Online Olympiad Day 3: India beats China, tops Pool A and is through to the Quarter-Finals
What a brilliant day it was for team India at the FIDE Online Olympiad 2020. We began trailing China with one point. Two Asian superpowers notched up one victory after another before they clashed against each other in the final round of the Group stage. A lot was at stake as the winner would get a direct berth in the Quarter finals and would save time and energy of playing in the pre quarter finals. The Chinese team with Ding Liren, Yu Yangyi, Hou Yifan and Ju Wenjun looked invincible, but the junior boards were the ones where their weakness lay. Praggnanandhaa and Divya rose up to the occasion to give India a resounding 4-2 victory over China and a direct berth in the Quarter-finals!
Day three of the FIDE Online Olympiad 2020 began with some stress for team India. While things were going completely fine over the board, it was the off the board stuff - internet issues, power failures which was creating the tension. At the same time we had three tough games on our hands against Georgia, Germany and China.
The Indian team showcased all that one would ask from them - when one player would fumble, others would chip in, when the back would be against the wall, they would wriggle out of the mess and save the team. Day three started with a 4-2 win againt Georgia, followed by a 4.5-1.5 clinical display against Germany and finally a 4-2 win against China!
4-2 win against Georgia
Vishy Anand agreed to a quick draw from the white side of the Caro Kann against Levan Pantsulaia. Humpy also did not put too much pressure on Meri Arabidze. Harika had a perfectly fine position, but she messed it up and lost to Nino Batsiashvili. The onus was now on Harikrishna, Praggnanandhaa and Divya as India were down 2-1. The bad news was that Harikrishna was clearly worse in his game against Luka Paichadze, while Praggnanandhaa and Divya were better in their own games. It seemed like we were going for a 3-3 finish when Harikrishna slowly began to reverse the tide of his game against Luka Paichadze. He first got a drawish position, but later managed to even outplay his opponent. This was just another game where Harikrishna showed how good he is in the final phase of the game. Praggnanandhaa was better throughout the game, but at some point lost the thread. His opponent had a drawing possibility whicch he did not capitalize upon. Once that happened Pragg managed to romp home with the full point. Divya's play in the tournament has been an absolute joy to watch. She played another amazing game to very nearly checkmate her opponent Diana Lomaia. But Divya missed a few opportunities and the game was going towards a draw. A final error by the opponent meant that Divya won the game, and India the match with a score of 4-2.
Beating Germany 4.5-1.5
It was the captain leading from the front in this match that gave India a comprehensive victory against Germany. Vidit was in grave trouble against Rasmus Svane, but managed to hang on. When his opponent wasn't able to find the win, Vidit began to put pressure on him and that's where Rasmus lost the thread and the game. Harikrishna was completely lost against Matthias Bluebaum. However, he managed to save himself with a miraculous defense in the endgame. Harika drew very quickly against Lara Schulze. Vantika got an opening advantage against Jana Schneider and never really let the advantage slip by. She was flawless and gave India the win it needed. Bhakti Kulkarni was clearly worse out of the opening against Filiz Osmanodja. But a speculative exchange sacrifice by the German player meant that the initiative was in Bhakti's grasp. She converted the win quite effortlessly. The most exciting game of the day was definitely Roven Vogel vs Nihal Sarin. The game that began with a slow and solid exchange Slav soon turned into a slugfest when Nihal's queen was trapped. Nihal got a rook, a minor piece and a pawn in return, which was adequate compensation for the queen. Very soon Nihal coordinated his pieces much better and was on his way to victory. It was one of those rare occasions when the lack of time hindered Nihal from winning his game. In grave time pressure he repeated the moves and the game ended in a draw. A 4.5-1.5 win for team India. Very convincing.
Look at how Harikrishna fought until the very end and drew the game!
The match of the tournamet - India stuns China 4-2
When facing a team as strong as China, you really need a strategy for yourself. As vice captain N. Srinath mentioned after the match - the idea was to stay solid on all four top boards and let the two junior boards do the damage. Things panned out just the way we had planned. Vidit Gujrathi was solid as a rock against Ding Liren on board no.1, not giving his Chinese opponent any chances of an advantage. Harikrishna had a slightly worse position against Yu Yangyi, but saving such positions has become quite customary for Harikrishna and he managed to do so without too many difficulties. Humpy offered a draw to Hou Yifan in a slightly better position, but the Chinese players declined it. The game went on for quite a few moves, but it was always a slight edge for Humpy, who had no issues holding the World no.1 women player. Women's World Champion Ju Wenjun had a very pleasant position out of the opening against Harika. However, the Indian GM fought back strongly and held the game to a draw. This left the two youngsters Pragg and Divya facing Liu Yan and Zhu Jiner respectively. Pragg was completely better out of the opening against Liu Yan, but couldn't breakthrough. After a point he was staring defeat, when his opponent started making bad decisions. Pragg managed to keep control and went on to win the game. Divya's game against Zhu Jiner was equally exciting. Divya played the very complex Sicilian Classical variation. Her opponent tried to force matters in the center to win a pawn, but the resulting position was in Divya's favour. Very soon she reached a winning endgame. But time pressure did not allow Divya to convert the game. Just when it seemed the game would end in a draw, Zhu Jiner blundered and Divya won the game. India posted a 4-2 win against China. A resounding win for team India!
The Livestream for day three
The live stream of day three of the Online Olympiad 2020 was held on the ChessBase India channel. It was a high energy stream which lasted three and a half hours. When the match against China was going on, there were 31,000+ concurrent live viewers! It was a huge stream with IM Sagar Shah and Amruta Mokal doing the commentary, India's famous stand-up comedian Samay Raina being the host. Towards the end we had more than half of the Indian team joining in the stream including Vishy Anand and it was a moment to behold.
Some of the important time stamps are given below:
Ind vs Georgia 14:25
Surya Ganguly enters 59:26
Nisha Mohota enters 1:02:37
India vs Germany 1:14:05
Soumya Swaminathan enters 1:58:19
SL Narayanan enters 1:59:48
Ind vs China 2:12:58
Vidit enters 2:39:01
Blacklotus op 2:39:56
Adhiban enters 2:56:38
Tania Sachdev enters 2:58:25
Srinath enters 3:00:35
Nihal enters 3:03:54
Pragg enters 3:07:56
Vaishali enters 3:09:38
Harika enters 3:10:03
Divya enters 3:10:32
Vishy Anand enters 3:21:10
Adhiban's roast by Vishy: 3:25:58
A big thanks to our YouTube viewer (Sonot Me) for the time stamps)
Some memorable tweets:
What lies ahead of us?
Because we finished first in our group, we have qualified directly to the Quarter Finals. There will be eight teams who will be fighting it out in the pre-quarter finals. The winner of Greece and Armenia takes on India. The Preliminary rounds will take place on 27th of August while the Quarter finals will be on the 28th. If you look at the draws closely you realize that India has excellent chances to reach the finals. It is very likely that we will face Armenia as it is the stronger team on paper. If we manage to beat them, Azerbaijan seems the most probably opponent. And if we do manage to beat the Azeris then we will reach the finals. In the other half of the draw, it is likely that China will beat Ukraine and take on USA while Russia remains the favourite to reach the semi-finals. The Quarter finals between USA and China will be a mouth watering one. But whichever team wins, it is going to be extremely difficult to dethrone Russia. If all the things go as per plan, then team India will meet Russia in the finals on the 30th of August 2020. But there are the many ifs on the way and we will have to wait and watch if the favourites on the paper are able to convert it into points on the board.
Rules of the Knock-outs:
a) Twelve teams qualified from Stage 1 play a knock-out tournament.
b) Each duel consists of two matches. In the first match, the first-named team in a duel has white on the odd-numbered boards and black on the even-numbered boards in the first match; and white on the even-numbered boards and black on the odd-numbered boards in the second match.
Tiebreaks of Knockouts:
In the event of drawn duel, the tie is broken with an Armageddon game. A drawing of lots is done automatically by HIP to determine in which of the four categories (Article 2.4) the Armageddon game is to be played. The captain of each team shall nominate one player, from the respective category. Once one player for each team has been nominated, there is a drawing of lots to determine which player can choose whether they play white or black. The time limit for the Armageddon game is 5 minutes for white, and 4 minutes for black, with no increment. If the player with the white pieces wins the game, his/her team wins the duel. If the player with the black pieces wins or draws the game, his/her team wins the duel.