Chess Olympiad, women’s section: Indian women make history, but miss gold
The suspense preceding the announcement of the final results proved to be too long and distressing. The top two spots were reserved for Ukraine and Georgia, but bronze at India 1 was the point of interest. Finally, India 1 made it to the podium and made history by winning their first-ever Women’s Chess Olympiad medal.
A few hours earlier, the India 1 quartet consisting of K. Humpy, R. Vaishali, Tania Sachdev and Bhakti Kulkarni entered the playing hall as the leaders of the final round. A one-point lead over Ukraine and Georgia meant that even a draw against the United States was enough for gold, such were the tiebreaker points the host possessed.
But shortly after the last lap, Tania and Bhakti got into serious trouble. Their unbeaten record so far looked threatened. Humpy and Vaishali did not have a decisive advantage. This meant that a loss for India 1 was looking increasingly obvious. Eventually, the struggling USA eclipsed the top-seeded Indian combination 3-1, with defeats to Tania and Bhakti providing the margin.
Suddenly, from a position where a victory or a draw was enough to ensure gold, India 1 was no longer even assured of a bronze medal. Although some referees dismissed fears that India might miss out on a medal, the final announcement of the medalists brought some comfort to the host.
The Indian women had their first medal and the host was able to show a medal from both sections which was another first.
With India 1 taking fourth place in the Open section and the women finishing third, the team won the Gaprindashvili Cup, a symbol of one team’s supremacy in both sections.
Eventually, the top three seeds traded places on the podium. Second-seeded Ukraine and third-seeded Georgia finished with 18 points and took the top two spots. Favorite India 1 edged USA and Kazakhstan on decisive points to claim bronze after totaling 17 points.
The world saw this triumph of Ukraine in the context of the current situation in that country. Although the Muzychuk sisters – Mariya and Anna – held firm on the first two boards and contributed six and seven points in 10 games each, it was undefeated Anna Ushenina on third board who proved the key to success. from Ukraine.
Ushenina scored 7.5 runs in nine innings. Her winning effort against Germany in the 10th round really kept Ukraine in contention for a medal. Unlike the Muzychuk sisters who lost their rankings, Ushenina gained 16 points after her sterling show.
For Georgia, the trio of Nana Dzagnidze, Nino Batsiashvili and Lela Javakhishvili took a rest day in turn over the first three rounds and then played non-stop. Batsiashvili was the pick among them, scoring 7.5 runs in 10 innings, including six wins.
With Russia and China absent, the hosts started as the seeding favorites although there were very few choices between India 1, Ukraine and Georgia. Humpy was the obvious spearhead and Harika insisted on being part of the team despite being in late pregnancy. While Humpy took time to find their bearings, Harika looked solid as they drew seven matches on the trot between rounds 3 and 9. Indeed, this experienced duo barely let up on the boards of head.
It was the trio of R. Vaishali, Tania Sachdev and Bhakti Kulkarni who gave the home side repeated moments of joy. Although they lost a match each, their ability to consistently find winning combinations proved to be very encouraging.
Vaishali, a rookie, contributed 7.5 points on third board while Tania, seen more as an elite event commentator than a player since the outbreak of the pandemic, scored eight points. Both girls went on to collect bronze medals on boards three and four.
Bhakti Kulkarni, a reserve, won the first three rounds and made a winning comeback in round 10. Tania and Bhakti, however, could not maintain their unbeaten run once the team met the United States last day.
Poland and Kazakhstan were considered teams with an outside medal chance. Unsurprisingly, India 1’s scare came to fruition after a 1.5-2.5 loss in the ninth round. When India faced Kazakhstan the following day, a 3.5-0.5 win for the hosts was truly impressive.
India 2, led by young Vantika Agrawal, came eighth to finish above their starting rank of 11th. Indeed, it was Vantika’s 7.5 points in 11 rounds and reserve player Divya Deshmukh’s seven in nine rounds that kept India 2 afloat.
For her efforts, Vantika achieved an International Master standard while Divya picked up a bronze medal for playing as a reserve on the fourth board.
Lost in the background were the steady performances of Padmini Rout – winner of an individual gold medal in 2014 – and the experienced Mary Ann Gomes. On the second board, Padmini regained his form after five successive draws and then after a one-turn break, scored a hat-trick of victories. However, she finished with a loss. The ever-steady Mary scored 6.5 runs in nine unbeaten innings.
Soumya had an unforgettable outing despite a hat-trick of wins. She lost her last two matches and rested for the last four rounds.
India 3, seeded 16, finished 17th with PV Nandhidhaa on board two, scoring 8.5 from 11 rounds and collecting 33 points.
Although the highly experienced Eesha Karavade did reasonably well on the top board contributing six points over 11 rounds, the lower boards paid the price for the lack of experience. Varshini Sahithi (4/7), Pratusha Bodda (5/9) and Vishwa Vasnawala (3.5/6) performed as expected and dropped double digit points.
Overall, unlike the Open section, the results in the women’s section were much more predictable. India 1 won a medal but had to regret the missed opportunity to win a gold medal.
All credit goes to Harika for going undefeated despite health challenges. Vaishali and Tania collected a second bronze medal for their individual performances while Divya made her memorable debut.
Pia Cramling (Sweden, first board, gold medal): At a time when chess medalists are getting younger and younger, Pia sets a new record. The 59-year-old Swedish legend won his third individual gold medal 44 years after making his Olympiad debut. She scored 9.5 points in 11 rounds, but Sweden’s 34th seed couldn’t finish higher than 40th. Pia, the fifth woman to win the Grandmaster title, was ranked No. 1 in the women’s competition in January 1984 and she won her first individual Olympiad gold medal later that year. Pia added a second gold medal from the 1988 edition.
Oliwia Kiolbasa (Poland, board three, gold medal): Even as D. Gukesh captured the attention of the chess world by extending his winning streak to eight games, Oliwia (9.5/11) not only kept pace with the Indian teenager, but also made better. She won the first nine heats to keep Poland’s medal prospects alive. Although the team struggled to hit much on the first two boards, Oliwia and Maria Malicka (7/9 on fourth board) provided the vanguard for the sixth-seeded team. Ranked 2376, Oliwia played at odds of 2565 despite losing the final round. In fact, it was their victory over Vaishali that gave Poland a verdict of 2.51.5 over India 1.
R. Vaishali (India 1, board three, bronze medal)“The quality of her playing was very high and I have no doubt, very soon she will become a grandmaster”, is how Humpy described Vaishali’s role for India 1. As a beginner, Vaishali has scored 7.5 points in 11 rounds while moving from the board three to two, whenever mom-to-be Harika rested. It was commendable how she handled the pressure and for that much credit goes to her coach RB Ramesh. It turned out that Vaishali and his brother Praggnanandhaa won a team bronze and an individual bronze each. Truly a unique achievement for these talented siblings.
1-2. Ukraine, Georgia (18 match points),
3-5. India 1, United States, Kazakhstan (17 each)
8. India 2 (16),
17. India 3 (15)
Board 1: 1. Pia Cramling (Sweden), 2. Eline Roebers (Ned), 3. Abdumalik Zhansaya (Kaz).
Board 2: 1. Nino Batsiashvili (Geo), 2. Anna Muzychuk (Ukr), 3. Khanim Balajayeva (Aze).
Board 3: 1. Oliwia Kiolbasa (Pol), 2. Anna Ushenina (Ukr), 3. R. Vaishali (Ind 1).
Board 4: 1. BatErdene Mmungunzul (Mon), 2. Maria Malicka (Pol), 3. Tania Sachdev (Ind 1).
Reserve: 1. Jana Schnieder (G), 2. Ulviyya Fataliyeva (Aze), 3. Divya Deshmukh (Ind 2).