44th Chess Olympiad: The world will have to wait for D. Gukesh vs Magnus Carlsen

44th Chess Olympiad: The world will have to wait for D. Gukesh vs Magnus Carlsen

India 2 are contenders for the title though they trail Armenia, the only side to have defeated them, by a match point. R. Vaishali and Tania Sachdev remain unbeaten, with a score of 7.5 each.

With Saturday’s win against World No. 5 Fabiano Caruana, D. Gukesh has taken his live rating to 2729. He is now the second-highest rated Indian chess player after his mentor, Viswanathan Anand. (Image via Twitter/FIDE)

Given the difference in their international ratings—Caruana’s 2776 versus Gukesh’s 2699—the teenager’s victory is being described as one of the biggest upsets in the tournament, but in the four-hour contest on Saturday evening, he didn’t look the underdog even for a moment. Caruana’s homework with the white pieces gave him a slight edge going into the middlegame, but Gukesh showed no sign of panicking.

His calmness was the key: he showed no desperation to wriggle out of a slightly uncomfortable position after the first 25 moves or so. Instead, he quietly reinforced his own defence and waited patiently for his opponent to create opportunities for him—a strategy that worked for him in his game against another world title contender, Alexei Shirov, earlier in this tournament.

Caruana, who has not lived up to his billing and conceded his third defeat in the Olympiad on Saturday and the second in a row, looked unsure about how to take things forward. And then came a slightly questionable move, which gave Gukesh a decisive line of play. The move didn’t immediately look that bad, even in detailed computer analysis, but what followed was a barrage of unforgiving attacks and within about 10 moves or so, Caruana was staring at the inevitable.

Gukesh wrapped up the game in a little over four hours, and as the studious-looking Caruana walked off after signing the scoresheets, his disappointment written all over his face, the Indian teenager meticulously placed the chess pieces back at their starting positions before leaving the board, his face still masked, composed and emotionless. With Saturday’s win, Gukesh has taken his live rating to 2729, and among Indians, he is now second only to his mentor, Viswanathan Anand.

With Saturday’s win, India 2 and Uzbekistan are tied for the second spot in the league table with 14 match points each, while Armenia held on to its lead with 15 points after beating India 1 in a close contest. The match between overnight leaders Armenia and India 1 had almost ended in a 2:2 tie, but Pentala Harikrishna went down in a long-drawn battle of over 100 moves against Gabriel Sargissian. The other three games ended in draws.

Sargissian, who beat Caruana on Friday after suffering his lone defeat in the Olympiad at the hands of Gukesh in the sixth round, had only a small advantage in the endgame against Harikrishna. The Indian grandmaster, who hadn’t yet lost a single game in the tournament, looked solid in his defence initially, but Sargissian kept probing relentlessly and eventually managed to grab the game. Had the game between Sargissian and Harikrishna ended in a draw and the match in a 2:2 tie, India 2 would have caught up with Armenia at the pole position.

After Saturday’s emphatic win over the US and with three rounds remaining, India 2 still remain contenders for the title though they trail Armenia, the only side to have defeated them, by a match point. Uzbekistan clearly is playing much above their known strength, and will take on the leaders, Armenia, in Sunday’s ninth round, while India 2 are paired against Azerbaijan. The Netherlands, Iran and Azerbaijan with 13 match points apiece are tied for the third position on the league table.

After going down against Armenia, India 1 have 12 match points. For a podium finish, they have to outperform the much younger India 2 in the last three rounds—they have to win at least two, if not all three of their last three matches, by big margins.

(clockwise from left) Tania Sachdev, Koneru Humpy, Vaishali Rameshbabu, and Harika Dronavalli (seated). (Image source: FIDE via Twitter PIB_India)

In the women’s section, India 1 remain on top with consummate ease with 15 match points, followed by Georgia with 14 points. India 1 had won all their first seven matches but on Saturday, they conceded their first match point as Ukraine held them to a 2:2 tie with all four games drawn.

Gukesh’s dream run is already being compared with the legendary Bobby Fischer’s victory with a perfect score of 11/11 in the US Championship in 1963/64 and Carlsen’s unbeaten streak of 125 games in the classical format between July 2018 and October 2020. The big question on people’s minds is if Gukesh will be pitted against Carlsen in the ongoing Olympiad?