Chess Olympiad fever peaks here with Indian teams appearing primed for glory in the 44th edition of the prestigious event that starts from Thursday. With powerhouses Russia and China missing, India will be fielding three teams each in the Open and women's sections respectively.
Though the five-time world champion and legendary Viswanathan Anand has chosen not to play and donned the mentor's hat this time, the Indian teams, nonetheless, wear a formidable look.
The Indian 'A' team, seeded second behind the star-studded USA is likely to be among the main challengers for the top prize along with Norway led by Carlsen and Azerbaijan.
The youthful India 'B' squad coached by RB Ramesh, is seeded 11th and can be counted among the dark horses. The upcoming edition, which has attracted a record 188 teams in the Open section and 162 in the women's, would also see six from India in the fray.
India, as the host, could field two teams and got to field an additional team in each section as the number of entries were odd. The absence of both Russia and China does weaken the field but provides the other nations an opportunity to go for glory.
For instance, the Americans boast a line-up that includes the likes of Fabio Caruana, Wesley So, Levon Aronian, Sam Shankland and Leinier Dominiguez with an average ELO rating of 2771 and should be considered the hot favourite simply on the basis of the gulf (in average rating).
However, in a team event, especially the Olympiad, team work is also key apart from the form of the players.
India, which won a bronze in the Open event in 2014 in Tromso, Norway, tied for gold with Russia in the 2020 online Olympiad and secured a bronze in the 2021 edition. The upcoming edition provide the Indians a huge opportunity to claim the yellow metal in the over-the-board edition.
While the No.2 seeded India 'A' would consider themselves in the frame for a medal, the 'B' teams boasting of talented youngsters - D Gukesh and R Praggnanandhaa - along with Nihal Sarin, Raunak Sadhwani and the experienced B Adhiban has the ability to beat stronger teams, according to coach Ramesh.
Being a longish event, he feels the players need to find ways to keep themselves motivated through the 11 rounds and this would be crucial in the final analysis. In fact, reigning world champion Magnus Carlsen has also spoken highly of the Indian players and felt the teams could be in the reckoning for medals.
The India 'A' team comprises the seasoned P Harikrishna and the fast-rising Arjun Erigaisi, Vidit Gujrathi, who was captain when the country shared the gold with Russia in the 2020 Online Olympiad, the experienced K Sasikiran and S L Narayanan.
The 'C' team, seeded 17th, has a mix of experience and youth and with Surya Shekhar Ganguly at the forefront can be expected to spring a few surprises.
The India 'A' side is the top-seed in the women's event and will be gunning for gold with the experienced Koneru Humpy and D Harika in the ranks. Apart from the seasoned duo, the fast improving R Vaishali and Bhakti Kulkarni add further strength to the team.
The other two Indian teams could also spring surprises. The challenge for India A could come from countries such as Ukraine, Georgia and Kazakhstan, that are seeded second to fourth respectively.
The Indian teams
Open: A: Vidit S Gujrathi, P Harikrishna, Arjun Erigaisi, S L Narayanan, K Sasikiran.
B: Nihal Sarin, D Gukesh, R Praggnanandhaa, B Adhiban, Raunak Sadhwani.
C: Surya Shekhar Ganguly, S P Sethuraman, Abhijeet Gupta, Karthikeyan Murali, Abhimanyu Puranik.
Women: A: Koneru Humpy, D Harika, R Vaishali, Tania Sachdev, Bhakti Kulkarni.
B: Vantika Agarwal, Soumya Swaminathan, Mary Ann Gomes, Padmini Rout, Divya Deshmukh.
C: Easha Karvade, Sahithi Varshini. Pratyusha Bodda, P V Nandhidhaa, Vishwa Vasnawala.
What are they playing for
Winner in the Open section: Hamilton-Russel Cup Winner in the Women's section: Vera Menchik Cup 1st place in combined classification: Nona Gaprindashvili Trophy Number of teams: Open: 188 Women: 162.
Format: All the matches at the Chess Olympiad will be played in the Classical Swiss League Format.
Venue: Four Points by Sheraton, Mamallapuram (located about 58 km from Chennai).