Pendyala Harikrishna: online chess tournaments are here to stay
June turned out to be a month of mixed fortunes for Pendyala Harikrishna. He took second place at the Sharjah World Stars online tournament, but finished last at the Chessable Masters, one of the strongest chess events in the digital space.
India # 2 is disappointed with the results of the chess tournament, yes, but not with the quality of their chess. With any luck, he reckons, he would even have had a chance to secure a knockout berth in the tournament, part of the $ 1 million Magnus Carlsen Tour that ensured the lockdown induced by the coronavirus around the world has not had an impact on competitive chess at the highest level.
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Harikrishna was placed in the more difficult of the two pools at the Chessable Masters. Carlsen, the American Hikaru Nakamura and the Russian trio of Daniil Dubov, Alexander Grischuk and Vladislav Artemiev were his opponents in Group A.
His campaign got off to a bad start, losing in the first round to Artemiev, the 22-year-old who is a rising star in world chess. But he had one more chance than to make up for that poor start in the second round encounter, that too against Carlsen.
A tactical oversight turned out to be costly, however. “I kind of missed out on the winning streak, which was there for everyone to see,” he says. “I shouldn’t have lost this game.”
He thinks the event would have been very different for him if he had won this encounter. After all, nothing in world chess matters more than a victory over Carlsen.
“No doubt I would have played the rest of the tournament in a much better frame of mind if I had beaten the world champion,” said the Indian No.2. Sports star by phone from Prague, where he moved from Hyderabad after marrying Serbian chess player Nadezda Stojanovic.
Harikrishna suffered another loss in the third round – against Dubov – then drew with Nakamura in the fourth. He did manage to end the day with at least one victory, however. He beat Grischuk in the fifth round.
It was always going to be difficult to come back after such a terrible opening day, even with five games to go (the format was all-play-all, twice). In the return leg, he lost to Artemiev and drew with Carlsen, Dubov and Nakamura in successive matches before losing to Grischuk in the final round.
“The second day was much better for me than the first,” he says. “But I missed some crucial moves, otherwise I would still have had some outside chances to qualify for the quarter-finals.”
“I think what Magnus Carslen has done is remarkable. He didn’t have to do something like that. No one expected him to offer a top quality tournament series at a time when chess – and all other sports – were brought to a halt by the coronavirus, ”Harikrishna said. – PHOTO FILE / RAJEEV BHATT
The Sharjah tournament took place a week before Chessable Masters. He was the second seed behind Shakhryar Mamedyarov of Azerbaijan, who then justified the billing by winning the tournament by one point.
“Even though I couldn’t finish as a champion, I thought I had done well,” he said. “It was a pretty strong tournament too, with an average Elo rating of 2709.”
The Chessable Masters was, of course, much stronger. “I was happy when I got the invitation to play,” he says. “I had followed the Carlsen Tour closely. I started badly and it’s very important to have a good start when playing in such big tournaments. When you slide down the lower half of the court, you’re always under pressure. When you are in good shape your opponents will not stretch past a point, but when you are struggling they will push harder.
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However, he believes he performed better than his results suggest. “My failures were satisfactory,” he says. “And I had the bad luck to lose some games in which I was better placed.”
Regarding the tournament’s double-rounder format, he says everything was fine, but thinks it would have been better if the 12 players hadn’t been split into groups. “Instead of two groups, I thought it would have been interesting if all the players met once,” said the world No. 26. “However, the tour is a great idea and we have to pay tribute to Carlsen.”
The tour organized by the Norwegian genius will have an additional stop – Legends of Chess, which runs from July 21 to August 5 – before the grand finale, which takes place from August 9 to 20. The Magnus Carlsen Invitational and Lindores Abbey The Rapid Challenges were organized before the Chessable Masters.
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“I think what Carslen has done is remarkable,” says Harikrishna. “He didn’t have to do something like that. No one expected him to offer a top-quality tournament series at a time when chess – and all other sports – were brought to a halt by the coronavirus. “
The Carlsen Tour is, of course, just one of the many online chess tournaments hosted by organizers around the world. “There is no doubt that chess has become even more popular during the lockdown,” he says. “I think online chess tournaments will continue to be played even when normality returns to the world after the pandemic.”