CHENNAI: Five-time world champion, Viswanathan Anand, has opted to sit out of the upcoming Chess Olympiad at home. He decided to make way for younger talents to play in the event.
However, Anand will very much be part of the 20-member contingent as a mentor for both squads (open and women).
There are no other major surprises in a squad filled with young blood, including wunderkid R Praggnanandhaa. He will have R Vaishali, sister, for company in the team. They will be the second set of siblings to represent country at the same Olympiad after N Saritha and N Sudhakar Babu in 1998 (Greece). The team will be coached by RB Ramesh and Srinath (open first and second teams) and Abhijit Kunte and Swapnil Dhopade (women first and second teams).
"I am very happy to be named in the squad for the Olympiad. It is an honour to represent the country and I am proud. I am more pleased as my sister Vaishali is also part of the Indian team. We will give our best shot and try to bring glory for the country. We are all the more delighted to play the tournament as it is near our city at Mahabalipuram,'' said an elated Praggnanandhaa.
In the last couple of years, Praggu, as he is affectionately called, has won many tournaments. He had recently defeated World No 1 Magnus Carlsen. This will be his Olympiad debut.
"In the last few years, I have played quite a few tournaments and got good exposure. The fact that I could get the better of Carlsen has also given me the belief that if I work hard I can get the desired results. So, as such, there is no fear or undue pressure playing the Olympiad,'' he insisted.
He was also delighted to have Ramesh in his corner. "It is great to have Ramesh sir as coach. He knows my game like the back of his palm. Having him as our team coach is a big plus for us as he will meticulously prepare us for the battles ahead. Having a coach under whom you have trained is a big plus for all of us as the comfort factor will be good,'' said Praggu.
"Naturally pleased. There are players in our group who I have coached before or coaching. As an India coach, my job is to see how the players perform well as a team. No player will get extra individual attention. Having said that we have a team of very promising youngsters and an experienced player like Adhiban, so I am hopeful we will do well,'' Ramesh said.
"We would take one round at a time and prepare. In an Olympiad you cannot take any team lightly. Our preparations will be in earnest keeping in mind the player's game, the areas he needs to improve. Basic idea will be to see to that all players develop an overall strong game and mentally be prepared to take on any opposition,'' added Ramesh.
Anand was delighted to be the mentor of the Indian teams. "I am playing very few events these days and after playing many Olympiads, I thought it was time for the younger ones to play," Anand said.
Vidit Gujrathi, who led India to gold medal at the last Olympiad in 2020 (it was held online),
will be part of India's first team in open section alongside Pentala Harikrishna and Chennai-based Krishnan Sasikiran.
The 19-year-old Arjun Erigaisi and SL Narayanan will also be part of the first team. Arjun has been impressive and will be one of the players to watch out for as he makes his debut at the event along with SL Narayanan, whose solid style has been very impressive.
On the other hand, the second team will comprise young talents, who have been making headlines with their consistent performances in the last couple of years, including Praggnanandhaa, Nihal Sarin, Gukesh D and Raunak Sadhwani.
The Indian women teams will have the immensely talented Koneru Humpy and World No 10 Harika Dronavalli who have stamped their authority on many international tournaments.
The prolific Tania Sachdev will be in the first team with Vaishali and Bhakti Kulkarni, who will be making their debuts. The second team, in the women's section, will consist of national champions Soumya Swaminathan, Mary Ann Gomes and Padmini Rout along with Vantika Agarwal and 15-year-old Divya Deshmukh.