CHENNAI: Pentala Harikrishna and Vidit Santosh Gujrathi will be India’s best bet, as the World Cup got underway in Khanty Mansiysk (Russia) on Tuesday. Ten Indians are in the 128-player knockout tournament. They will vie for two Candidates spots, with the winner and runner-up making the cut.
Viswanathan Anand is one of the notable absentees, along with Magnus Carlsen and World No 2 Fabiano Caruana. Anand, who opted out, will try his luck in Grand Swiss Open, slated for October. The
champion of Isle of Man tournament will qualify for 2020 Candidates.
Harikrishna has been India’s second best after Anand for the last three years. He has had a good year, finishing second in Shenzhen Masters, besides doing well in Polish Ekstraliga.Harikrishna is back in the top 20 (World No 19) after gaining eight rating points in one month. The 33-year will be looking to improve on his second-round showing in the 2017 World Cup. He is heavily favoured in his first-round match against Cuba’s Yuri Vidal Gonzalez, whom he out-rates by more than 150 rating points. If Harikrishna gets into the last eight, he can realistically hope for a top-two finish.
Vidit is coming in on a high after winning the closed GM event in Biel, ahead of Peter Leko and Samuel Shankland. The Indian has made rapid strides in the last 24 months, which also included a victory over Vladimir Kramnik in Wijk aan Zee. Working as a second for Dutch No 1 Anish Giri has made him a better player.
In the last World Cup, Vidit entered the third round before going down to eventual runner-up Ding Liren. Vidit should cross the first hurdle against Alan Pichot, who is a talented youngster from Argentina. Being a good player in all three formats (classical, rapid and blitz), Vidit can make an impact in the tournament.
Surya Shekhar Ganguly, S P Sethuraman, S L Narayanan, Abhijeet Gupta, Karthikeyan Murali, Nihal Sarin and V R Aravindh Chithambaram complete the Indian line-up.
Top seed Ding Liren might be termed as favourite in the tournament. Defeating Carlsen to win the Sinquefield Cup should spur the Chinese No 1 to make a deep run in the tournament. Considering his form, Ding will be aiming to go one better this time. Of course it will be a real challenge because of the uncertainty of the format.
Anish Giri, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Levon Aronian and Wesley So will be the other strong contenders.
Select results (Rd 1, 1st game): Anton Gujarro (ESP) bt SL Narayanan, VR Aravindh Chithambaram drew M Adams (Eng), Fedoseev (Rus) bt S S Ganguly, Vidal Gonzalez (Cub) lost to P Harikrishna, Abhijeet Gupta drew A Korobov (Ukr), Iturrizaga (Ven) lost to B Adhiban, Karthikeyan Murali drew E Inarkiev (Rus), Nihal Sarin bt J Cori (Per), A Pichot (Arg) drew Vidit Gujrathi, S P Sethuraman lost to T Nabaty (Isr).