2018 was set to be one great year for the game of chess. There were the usual strong tournaments that are held annually like Wijk ann Zee, Isle of Man, Norway Chess, London Chess Classic, etc. However, the biggest things that made this year so special were the Olympiad, the World Championship, the Women’s World Championship, and the inaugural Tata Steel Indian Chess tournament. Focusing on the Indian scenario, let’s read on to find out the most exciting moments and the ones that weren’t so impressive.
India at the Olympiad, 2018-
One tends to start with the fantastic feats that occur during the course of the year first. However, let me begin with the moments that weren’t so memorable for the country. The Indian teams at the Olympiad were the strongest ever in the record books of the nation.
We had the likes of Vishy Anand, Harikrishna Pentala, and Vidit Gujrathi in the men’s team, while Humpy, Harika, and Tania were some of the big names in the women’s team. We were pitted to secure a medal each in both, if not the gold. Tournament camps and top-tier trainers were appointed to coach the two teams. “Seconds” were also there to help out the players before the games began in the premier tournament.
However, luck wasn’t on our side, and we didn’t win a single medal in either of the two categories. The closest to a medal was IM Tania Sachdev’s board performance that she lost extremely narrowly on a tough tie-breaker, finishing fourth. So, in terms of unfortunate performances for our teams, the one at the Olympiad topped the list. It just didn’t work out right for our teams towards the end.
Nevertheless, what we can take out of this result is that a process has been set forward for the future years, and the All India Chess Federation has to be given credit for that. They went out of their way in arranging excellent facilities for the team members. If we keep continuing in this manner, we can vouch for golds in the coming future.
Highlights of 2018-
We have read about the Olympiad. Now, let’s move on to the most memorable moments of the season. We started the year with 50 Grandmasters. At almost the close of the year, we have 58 GMs. Praggnanandhaa R shattered all records and sat on the second spot of the list of the youngest GMs ever, his feat broken only a few months later. Nihal Sarin became a Grandmaster at 14 and there were various other youngsters like Kartik Venkatraman and Arjun Erigaisi, to name a few.https://twitter.com/TheBridge_IN/status/1065094577579712513?s=19
If minting GMs was one brilliant output of the rise of Indian chess in the world, the coming of a super-strong tournament was the other. The Tata Steel Chess event happens each year in Wijk aan Zee, the Netherlands. In 2018, the tournament saw its first expansion.
It came all the way to India in the city of Joy-Kolkata as a six-day rapid and blitz championship. Held in the Indian Council of Cultural Relations, the event saw the likes of Vishy Anand, Levon Aronian, Harikrishna Pentala, Vidit Gujrathi, Wesley So, Hikaru Nakamura, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Sergey Karjakin, and Surya Shekhar Ganguly competing. What was even more interesting was the inclusion of the two Indian prodigies- Nihal and Pragg- for the rapid and blitz sections of the tournament respectively.
Also read: Tata Steel Chess: Of Kings and Pawns in the City of Joy
The youngsters didn’t disappoint and even drew some matches against the stalwarts. The event offered a huge prize pool of US $ 40,000 in addition to the appearance fees for the players. It also gave a chance to the Indian audience to witness something special that they had never witnessed before. There were special press conferences and simultaneous events along with the live viewing of the matches for the fans to enjoy. It definitely proved to be a big boost to the local chess scene. Additionally, Vishy winning the Blitz section and beating Nakamura, one of the strongest blitz players in the world, in the play-off, and Harikrishna finishing second in the rapid tournament made it more fascinating. Moreover, the championship is set to return in the next year as well, perhaps for the coming five.
Looking Ahead to 2019-
The year 2019 is filled with various strong events. The months of January and February are filled with strong open Grandmaster events in the country. This Indian chess circuit attracts various GMs and titled players from across the world. Bhubaneswar, Mumbai, Delhi, and Chennai are the four big name championships planned for the coming two months. The year will also boast of various age-group and senior coaching camps for the team tournaments, and special round-robin Woman GM tournaments. Besides, 2019 is the world cup year and we could hope to get a winner from the country. The Open and Women’s World team championships are also set in the radar for 2019.
So, like we read, the year that’s gone by has set a mark on the history of the game in the nation. There were some low moments but the high definitely proved to be an excellent compensation. One can’t wait for the new year and with it some even more chess.