Online Olympiad: India reach semis with dramatic win over Ukraine

Mumbai:- Defendingchampion India defeated Ukraine in the quarter-finals of the 2021 FIDE Online Chess Olympiad, quelling their opponents in a thrilling tie-break blitz round to reach the semi-finals.

India, who had topped their preliminary league group, took Ukraine in the two-round quarter-final. They claimed the first round of rapid chess matches 4-2 with Harika Dronavalli and Nihal Sarin winning their games in the six-board encounter. Anand drew with fellow veteran Vesselin Ivanchuk while Pentala Harikrishna was held by Ukraine No. 2 Kirill Shevchenko. Koneru Humpy too could not get the better of Lulija Osmak, a player ranked 2302 as compared to 2483 of Humpy. But the two wins by Harika and Nihal were good enough to seal the round in India’s favour.

India, who shared the title with Russia in 2020, had to win the second round to progress to the next stage and they looked on course leading 2-0 when Ukraine came back strongly. Anand was again held by Ivanchuk but Vidit Santosh Gujrathi lost to Kirill Shevchenko with black pieces. Things took a dramatic turn as Harika won her game against Natalia Zhukova and R Praggnanandhaa won against Platon Galperin but R Vaishali lost to Mariia Berdnyk and then Humpy lost to Lulija Osmak from a nearly equal position under time pressure. Ukraine won the round 3.5-2.5 and thus forced a tie-break round of blitz games.

In the tiebreak blitz round, India rested Anand and put former national champion B Adhiban on the second board against Kirill Shevchenko. Nahil Sarin came in for Praggananandhaa. The inspired changes proved successful as India won the round 1-5 to seal a place in the semi-final.

Vidit held Ivanchuk and Adhiban defeated Shevchenko with white pieces; Humpy was held by Osmak but Harika, who found some brilliant combinations, defeated Nataliya Buksa, her third win in the quarter-final. India dominated the bottom two boards in blitz as Nihal overcame Platon Galperin and Vaishali defeated Variia Berdnyk to wrap a superb victory for India.

In the semi-final, India will take on the winner of the match between Kazakhstan and the United States.

The Indian players, most of whom were accessing the chess,com server from a hotel in Chennai while Harikrishna, Humpy, and Harika were taking part from their respective homes, were elated by the result as they had managed to put in across a dangerous opponent in the dramatic encounter.