fourth spot on six points apiece.
Soumya Swaminathan, Eesha Karavade and Tania Sachdev will have to score well in the remaining four matches. On the fourth board, Bhakti Kulkarni has been quite an asset while Padmini Rout seems to be finding her form back after a bad start that saw her lose the first two games.
Pairings round 5 open: India (7) vs Kazakhstan (4); Iran (5) vs England (7); Egypt (0) vs (China (5); Sweden (4) vs USA (6); Russia (9) vs Azerbaijan (3)
Women: India (6) vs China (10); Russia (8) vs USA (5); Armenia (2) vs Ukraine (7); Kazakhstan (4) vs Hungary (2); Egypt (0) vs Georgia (6).