2022 Chess Olympiad Preview

In less than two weeks, the 2022 Chess Olympiad will open in Chennai, India after surviving the worst of a pandemic. India was one of the countries hit the hardest and officials will be on alert to ensure health and safety. According to chess-results.com, 343 teams (189 teams in Open; 162 teams in Women’s) from 187 countries will travel to Chennai for the event. Host India will be fielding three teams in the Open and two in the Women’s. (Note: India has added a third women’s team as of 7-21-2022)


A lot has changed in four years and the field will have some notable absences with Russia and China not making the trip. Belarus is also not competing. Both Russia and Belarus have been placed under sanctions due to supporting the incursion in Ukraine. China has decided not to send teams due to health concerns and a new variant of the coronavirus looming. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave explained his concerns:

Open Section

Besides Vachier-Lagrave and Firouzja, there are other high-profile players missing such as Vassily Ivanchuk, Veselin Topalov, and Hikaru Nakamura, who recently competed in the 2022 World Candidates. Nakamura has enjoyed unparalleled success in his streaming platform and would have made the team as an alternate, but the U.S. team will have more than enough to challenge for the gold. It seems that many of the veteran players throughout the world are making way for the new generation while some are coaching other federations.

The U.S. team is comprised of three foreign nationals who were top boards for their previous federations. Wesley So, who attended Webster University, was a member of the American gold medal team in 2016, but both Levon Aronian (Armenia) and Leinier Dominguez (Cuba) are making their debuts. It will be a formidable team and the average rating is more than 60 points higher than the next team (India). Fabiano Caruana, though born and learned chess in the U.S., he represented Italy four times (2008, 2010, 2012, 2014) before returning to the U.S. to win gold in 2016. The U.S. team will be an overwhelming favorite.

Armenian Men hoist national colors after winning gold medal at 37th Chess Olympiad. Seated are: Vladimir Akopian, Karen Asrian, Gabriel Sargissian, Levon Aronian. Photo by ChessBase.

Armenia celebrates gold in 2006 Chess Olympiad.
Will Levon Aronian hoist the stars and stripes?
Photo by ChessBase


India (Open) will have three teams but will be without Viswanathan Anand who is passing the torch over to the next generation of players. Vidit Gujrathi will lead the “A” team while the “B” and “C” will consists of a collection of young talents and a few veterans. Sagar Shah gave an overview of the lineups. The “C” team has just added a third team upon approval from FIDE.

That all-Grandmaster team features Surya Shekhar Ganguly, Karthikeyan Murali, SP Sethuraman, Abhijeet Gupta, and Abhimanyu Puranik with GM Tejas Bakre as the captain. The pressure will be on the Indians to perform well in front of 1.38 billion citizens.

Here are the top 20 teams.

2022 Chess Olympiad Tournament

July 29th-August 10th, 2022 (Chennai, India)

TEAM RANKING (Open)
#
Federation
Flag
Team ELO
Top Player
Rating
1 USA
2771 GM Fabiano Caruana 2783
2 India 1
2696 GM Vidti Gujrathi 2714
3 Norway
2692 GM Magnus Carlsen 2864
4 Spain
2687 GM Francisco Pons Vallejo 2704
5 Poland
2683 GM Jan-Krzysztof Duda 2750
6 Azerbaijan
2680 GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov 2759
7 Netherlands
2671 GM Anish Giri 2780
8 Ukraine
2698 GM Anton Korobov 2692
9 Germany
2628 GM Vincent Keymer 2686
10 England
2688 GM Michael Adams 2696
11 India 2
2649 GM Nihil Sarin 2651
12 Armenia
2688 GM Gabriel Sargissian 2698
13 Iran
2636 GM Parham Maghadsoodloo 2701
14 Uzbekistan
2625 GM Nodirbek Abdusattorov 2688
15 France
2688 GM Jules Moussard 2672
16 Hungary
2673 GM Ferenc Berkes 2690
17 India 3
2619 GM Surya Shekhar Ganguly 2608
18 Czech Republic
2633 GM David Navara 2740
19 Croatia
2609 GM Ivan Saric 2689
20 Romania
2605 GM Bogdan-Daniel Deac 2692
Team Rosters (Open)

Olympiad Medal Predictions (Open)

Most pundits making sports predictions usually go with rather safe choices. As far as Chess Olympiads go, journalists routinely pick Russia to win the gold. Having not won a gold medal since 2002, the drought will continue since Russia is suspended for violating FIDE bylaws. China not defending its 2018 gold medal also opens the door for other countries.

USA – GOLD

USA 2022: Fabiano Caruana, Levon Aronian, Wesley So, Leinier Dominguez, Samuel Shankland

Objectively, it will be hard to vote against the American team that adds two world-class players to a contending team. From the gold medal team in 2016, Hikaru Nakamura and Ray Robson are essentially swapped for Levon Aronian and Leinier Dominguez. It will be a difficult team to beat due to the parity on the top four boards. Not to mention that Sam Shankland is a 2700-level who could play the top board on many teams.

In a professional sense, all of them seem to have a cordial relationship which is crucial. We saw this element in Armenia’s team success resulting in gold medals in 2006, 2008, and 2012. There may not be the same national spirit that comes with a common history, but it will be an interesting sight to see these five players contribute their insights.

India 1 – SILVER

India is playing without Viswanathan Anand who is greatly responsible for the boom in Indian chess. Vidit Gujrathi is a capable replacement but sometimes seems to fall short in big moments. This will be the 10th Olympiad for Pentala Harikrishna who has traditionally been a stabilizing force. One of the brightest new stars is the 18-year-old phenom Arjun Erigaisi who recently participated in the FTX Road to Miami in the Champions Chess Tour and won an exciting game against Radoslaw Wojtaszek. Erigaisi may already be 2710-2720 in strength.

Vidit Gujrathi. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.
Can Vidit Gujrathi lead India to a medal? He certainly can.
Photo by Kirill Merkuryev

The last time such a big stage was offered in Chennai was when Anand faced Magnus Carlsen for the 2013 World Championship. There was considerable excitement, and the pressure must’ve been immense. The press conference showed that even Anand can lose composure. India 2 may actually perform above its punching weight with the prodigies and Olympiad medalist, Baskaran Adibhan. After India earned a bronze medal at the 2014 Chess Olympiad in Tromso, The Chess Drum interviewed Adibhan after the Closing Ceremonies. His opinion on India’s positioning is interesting, eight years hence. 4:51 minutes.

India 2 may be the surprise of the tournament, ranked #11 with the three well-known Grandmaster prodigies: Nihal Sarin, Dommaraju Gukesh, and Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa. Sadhwani Raunak is lesser known, but he is only 16 years old and already over 2600. Adibhan will provide valuable mentorship from his experience as a bronze medalist. A former World Champion weighed in:

“I think the current Indian chess crop is the strongest generation in the world now, maybe the strongest ever in one country.” 

~Vladimir Kramnik in Times of India

The future is bright in India.

Netherlands – BRONZE

The Netherlands has touted top players for decades going all the way back to Jan Hein Donner. Today’s Anish Giri still commands a presence on the top board and he is more than capable of getting points despite his reputation for draws. The ability to hold the elite players will be important when a 1/2-point can make a big difference in the end. Jorden Van Foreest has been a bright hope for the Dutch side. He won the 2021 Tata Steel tournament beating Giri in a playoff. What may help Jorden’s confidence is serving as second to Magnus Carlsen in his match against Ian Nepomniachtchi.

While the Netherlands has not medalled since 1988 in Thessaloniki, they have stability and Erwin L’Ami and Benjamin Bok. As a reserve is the 22-year-old national champion Max Warmerdam. There is no Loek van Wely, who tumbled from his 2700 perch and pursued politics. He will be in Chennai as the captain of Italy!

Also In the Hunt: Poland, Azerbaijan, Spain, India 2

Women’s Section

India is absolutely ecstatic to be hosting the 2022 Chess Olympiad and they actively lobbied for the task. The topic player from the women’s team used her profile to put in a good word for India.

Indeed.

India is the fastest-growing chess power and has the largest collection of young talent. As mentioned, they are fielding three Open teams with India 2 comprised of three prodigies. The women are the top seed and besides Humpy, they will see the debut of Vaishali Rameshbabu. The women’s team was also pleased that Dronavali Harika could make the team despite being in the third trimester of pregnancy. The veteran of six Olympiads (since 2008), she spoke to the media about her quest to play while bearing her child.

As in the Open Section, Russia and China will not send teams. This is unfortunate since both of these countries have a combined eight gold medals in the past 13 Olympiad tournaments. Georgia won four golds (bronze in 2018) and Ukraine won the gold in 2006 (silver in 2018). With two key teams missing, it opens up an opportunity for countries like the young Kazakhstan team.

Georgia still has a bitter memory of being upset by the Philippines in 2016 and Kazakhstan in 2018. They still won a bronze medal in 2018 and are fielding four players from that team. Unfortunately, they are missing GM Bela Khotenashvili, who is handling the care of her son who is battling a critical health condition, neuroblastoma. Ukrainians will be playing for their flag in a more pronounced way and the media crush will be in full effect as journalists will be asking questions about the Russia-Ukraine situation.

Here are the top 20 in the women’s field:

2022 Chess Olympiad Tournament

July 29th-August 10th, 2022 (Chennai, India)

TEAM RANKING (Women)
#
Federation
Flag
Team ELO
Top Player
Rating
1 India
2486 GM Humpy Konery 2586
2 Ukraine
2478 GM Mariya Muzychuk 2540
3 Georgia
2475 GM Nana Dzagnidze 2531
4 Kazkhstan
2441 GM Zhansaya Abdumalik 2495
5 Poland
2423 IM Alina Kashlinskaya 2505
6 France
2400 GM Marie Sebag 2447
7 Azerbaijan
2399 IM Gunay Mammadzada 2455
8 USA
2390 GM Irina Krush 2430
9 Germany
2383 IM Elisabeth Paehtz 2484
10 Armenia
2367 GM Elina Danielian 2441
11 India 2
2351 WGM Vantika Agrawal 2371
12 Hungary
2342 GM Hoang Thank Trang 2376
13 Spain
2327 IM Ana Matnadze 2406
14 Cuba
2324 IM Lisandra Teresa Ordaz Valdes 2367
15 Bulgaria
2319 IM Nurgyul Salimova 2416
16 Netherlands
2312 GM Peng Zhaoqin 2349
17 Serbia
2312 WGM Teodora Injac 2372
18 Israel
2287 IM Marsel Efroimski 2456
19 Romania
2283 IM Irina Bulmaga 2394
20 England
2274 IM Jovanka Houska 2360
Team Rosters (Women)

Olympiad Medal Predictions (Women)

Kazakhstan – GOLD

With China and Russia’s absence, we will go with the young sensations from Kazahkstan to win the gold. Central Asia (specifically Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan) has been cranking out talent in recent years. Kazakhstan has had some successes besides Zhansaya Abdumalik recently earning her GM title with three norms.

Mariya Muzychuk (UKR)-Zhansaya Abdumalik (KAZ)
GM Zhansaya Abdumalik (right) seems poised to lead her nation to the medal stand.
Photo by ugra2018.fide.com

Bibisara Assaubayeva was impressive at the Women’s World Rapid and Blitz coming in second in the rapid, losing to Alexandra Kosteniuk in the final. However, a few days later, she won the world blitz title. Kazakhstan has a good blend of youth and experience.

Newly-minted Grandmaster Zhansaya Abdumalik (22) will lead the team of talented players and will challenge India, Ukraine, and Georgia for medal contention. Dinara Saduakassova (25) and Bibisara Assaubayeva (18), Meruert Kamalidenova (16), and five-time national champion Guliskhan Nakhbayeva (31) will be representing the Kazakh flag.

India 1 – SILVER

India has a good chance for a gold medal, but one hesitation will be the same pressure that all Indian players will face. The media crush can be a distraction and the media will be buzzing around the Indian team to get their every reaction. India has its talent spread over two teams with past Olympians Soumya Swaminathan, Padmini Rout, and Mary Ann Gomes on India 2.

Dronavali Harika is in the third trimester of her pregnancy and has been reassured that all resources are in place to assist her. She has been posting beautiful pictures on Twitter with her husband and is in a good mood. Perhaps the pregnancy will be a source of motivation. Humpy Koneru is expected to score big without Russia and China not playing. Vaishali Rameshbabu (with two GM norms) will step up if Harika needs to rest.

While Vaishali has improved rapidly, she is making her debut and it will be a stiff test. She was on the gold-medal team in the online Olympiad in 2020. Of course, the lights will be much brighter, and Indian teams will be playing on the stage and the center of national media attention. Assuming Harika is available when India faces the top teams, they may score their first medal.

Poland – BRONZE

Poland will be in contention after having won a silver medal at the 2016 Chess Olympiad in Baku. They never gained momentum at the 2018 Chess Olympiad in Batumi. In critical rounds, they were held 2-2 by a much weaker Austrian team and crushed by Mongolia 3-1. Interestingly, their team consists of GM, IM, FM, WIM, and WFM.

The 2019 European Champion Alina Kashlinskaya switched from Russia to Poland on May 23rd, 2022, and is eligible to play for Poland. Anytime you add a strong player on the top board, it certainly helps the team’s confidence. Kashlinskaya is married to Polish Grandmaster Radoslaw Wojtaszek.

Winners: Poland (silver), China (gold), Ukraine (bronze)
Medal Winners at 2016 Chess Olympiad
Poland (silver), China (gold), Ukraine (bronze)
Photo by Maria-Emelianova

Also In the Hunt: Georgia, Ukraine, USA

2022 Chess Olympiad (Chennai, India)

Official: https://chessolympiad.fide.com/
Results: https://chess-results.com/tnr653631.aspx?lan=1&zeilen=99999

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