By Venkatachari Jagannathan
Chennai, Aug 31 (IANS) The fifth-seeded Indian women’s chess team, spearheaded by World No.5 Grandmaster (GM) Harika Dronavalli, is confident of putting up a good show at the upcoming World Chess Olympiad at the Azerbaijan capital of Baku, its members say.
With an average ELO rating of 2410 points, the Indian women’s team is seeded after China (2528), Russia (2493), the Ukraine (2485) and Georgia (2474).
Besides Dronavalli (2542), the Indian team comprises International Master (IM) Padmini Rout (2415), WGM Soumya Swaminathan (2370), IM Tania Sachdev (2396) and WIM Pratyusha Bodda (2329).
“On paper, the medal chances are pretty good for us. All the four teams ranked above us are also good. If we win against any one of the top four teams then the medal chances are good,” Dronavalli told IANS.
She however added a rider that the performance of a player depends on her form on that particular day. “If all the five players of the Indian team are in good form then the medal chances are good,” Dronavalli remarked.
According to her, the team to watch out for is the one from China, which she considers “very strong”.
The Indian women’s team came fourth in the 2012 Olympiad but crashed to 10th place in 2014, despite being seeded fifth.
Citing this, a chess coach not wanting to be named told IANS: “The team’s performance is volatile. In the last Olympiad, it had difficulty even against lower-rated teams. The consistency of performance as per their seeding is not there.”
He said securing the fifth position as per their seeding will itself be a credible performance given the rival line-up.
“Perhaps Dronavalli may have to shoulder more responsibility this time around,” he added.
“The team is a balanced one. We drew with China in the (recently-concluded) Asian Nations Cup. Seriously, we believe we have a medal chance,” IM Vishal Sareen, the team captain, told IANS.
Declining to reveal the board order of the players, Sareen said the team members have hit their form at the correct moment as is evident from their recent performances.
Feeling proud to represent India at the Olympiad, WGM Swaminathan said: “It is time to overtake the fourth rank in 2012.”
She was part of the 2012 Indian team but did not play in 2014.
Though the games at the Olympiad are played individually, each player is responsible for the overall team performance.
“The board position of each team member during a match makes lot of difference to the morale of other members. If a teammate has a strong position against an opponent, then it is not only a morale-booster but also relieves a lot of tension,” Dronavalli said.
On the other hand, if a team member is saddled with an inferior position then there is an added pressure on the other players to do well so that even a loss can be compensated by positive results in other boards, she added.
“There is good team spirit. If all the team members gel well, it will get reflected on the chess board while playing,” Swaminathan said.
According to Swaminathan, she spends around six hours a day on her preparations and works with her coach, GM Abhijit Kunte.
Given the fact chess is a mind game and is psychologically taxing, Swaminathan also undergoes mental training to be level-headed irrespective of the result.
“One cannot be musing about a game. I have to get ready for the next round and give my best. A mind trainer is better for chess,” she added.
Speaking about her preparations, Dronavalli said she is analysing the games she had played from July onwards. “I am also focusing on my physical fitness and I play badminton for around two hours daily,” she said.
On her part, Rout said she does meditation, yoga and swimming, apart from spending hours on her chess preparations. “We have to win the first few rounds and see that we do not lose after that,” Rout added.
She won the gold medal for her individual performance at the 2014 Olympiad.
(Venkatachari Jagannathan can be contacted at email@example.com)