Chess Olympiad: India’s youngsters continue winning streak

With sunken eyes and a sullen face, R. Praggnanandhaa leaned against the table as if he had lost the game against the experienced Swiss grandmaster Yannick Pelletier. The 16-year-old won the game, but due to better time control despite catching up over long stretches of the game. He had started relatively solidly with black pieces before stuttering towards the middlegame and looking on the brink of losing.

Praggnanandhaa was self-critical of his game. “My playing quality was very bad. I really feel sorry for him (Pelletier). I played badly and I’m not happy about this point. I didn’t know what I was doing, made a lot of mistakes and lost control. I didn’t know what happened,” he admitted, still unable to comprehend what went wrong.

The teenager seemed a little more hasty than usual, making what appeared to be instinctive movements rather than considering his tactics.

Midway through the game, the Swiss was in full control and Praggnanandhaa looked set for what would have been India’s first defeat of the tournament.

But he kept his nerve and saved himself from a difficult position by plugging the holes and filling over the cracks. He did the wise thing by not making adventurous sacrifices that would have proved counterproductive against an opponent who had become Grandmaster before Praggnanandhaa was born. The Swiss is 45 and has a wealth of experience, including beating Magnus Carlsen with Black in 2015.

Pelletier looked for defenses and spent too much time on his moves. But Praggnanandhaa’s coach RB Ramesh said it would be better to face a tough test earlier in the tournament than later when the clashes get tougher. “I always tell them it’s better to make mistakes now than later in the tournament. Sometimes you tend to play very aggressively at the beginning of the tournament and end up losing situations. Regardless of whether you won or lost, you should check your play to see if you made a mistake. In any professional sport, you have to be ready for any type of position and situation,” he said.

Smooth sailing

However, none of Praggnanandhaa’s teammates were afraid. D Gukesh, at his best, crushed Nico Georgiadis with a direct attacking play that rocked his opponent from start to finish. Of all the B-Team players, he seemed the most authoritative and in the most devastating form. Nihal Sarin, although prone to occasional errors, showed further signs of regaining form with a win over Sebastian Bogner, while Raunak Sadhwani, quickly proving to be a reliable player, defeated Fabian Baenziger. An unbeaten record — a perfect 12/12 — has whispers that the B-Team could finish better than the A-Team, against whom they’re half a point behind. But Ramesh is not only afraid of tougher opponents in the coming rounds, but also worried about the fatigue of the young group.

“We’re going to make sure everyone gets enough rest for the latter part of the tournament to stay fresh,” he says.

The C-Team suffered some setbacks, however, as Suryasekhar Ganguly and Abhimanyu Puranik had to settle for a draw. The A and C women’s teams also won all games, but the B team had to settle for a draw.

Among the top teams in the Open segment, Italy dealt a serious blow to Norway’s gold medal hopes as Daniele Vocaturo and Luca Morani Junior gave Magnus Carlsen and Aryan Tari draws before Lorenzo Lodici and Francesco Sonis defeated Jon Ludvig Hammer and Johan Sebastian Christiansen.

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